The dog days of summer are here, which means there’s no better time to go in search of cats.
The catfish remains a summertime staple across Texas, ranking only behind the largemouth bass in terms of anglers’ preference. And for good reason – flatheads, channel cats and blue cats can be found in almost every nook and cranny of the Lone Star State and are more than willing to take a variety of bait offerings. Liberal limits and the tastiness of fillets dipped in cornmeal and fried sure don’t hurt either.
And though Texas boasts an impressive amount of lakes and reservoirs chock full of the always-hungry swimmers, some of the best fishing holes not far from many anglers often get overlooked because it always has been easier to simply head to established lakes rather than put in the time to explore new waters.
However, it doesn’t take much to plan an outing to a local river whether you intend to motor, float, paddle or angle from a shade tree on the bank. Our state certainly has no shortage of differing river scenarios, but two of the best that each snake their way more than 800 miles through Texas are the Colorado and the Brazos.
These two rivers offer some amazing scenery along their flows toward the southeast part of the state and are relatively calm, rising in current level only when heavy rains saturate the state. The Brazos River and its tributaries flow by or through the towns of Abilene, Waco and Bryan-College Station while the Colorado flows through Central Texas and intersects Austin, while helping form the Highland Chain of lakes.
This close proximity should be appealing to anglers from a number of different metro areas, especially if they’re looking to take their kids or introduce a youngster who are on the beginning of their summer break.
Here’s a look at two river hot spots to consider this month.
Colorado River Catfish
The Colorado River is a superb catfish fishery, especially in its flows south of Austin and the Lower Colorado River Authority offers pier fishing sites that can be good this time of year.
Because catfish of all shapes and sizes start to get more active as water temperatures rise, there is no better time than now to fish for them.
Channel cats will move into creeks and rivers to spawn in secluded areas or cavities under logs or undercut banks, and the males protect the nests and become aggressive during this time. This makes them vulnerable to angling.
Flatheads can be caught in the Colorado in deep holes with logjams. They prefer live bait like sunfish or shad. Blues will bite on cut bait or live bait mostly, and channel cats are easiest to catch, as they bite on a variety of baits. The best are chicken livers, stink bait, night crawlers, hot dogs and dough bait. However, they will pick up artificial baits and other alternatives if they have the opportunity.
Widespread drought that has loomed over the state has affected the river flow, turning shallower areas into what is now extended bank areas. However, with less water comes less hiding opportunities for catfish, and deep holes and cuts should be bustling with fish.
The stretches of the river between Austin and LaGrange, including areas in Travis and Bastrop counties, offer some good access points for anglers, including existing boat ramps. Travis County access points include the Montopolis Bridge where the river crosses U.S. Highway 183 in Austin, the Farm-to-Market 973 crossing just northeast of Del Valle and the county park 10 miles east of Austin off FM 969.
Bastrop County access points include the FM 969 river crossing where a boat ramp gives good access and farther downriver at the State Highway 71 crossing in Smithville where another boat ramp is built.
The best state park access to the Colorado River is at Colorado Bend State Park, which is located west of Lampasas. The river has miles of good access and also is a superb white bass fishery when they spawn.
Brazos River Catfish
Texas Parks & Wildlife is in the process of adding resources to further study and document the catfish fishery in the Brazos and elsewhere, but there remain a number of good access points despite a drop in river levels that anglers continue to frequent and leave with hefty fish.
Lake Brazos in Waco has a channel dam in it and a lot of people still refer to it as the river. There typically has been juglining and regular line fishing for blues in that particular area, and below the channel dam is another popular place for bank anglers when water’s running through. Wherever there’s easy access you’re sure to find someone fishing.
The portion of the river below Lake Whitney and north of Waco also has offered good access when there are releases from the lake. One of the main access points for the river below the Whitney Dam is at the FM 2114 intersection.
There are good populations of big channel cats, blues and flatheads in a variety of areas and access points and the river records confirm that it should be on your angling list. The top flathead taken weighed 58.10 pounds, the biggest blue cat 34.5 pounds and the largest channel cat 15.53 pounds.
For state park access to bank fishing, check out Stephen F. Austin State Park located west of Houston on Interstate 10.
Catfish anglers shouldn’t bring a lot of excess gear simply because catfish don’t require a lot of special rigging or frills. Channel cats easily can be caught using small terminal tackle, such as a No. 6 hook baited with some type of prepared bait and weighted down with a split shot and fished near the bottom. Eight- to 14-pound line usually is significant for these smaller catfish. However, for flatheads and blues, anglers need to up their gear choices.
The Colorado River record blue cat tipped the scales at more than 44 pounds, while the top flathead weighed about 22 pounds. Those types of fish certainly have enough brute strength to wear out an angler, but the place where you don’t want to wear out is your line. Some of the best catfish habitat on the river is fraught with unseen obstacles such as logs and boulders that easily could put enough pressure on light or weak line to lead to a fast escape for the fish at the other end. A sturdy rod, whether it’s a baitcaster or spinning version is key to working a bigger fish, but you might think about spooling on braided line to cut down on the chances that you could lose the fish of a lifetime to the depths below.
The one area where you cannot afford to skimp is hook selection. You will want the sharpest, most durable metal you can get your hands on and for good reason – catfish, especially big, old ones have tough mouths. Cheap hooks will only madden an angler who either won’t be able to hook a big one or worse yet lose them. Gamakatsu remains one of the top brands in my mind when it comes to hook choice for any fish, but their circle hook offerings seem to always find their way easily into the corner of a catfish’s mouth, taking root and doing the job. I’ve tried other brands, but for my money nothing else has quite stacked up in this regard.
Rigging options remain almost infinite, but two easy prepared bait rigs that seem to work just fine for almost any catfish trip can be fished near the bottom. The first one is to tie on a barrel swivel with a slip sinker above it and then tie on a heavier leader below it equipped with either a circle or treble hook. The leader can be as long as you want, but the shorter it is the easier it is to cast to a specific spot. Another easy rig is the drop shot, which simply can be tied using a Palomar knot at your hook while leaving a longer tag end where you can attach some kind of heavy sinker weighing an ounce or more. These rigs can be fished in a variety of situations, but if you’re having difficulty with current, which normally isn’t a big problem in most places, you can go heavier on the sinker to get it to take root on the bottom. The dropper rig in particular can add zing to an offering if you’re using live bait such as nightcrawlers that will dance mightily in the slightest current.
The statewide bag limit for flathead catfish is five per day with a minimum length of 18 inches and no maximum length. For the channel cats and blue cats, the daily bag is 25 in any combination with a 12-inch minimum and no maximum length.
Angling for catfish remains a storied pastime across the south, especially in the Lone Star State, and with plenty of places to go in search of river cats this time of year, there’s no excuse to not have fun and bring home some excellent table fare for your family. Access points might not be quite as easy to find with the ease you may on your favorite local reservoir, but the payoff to a little scouting and having some spirit of adventure just may be the biggest catfish of your life – or the best mess of fish you’ve hauled in. Either way, less fishing pressure surely equals bigger and better fish no matter where you’re angling, and knowing this should be enough to schedule some time on the river this year.
I can almost hear the oil in the fryer starting to sizzle!