The Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center’s main stocked fishing pond, Lake Zebco, covers only about an acre and a half. (A full football field including end zones covers 1.32 acres.) Walking at a brisk pace, you can circle it in three or four minutes.
The lake’s small size does not give a hint of what monsters lurk beneath its surface. On the morning of Valentine’s Day, Jonathan (“Gonzo”) Gonzalez of Kaufman caught a channel catfish measuring 35.25 inches long and 23 inches in girth and weighing 18.6 pounds.
Gonzalez, a frequent visitor to TFFC, is a dedicated fly-fisher who frequently fishes for rainbow trout in TFFC’s ponds. As usual, on this occasion he was targeting rainbows using a five-weight rod and a semi-seal lure in peacock green.
Gonzalez is a prolific fly-tier who demonstrates his skills at the annual Fly Fish Texas event at TFFC, scheduled this year for March 9. “A semi-seal fly is named that because it looks like seal fur,” he said. “It’s bushy.” Gonzalez first saw the fly in Arizona, where it is used for trout, and now ties the pattern himself.
“I had seen trout rising on the upper end of the pond near where the waterfall comes in,” Gonzalez revealed. “I cast just past the trout, and the catfish hit the fly as soon as it hit the water. I suspect he may have been looking for rainbow trout to eat.”
The catfish is his biggest catch on a fly rod, eclipsing the 10.5-pound bass that was his previous best. How big was it? Well for starters, it is a pending state fly-rod record for channel catfish as well as a pending state catch-and-release record. And not surprisingly, it will rank as the Lake Zebco fly rod and catch-and-release records. It will also garner Gonzalez a Big Fish Award from Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
“I was pretty lucky,” Gonzalez said. “I fish at TFFC a lot, and this was just icing on the cake.”