A friend, who has a house on Lake Fork, last weekend joked that he has gone to the dark side.
He has become a catfish fisherman.
“If you go to a fish fry these days it is going to be catfish. No one cooks bass anymore,” he lamented.
Number 2 on Texas fishermen’s wish list behind bass and ahead of crappie, catfish fishing has a staunch following and is gaining interest among younger fishermen for its sport fishing opportunities.
Catfish fishermen are as picky as any other fishermen. A two-year-old study done for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department that looked at catfish fishing on public waters showed channel catfish are the catfish of choice for about 51 percent of the fishermen. Blue catfish were second at 35 percent followed by flatheads at 12 percent. Another 2 percent didn’t care. They just want to catch fish.
And despite stereotypes of coverall-wearing fishermen fishing from the bank or using trotlines, 65 percent of catfish fishermen fished from boats and about 81 percent fished with a rod and reel. Only about 9 percent of Texas’ catfish fishermen fish primarily with trotlines and 7 percent used juglines.
It comes as no surprise that most catfish fishermen are fishing for meat and they know what size catfish gives them the most and the best-tasting meat — fish in the 14- to 17-inch range. A catfish has to be at least 30-inches long to be considered a trophy, the survey said.
East Texas has an abundance of good catfish lakes. Which one to chose may depend on what species a fisherman prefers to fry.
“The problem is narrowing the list down,” said Craig Bonds, TPWD Inland Fisheries regional biologist. “There are exceptional and there are tons of ‘good’ ones in East Texas. Catfish anglers are very fortunate in East Texas.”
Bond’s best of the best list for blue cats includes Tawakoni, Toledo Bend, Richland Chambers, Livingston, Cedar Creek and Palestine.
Palestine and Tawakoni are also on his list of top channel catfish lakes along with Fork, Pat Mayse and Lake O’the Pines.
“We don’t know as much about flathead catfish fisheries. We don’t sample these fish populations as well with our standard gears and most of the angling activity is by passive gear (trotline and jugline) anglers. I’ve heard recent anecdotal reports of impressive handfishing catches of flathead catfish out of Lake Palestine,” he noted.
A recently published study showed the importance of reservoir size when it comes to a quality blue cat fishery. Bonds said while the same is probably true for channel cats, they also require deepwater invertebrates while the blues need plenty of shad.
Of course cavities for spawning are necessary for all three species of catfish.
Texas biologists are continually trying to get an overall handle on catfish harvest.
“We accurately measure rod-and-reel effort for catfish. This activity is popular in East Texas, but not to the point of causing over-exploitation. We don’t have a good handle on passive gear angling. We know that juglining is becoming more popular, especially during winter months for blue catfish, and anglers are highly efficient at catching large fish,” Bonds said.
Because of the inability to collect numbers, biologists do have some concerns about the success rate of juglines, trotlines and handfishing when it comes to bigger, mature fish.
In urban areas the department is trying to make it easier for fishermen to catch catfish through its Community Fishing Lakes program. These lakes, including Tyler’s Faulkner Park and Woldert Park lakes and others throughout East Texas, are ideal for bank fishing. They are also stocked by the department with a focus on catfish. (For more information go online to http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/fishboat/fish/recreational/lakes/cfl.phtml.)
Beyond the recreational value of catfish, there is also a financial value. According to a 2006 Southwick Associates study, freshwater fishing is a $4.2 billion industry in Texas. Catfish fishing accounts for about $757 million of that, trailing only bass fishing at $1.5 billion.
Not bad for a bottom feeder.