Texas is well known for its exceptional catfish fisheries. Such legendary waters as Toledo Bend and the mighty Sabine River have long produced huge, as well as gigantic, catfish.
Often overlooked are the smaller creeks and streams, which carve their way across the entire state. Many of these creeks offer enjoyable and profitable days afield. When looking for places to go catfishing, these smaller bodies of water generally go unutilized by all but the few locals who know the secrets held in their waters.
Not all creeks hold hidden treasure troves of cats, but many do. Recognizing them could mean you could hold the key to a secret honey hole. Not every hole is going to hold channel cats. Some may hold any of five species of catfish found in Texas freshwater creeks.
The most sought after, of course is the channel cat because of its very delicate and tasty meat. A channel cat will bite on just about anything you can throw at them from cheese and dough baits to crickets and night crawlers.
The most common species encountered in smaller creeks is the bullhead. There are two kinds of bullhead, black and green. Though not generally thought of as particularly good table fare, a bullhead caught in good cold running water and handled properly can be quite good eating.
When you start looking for a fishing hole here are a few things I look for. I always start off with the obvious and look for creeks crossing under the roads where I drive regularly. Not just any creek, but creeks that hold water year round. By holding water all year, it offers the resident fish time to mature and get a bit of size to them.
I also like a creek that runs relatively close to a larger body of water. Often catfish will travel upstream in these creeks following baitfish or seeking refuge from the much larger predators in the main waters. That being said, creeks away from larger waters still hold some great fun and fishing. No matter which creek or stream you fish, just look for the larger, deeper pools as they generally provide suitable habitat for better numbers and larger sizes of creek cats.
The tackle needed for taking advantage of creek cats, can be as simple as a cane pole with a few feet of line and a hook—or as elaborate as your best bass fishing rig with slip sinkers and circle hooks. I find that a short five foot, six inch rod or shorter with an ultralight reel and eight to ten pound line good enough for taking just about any creek cat in Texas.
Tight lining on the bottom as well as using bobbers can produce catfish. A wide variety of tackle and techniques can be employed and there really is no wrong way. As long as your hook is in the water and baited you are doing it right.
I have fished with everything under the sun for creek cats, and it generally all works. One of the most used baits in my creek fishing arsenal is bacon. I have caught more fish in creeks on bacon than just about anything. Although I always love to use bacon I never go up or down the creek without a container of night crawlers and some Little Stinker stink bait of some flavor. Usually, I like to use the cheese-flavored and smear it all over whatever bait I am using. Scent carried downstream will bring the cats in for a look at what you have to offer.
One of the best things about creek fishing is that you don’t need a boat, generally not even a pair of rubber boots. Tennis shoes and blue jeans are good enough. All you really need is permission to access the creeks from landowners or the proper permit from the State, such as an Annual Public Hunting Permit.
It is easy to carry a small tackle box and a rod while walking up and down a creek without even breaking a sweat. I find that a simple, small tackle box that will fit into your pocket does well enough to hold everything you need. This includes enough bait for a day’s fishing along just about any creek accessible by a person on foot. If you think you need more tackle or even a few snacks and drinks, a small backpack requires only a little more effort.
I have spent hundreds if not thousands of hours as a boy, trudging along such creeks with names such as Flatfork, Wilkerson, Socagee, Tenaha, Macfadden, and Murvaul catching every kind of cat there was. Oftentimes, I had little more than a willow limb and string with a hook, a pocket full of worms and a piece of old bacon. Many a day saw me carrying home a piece of vine with 15 or 20 catfish threaded on it.
Many times my mother would open the door and find me cooking them up right in the yard Huck Finn style. Sometimes there would be as many as five or six of us boys walking a creek with poles in hand, enjoying our days and building memories that have lasted a lifetime.
These small creeks are much more than just a spot to go fishing. They are a portal to the past. They are a passport to allow us older folks to relive our former log rolling days and introduce the younger generations to a new and fun activity. Adventures that allow a parent or grandparent the opportunity to spend some quality time with a youngster without having to invest in expensive rigs. Nothing is better than sitting on a creek bank, poles in hand and talking the day away while actually catching some catfish to take back to the deep fryer.
—story by Jeff Stewart