It has been a record-setting month on Lake Palestine.
It started with a tournament-caught largemouth bass lake record on Feb. 2, and then a record blue catfish was brought in on Saturday.
Rowlett’s Casey Laughlin got the record parade started when he caught a 13.22-pound Toyota ShareLunker bass, competing in a Media Bass tournament on the lake on Feb. 2. It topped a 13.14-pounder, the lake’s first ShareLunker, caught last March by Lindell Booth in another Media Bass event for record status.
Laughlin’s fish wasn’t long for the ShareLunker program. DNA testing showed the fish to be a cross between a native largemouth and one of the Florida bass stocked in the lake.
The new blue catfish record made a more definitive statement. Weighing in at 47.27 pounds, it erased the old mark by just under three pounds.
The newest record blue was caught by Johnny Ward, of Paris. Ward was fishing in the Creek Side Sports tournament when he caught the big cat on rod and reel. It eclipsed the old record fish weighing 44.5 caught in February 2010 by David Spivey, of Chandler.
“That is a substantial fish,” said Richard Ott, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Fisheries district biologist.
While well short of the state record of 121.5 pounds from Lake Texoma, it does show Palestine’s potential as a blue cat fishery.
The interesting thing about Palestine’s blue cat fishery is that it isn’t as old as the lake. Ott said that prior to 1987, 25 years after the original dam was impounded, there was no sign they even existed.
The biologist said the department was about to start stocking blue cats in Palestine and Cedar Creek, until they suddenly showed up.
“Palestine is one of those weird cases,” Ott explained. “Through 1987 we never collected blue cats. We started getting them in our gill nets in 1988 and had a fair number of 8- to 12-inch fish. Now you can catch almost as many blue cats as channels.”
He suspects habitat changes that came after the dam was enlarged in the early 1970s may have created spawning habitat for the fish.
Why it took 15 years after the bigger lake was impounded would be anyone’s guess. One possible answer is that blue catfish don’t sexually mature until they reach 10 pounds. On Lake Palestine, that can take a dozen or more years, a timeline that would fit within the fishery’s expansion.
Ward’s fish brings back into light TPWD’s blue catfish exploitation study on Lake Palestine. Last year 255 blues — ranging in size from 18 to 53ﾽ inches — were tagged and released back into the lake. The goal is to help biologists find out how and where the fish are being caught.
To date, only seven tags have been returned.
“We are not getting the tag return we expected. If we are actually getting back all they are catching, then our exploitation rate is really low,” Ott said.
He said there may be a number of factors that could be affecting the return response. One was the cold weather last spring that slowed fishing during the spawn. That certainly impacted noodling on the lake, although blue cats are a secondary fish to most hand fishermen because they are more aggressive than flatheads.
Still, Ott said the department has also heard that hand fishermen are boycotting the study because they are afraid it could be used to shut them down. However, Ott said TPWD doesn’t have that ability because noodling was approved through the legislature, meaning the department can only set bag limits and a season if it wanted.
“That being said, I would expect more fish from jug line, trotline and the rod and reel segment of fishermen. That leaves one to believe they are not catching that many fish,” he said.
There is also a remote possibility that some of the fish have somehow shed their tags, something Ott said would be difficult to accomplish.
In an attempt to get a better handle on what is going on, the department will conduct an electrofishing survey this spring to see how many of the tagged fish can be found.
The study will remain open through August. Fishermen who find a tagged blue catfish on Palestine and report it to TPWD are eligible for a cash reward.
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