As Lake Fork catfish guide Seth Vanover eased the throttle back on his big 22-foot G3 Elite boat, he pointed to an area in the lower lake covered with timber.
“We’ve been hammering the channel catfish here. There is a submerged ledge just out from shore where the water drops to around 27 feet,” Vanover said. “We’ll tie up and get our baits down close to bottom. It should be good this evening.”
Channel catfish love cover and the submerged forest of dead trees looked like catfish heaven to me. The knowledge of the submerged steep ledge we were fishing over help bolster confidence as well.
Vanover’s crew for this late afternoon fishing trip consisted of this outdoors writer, my grandson Jack Zimmerman, his stepdaughter Morgan Hartline and two young friends, Cason and Jesse. Vanover is a huge proponent of exposing kids to the fun of fishing and I was happy to be able to bring my 11-year old grandson along to meet some new friends and enjoy his first fishing trip to Lake Fork.
Seth learned much of what he knows about catching catfish from his mentor Bill McCarrell at Lake of The Pines.
“Bill taught me the type of structure and depth to fish during various times of the year while fishing with him,” Vanover said. “Years ago, I learned how and where to bait areas with soured grain to attract channel catfish.”
Some catfish anglers believe that catching catfish is as simple as tossing out a coffee can full of soured hen scratch or range cubes. While soured grain definitely helps to concentrate catfish, it’s important to learn the depths the fish prefer at various times of the year.
A couple months ago, during their annual spawn, channel catfish were in water three-five feet deep and we tossed grain around the shoreline and pulled them in.
Now, during the dog days of summer, the majority of the catfish are being caught in the lower light conditions and cooler water temperatures of water at least 25 feet deep.
As Seth’s big boat came about on a taunt line, pushed by a gentle southerly breeze, it was time to get some baits into the water. The awning overhead provided shelter from the late afternoon summer sun.
Shade is in big demand this time of year and a great addition to any fishing boat when constant casting is not necessary.
Vertical fishing is the name of the game when catching summertime channel catfish. Casting would result in instant hang ups in the thickly matted brush and limbs below. I noticed the side imaging sonar on the boat’s console and also noted it was not turned on.
“I’ve spent countless hours graphing areas for catching catfish on Fork,” Vanover said. “This has been one of my most productive spots since the catfish moved into deeper water.”
It was very clear that his state of the art side imaging sonar had already mapped this area thoroughly and our guide had the subtle bottom contour lines firmly ingrained in his brain.
In an interview with Vanover a week earlier for my radio show, he was quick to point out that his favorite bait for catching channel catfish was chicken livers.
“My catfish mentor taught me long ago that chicken liver is very consistent and readily available bait. The blood in the liver attracts the catfish and it’s tough enough to stay on a treble hook well,” Vanover said. “A quick stop at any grocery store, and for less than two dollars, I’ve got what I’ve found to be the best catfish bait available, day in and day out.”
He opened his ice cooler, removed a couple tubs of chicken livers and we began baiting hooks.
“Let the baits make contact with bottom, ant then crank it up two turns of the reel handle. You’ll have to really watch your rod tip,” Vanover said. “Some of the catfish, even the bigger ones, have been just mouthing the bait. When you feel the slightest ‘bump’ on your line, set the hook hard.”
The instructions were no more than out of the guide’s mouth when a couple of the youngsters in the front of the boat began jerking the rod tips in attempts to set the hook. One of the boys was hooked fast to a chunky two -pound channel catfish.
I had my rod in a holder while I was shooting some pictures and missed a couple of good bites. Just as predicted, the bite was often soft.
Sometime the fish came up with the bait, resulting in a slack line, other times their ‘nibble’ on the liver jiggled the rod tip ever so gently. Our hook up rate was about 70 percent, which resulted in plenty of good eating catfish for a big fish fry back at home the next day.
It’s common knowledge that Fork is home to some of the bigger channel catfish of all the lakes in northeast and east Texas. While channel catfish weighing 1.25 to 1.5 pounds is a good average on many lakes, Fork’s cats run a bit bigger on average.
Channel catfish in the two-four pound range are plentiful in Fork’s fertile waters and occasionally, fish weighing several pounds more are landed. Vanover pointed out that the same deep ledges that provided such good catfish action on our trip also hold some barndoor crappie but, that’s another story.
There are plenty of big blue catfish in Fork as well and Vanover begins targeting them during the fall and winter months. For the big blues, he switches from chicken liver to chunks of fresh, bloody, oily cut shad or sunfish. We catch some nice blues this time of year, mostly at night drift fishing with cut bait but with the channel catfish bite so dependable, it’s hard to get away from the steady action.
Listen to Outdoors with Luke Clayton Radio at www.catfishradio.com. Email Luke via the web site with outdoor related news from your area.