Luke Clayton: Time to stock the freezer with catfish fillets

Outdoors columnist tells of a catfishing adventure on Lake Tawakoni

Luke Clayton
Daily Light contributor
Lake Tawakoni guide Tony Pennebaker with one of many good eating channel catfish he and Luke landed last week.
Luke Clayton

I love fishing for, catching and eating catfish throughout the year. During the winter months, fishing for blue catfish is at its peak and lakes such as Tawakoni and Texoma produce some jumbo-size blues. But summer is prime time for “action” catfishing, a time when limits of “eater” catfish is often the norm. I do a good bit of trotlining for catfish in the summer. A short trotline with 25 hooks baited with cut bait or fresh liver is a good way to put fillets in the cooler. While waiting for my line to produce, I usually fish from the bank with rod and reel.

But my favorite method of summer catfishing is using cheese bait — sometimes called “punch” bait — over holes baited with grain or cattle range cubes.

This past week I joined my friend catfish guide Tony Pennebaker at Lake Tawakoni for a couple hours of intense catching over a hole that he keeps baited with grain and cattle cubes. I liken catfish to wild hogs...bait them and they will come. While it’s possible and common to catch channel catfish without baiting holes, the action is almost never as good as when bait is used to attract the fish under the boat. The process sounds simple, scatter a couple coffee cans full of grain under the boat, get the bait down and the fish will be there.

But to be consistently successful, there is a bit more to it than that. Where to bait and in water how deep are questions that must be addressed in order to consistently produce red hot action.

Guides such as Pennebaker make their living putting clients on fish and it’s their job to know the answers to these question. Tony has the process refined to a science.

“You can bait water just about anywhere right now in the 15- to 20-foot range and you will catch catfish, but for really hot action, there are a few things to look for before deciding where to bait," says Pennebaker. "Fishing this time of year is almost always best close to a submerged creek of river channel. Catfish like to have deeper water close by. Find a sharp bend in a channel with standing timber that you see above the water or subsurface on sonar and you are in prime catfish waters.”

Channel catfish are named appropriately, as they do relate to channels and anyone that has ever fished for them know they also relate to structure. In the early summer they congregate in large numbers in more shallow water around shoreline vegetation such as flooded willow trees. When water heats up in midsummer they also relate to cover such as submerged trees and brush but in deeper water.

Tony and I also prefer good cheese bait for channel catfish. On this trip last week, we had at least three different brands of bait in the boat and we caught catfish on all of them. There are many good catfish baits on the market, but if they do not stay on the hook, you can’t catch fish on them. Most punch baits have fiber which helps the bait stay on the hook but there are also very good “dough” type baits that are effective. Heat can be a problem when using cheese or punch baits. The hotter it gets the softer the bait becomes. When fishing during the heat of the day, it’s sometime necessary to keep the bait in a cooler in order to keep it thick enough to stay on the hook.

Catching catfish is only half the equation for me; eating them is about as much fun as the catching! Just about everyone I know enjoys fresh fried catfish. I often pose the question, which do you like best, fried blue or channel catfish? The consensus is usually about fifty-fifty. Granted, blue catfish fillets, at least fillets from “eater” size blues are usually snow white and very, very tasty. Channel catfish that get up around 3 pounds and larger often have a thin “yellow” fat line on the outside edge of the fillets. This is easily removed when cleaning the fish. Smaller channel catfish weighing 1.5 pounds or less, which makes up the majority of what most folks catch, have no discernible fat to remove. To answer my own question, I truly have no preference; both species provide some of the best eating in fresh water in my opinion.

Contact Tawakoni catfish guide Tony Pennebaker by calling 903-474-3078.

Looking ahead to dove season

It’s impossible to predict where concentrations of dove will be come opening morning but the area up around Wichita Falls traditionally produces consistently good hunting. I recently interviewed Luke Schaffner who with his dad runs dove hunts on several thousand acres about 30 miles east of Wichita Falls. Luke reported resident doves have had a good nesting season and there are lots of birds present. He offers day hunts as well as season leases for a reasonable fee. Motels are available nearby for lodging and he hosts a steak dinner on the opening day hunt. For more information, contact Schaffner at 940-636- 1540.

Texoma stripers on good early morning bite

Bill Carey with Striper Express tells me the early morning topwater bite on schooling stripers has been pretty steady the past few days in the lower lake. Big schools of shad are dispersed in the deeper water now and stripers have been in hot pursuit. Slabs (lead spoons) are producing best when the stripers are feeding sub surface. For more information, visit www.striperexpress.com.

Contact Outdoors writer Luke Clayton via his website www.catfishradio.org .