Luke Clayton Daily Light Contributor
I’ve always loved catching catfish and…eating them! I guess my passion for catfish comes naturally, as a boy growing up on a poultry farm in Red River County; catching catfish was a way of life.
Every nine weeks or so when the chickens sold out, we would pack the old 1950 International pickup with tarps, Coleman pans, cast iron pans, bedding, etc. . I would start catching bait, small perch from the farm pond, the night before. Upon arriving at our fishing hotspot, the exercise was to quickly set up camp, which was easy to do, we didn’t have a tent, just tarps or, as they were called at the time, “sheets”. of carriage”. Tarps on the ground with blankets served as bedding.
As soon as camp was organized, my dad and another paddled out onto the small lake in a homemade 12-foot wooden boat and laid down a few trotting lines which were quickly baited with cut poles. I do not remember having fished there with rod and reel, or very little; we relied on trotting lines to produce fish and they always did! Once the line was set, we would paddle out and tie the little boat to a stump and watch the lines.
After about 30 minutes we were paddling and racing them, still in the boat with plenty of fish for that first fry of the evening, which was very important. Fried potatoes with a handful of tossed chopped onions and a few tins of pork and beans, light bread and very fresh crispy fried catfish were the evening meal. For the next two days we caught and cooked grilled fish and burgers and hot dogs and filled the cooler with plenty of catfish to carry us to the next chicken sale and dad said another stay fishing.
Our farm was steps away from Pecan Bayou, which is a spring-fed creek with springs in the northwest corner of Red River County. In the spring, when the creek was flowing, we cut posts from a patch of switch rods behind the house and installed what we called “fixed posts”. The rigging was pretty basic. A pole about 8 feet long with the old woven fishing line common at the time, a weight and a baited hook with a cut pole. We would set up about 20 of these poles along the creek an hour before dark and run them every hour or so for a few hours, then again at first light the next morning. I vividly remember walking to that side of the creek and seeing these perches with the end stuck in the mud and the tip being pulled down by a feisty catfish.
Later in my life, as an outdoor writer, I had the opportunity to see the sport of catfishing grow far beyond what I knew as a kid. I was once invited by the great Bill Dance to take his place in a boat with James “Big Cat” Patterson and fish for the world championship catfishing on the Tennessee River. James and I didn’t win this prestigious tournament but I learned a lot about fishing blue catfish in a flowing river. We used Santee Cooper rigs baited with skipjack herring and landed several what I considered to be “big” blue cats. Over the years I have fished with some of the best catfish professionals in the country. David Hanson has guided Tawakoni for years and has targeted trophy class blue catfish in the cold months and edible sized channels in the summer. I dare to assume that David has guided people to more catfish over the years than anyone.
For the past few years I have fished with one of David’s friends, Tony Pennebaker who specializes in catfish, blues in the winter and river cats from late May. Tony and I had a lot of great times together on the water and honestly, I can’t remember not going home with lots of fillets for the fryer. Fishing techniques differ when it comes to targeting blue catfish as opposed to channels. River catfish will hit a variety of baits, as will blues to some extent, but when targeting river cats it’s hard to beat a good cheese bait. There are a wide variety of baits on the market today and they will all catch fish. I have witnessed many arguments about which bait is best. Years ago I worked with a company that started doing the
“best catfish bait on the market.” I assembled a group of guides who fished daily and each tested batches of newly developed bait. Eventually the guides and company agreed on the “best” formula and it became a popular bait for channel catfish. Was it the best bait on the market? The answer depends on who you ask, but this is a very good bait that for years has represented many catfish limits on many lakes.
Blue catfish will bite punch baits, but serious “blue cats” know that fresh cut baits are best. In Texas waters, fresh shad are king for catching the blues, but in northern states, herring skipjack are the go-to bait, especially in river systems where baitfish are common.
Yes, a lot has changed since I cut my teeth in catfishing using poles in the creek near my childhood home and trotting lines on small lakes in Oklahoma. With today’s sonar it’s easy to find aggregations of fish, especially when targeting big blues in the winter. And anyone can throw in a few range cubes and bring the channel catfish under the boat. But one thing that hasn’t changed is the tug of a tough catfish or the flavor of a crispy fillet of catfish or a smaller whole fish that has been exposed to cornmeal and about 6 minutes in hot cooking oil!
Email Luke through his website www.catfishradio.org.