LAKE FORK – The bait settled down next to the submerged tree sitting in about 36 feet of water.
A thermocline has set in on Lake Fork and the fish had been progressively moving up the last few days. This morning guide Stan Kuhn’s fish finder was marking them at 13 to 18 feet so I reeled up eight turns after the bait had settled to the bottom to get in into the strike zone.
With Fork’s reputation you always have to be ready for that one big fish. The problem is that you can get lulled into complacency with an endless string of 2- and 3-pounders.
That is what happened to me as I sat down for just a moment. We had been on the water since daylight, and even though it was just 10 the summer’s sun was beginning to take its toll.
That is when I noticed my line swimming away. There was no pull on the bait or anything that signaled a fish was there. The line just started moving. Twenty feet from the boat the fish turned and all I could see was its belly. It was white and long.
I quickly gave up trying to reel and held on, hoping not to break the 15-pound test line.
“That is him. That is that big one we had on the other day. Get him in,” Kuhn said as I shifted to his side of the boat just trying to keep up with the fish.
And then POW. The line snapped and the fish was gone.
I am guessing 20 pounds, but who knows. Blue catfish can easily do that and more
Known as Texas’ best big bass lake, Fork is also an excellent catfish fishery. It has the state’s big three, flatheads, blues and channels, but its bread and butter are the channels. Blue come around less frequent, but because of their ability to grow larger they offer the trophies. For Kuhn that is all they are. He has a strict 5-pound limit for keeper fish simply because they are better to eat and that is what he wants his customers to experience.
When Kuhn moved to Fork with his wife Carol years ago he was a bass fisherman, but instead of going that route he cut out a niche for himself as a catfish guide. His clients include individual fishermen, husbands and wives, fathers and their kids and grandfathers and their grandchildren.
“For some reason last August was grandfather month. I guess they were all taking their grandkids fishing before they went back to school,” the former Dallas-area resident said.
Fishing from a comfortable pontoon boat, Kuhn has seen his business grow over the years. The bottom line is the number of fish caught, which last year topped out at more than 4,600 on a lake with a 25 per day limit. He may not reach that again this year, but with more than 2,000 already in the boat he is headed that way.
Although catfish can be caught year around, Kuhn’s business has evolved from early spring until late fall. He begins the year fishing for spawning catfish in shallow water under corks.
“June and July are my best months. August is also good. Yesterday we caught 52 and never had to throw a fish back. They were all over 12 inches,” Kuhn said. He ran his string out at least one more day as we landed 49 up to about 3 pounds, but nothing under the minimum length limit.
During the summer months Kuhn leaves the corks at home and tight lines for the fish. After chumming the water with fresh corn and soured grained he baits the treble hook with a punch bait. He switched this year to Ernest’s Poletown Catfish Bait, a Wills Point product that is a vast improvement over the cheese bait he used in the past if for no other reason than you are able to leave the top off without passing out from the smell.
Rolled into a ball around the treble hooks, we vertically dropped the bait to the bottom, then reeled it back up to the depth where the fish were.
“You will feel them tap it, but don’t set the hook until you see the rod tip go down,” Kuhn explained. A hook set is as simple as lifting the rod tip upwards.
In the first 30 minutes we had 15 or so channels. We probably caught 25 from the first hole before moving to the next.
“I don’t like to overfish a spot,” Kuhn said.
During the morning we hit three spots Kuhn continuously baits. With a decent west wind the soured grain and corn permeated the water and brought the fish back to us.
By 11 we were off the water, one short of a limit, but we probably missed a third again as many as we caught.
Kuhn’s trips are about the most affordable guided fishing trip around. Prices, which includes a shore lunch and cleaned fish, are only $125 per person for one or two fishermen for a half day and $100 per person for three or more. Kids are half-priced.
For more information, call Kuhn at 903-383-2921 or go online to thecatfishguide.com.
Have a comment or opinion on this? Email Steve Knight at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow him on Facebook at TylerPaper Outdoors and on Twitter @tyleroutdoor.