The fishing tournament season opens Saturday, but in this case it isn’t what you might think.
In this tournament a 12-pound fish might be what’s for supper. It certainly isn’t going to do you any good at the weigh in.
The Cabela’s King Kat Tournament Trail begins its year at Lake Tawakoni, which has suddenly become to competitive catfish fishermen what Falcon Lake is to tournament bass anglers. It is the place to go catch really big fish.
At last year’s tournament a 166.42-pound stringer was good for just fifth place. The winning stringer, and trail record, was five-fish weighing 239.8 pounds. Second and third place finishers also topped 200 pounds.
This weekend fishermen are expecting even heavier weights after a pending lake-record 87.5-pound fish was caught there two weeks ago.
“We are hearing a lot of comments that it may take an equal weight (to 2013) if it turns a little cool and a little windy,” said Darrell VanVactor, who is bringing the nationwide tournament back to Tawakoni for the fourth year.
VanVactor said last year’s Tawakoni showing was so dominant that the closest anything has come to it in the 12-year history of the tournament circuit was a 237-pound first-place finish on the Ohio River in Illinois in July.
The trophy blue catfish fishery on Tawakoni is a fairly recent discovery. It has attracted fishing guides that have helped it gain popularity. The success of the rod and reel fishery coincides with the development and use of sidescan fish finders.
“The more they learn, the better they get at catching them,” said Kevin Storey, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Fisheries district biologist. “I would imagine there have been many large fish in Tawakoni for a long time, but it’s only been relatively recently that they’ve been exposed.”
Storey said it doesn’t hurt that Tawakoni has ideal conditions for the fish.
“Lake Tawakoni is very fertile. In fact (the Texas Commission on Environmental Equality) categorizes it as hyperuetrophic. These types of lakes have highly productive waters due to excessive nutrient loading,” he explained.
Storey added a 2010 study showed Tawakoni to be more fertile than both lakes Palestine and Fork, and that with the more nutrients a lake contains more algae, which in turns means more baitfish like shad.
“Catfish also do well in these murky lakes because they have sensory adaptions that make their vision of secondary importance. They can locate their prey by basically smelling and feeling for it. Since lakes collect sediment over time, the older they are, the more sediment collects. Tawakoni was impounded over 50 years ago (1960),” Storey said.
The tournament is coming at a time when TPWD is conducting a survey on Tawakoni asking fishermen about their experiences and what type fish they target. The information could eventually lead to a trophy fish regulation being pushed by local guides. Currently the guides are promoting a voluntary catch, photo and release program on the lake to protect the big fish.
“There is increasing interest in CPR, but there are still anglers who harvest trophy-sized fish without reservation,” Storey said.
The biologist said jug lining remains the most common technique on the lake, and based on anecdotal reports from Lake Tawakoni State Park the harvest of big fish is not uncommon.
“It might be hard to prove harvest will hurt the fishery, but why take a chance of potentially ruining such a good thing? If anglers want to eat catfish, there is no shortage of fish under 10 pounds to be harvested. There does seem to be a groundswell of support for protecting these large fish,” he added.
As for the new lake’s new blue catfish record, once approved it will eclipse an 82.35-pound fish caught just two years ago. The state record is a 121.5-pound fish caught on Lake Texoma in 2004.
VanVactor said he learned about Tawakoni from his brother, Dale, who lives at Lake O’the Pines. After a visit to the lake during a trip to Texas, he immediately made it one of the tournament stops.
The King Kat tournaments are catch and release, something VanVactor said he was surprisingly pleased was popular with the fishermen.
What the catfish tournaments started out to be and what they have become is two different things. VanVactor said when he was first approached by Cabela’s to start the events they began with an older group of fishermen catching decent-sized fish.
“Just about anywhere you went 12 years ago if you had 100 pounds you were going to win,” VanVactor said.
He said the fishermen, averaging about 50 years old, would show up in flat-bottomed boats or other small rigs using just about every rod and reel combo imaginable.
It wasn’t long, however, before the trophy catfish craze began. The mean age of participants declined to about 35 and 20-pound catfish were suddenly being cull. The little boats were replaced by 20- to 28-foot rigs with top of the line electronics and 100-gallon livewells. Rods and reels were specialized for the bigger fish.
And the number of participants has jumped. VanVactor said most tournaments draw 50-60 boats. Depending on the weather he is expecting at least 50 at Tawakoni. The number of fishermen depends on whether they are one- or two-men teams.
VanVactor said the rapid growth of the trophy aspect of catfish fishing is attracting manufacturers from rod companies to boat builders. All are making products specific to the needs of fishermen targeting big fish.
“The sport of competitive catfish fishing I look at as having the most growth opportunity of anything in the business,” VanVactor noted.
What has not and may not change for catfish fishermen of all types are the baits. Cut baits are the most popular with blue catfish fishermen, while flathead catfish anglers are more likely to use live bait and fishermen on lakes with predominately channel catfish are going to use blood baits and stink baits.
Saturday’s tournament weigh in will be from 5-7 p.m. at West Tawakoni’s City Park. The event is open free to the public.
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