Catching catfish in the cold months in Texas can be the most rewarding time of year, and most anglers don’t take advantage of it.
You just don’t think about baiting lines when it’s cold and damp outside. You might be missing out on arguably the best time to catch large numbers of eating size catfish.
Cold weather makes time on the water a bit more uncomfortable than the usual warm weather most are used to.If you plan to fish the cooler waters you had better be prepared for some cold hands and face. A good set of insulated waders is a must in my book to fend off old man winter while chasing the big blues and channel cats of late season.
Live bait is a paramount must-have for those late season cats. I love to put out eight to ten throw lines. A throw line is a line about 40 feet in length with a hook set about every four feet and a heavy weight on the end. The leading end is tied to a good flexible limb as close to the water’s edge as possible.
The water in late winter is generally up, and the current is swifter than the usual summer and spring fishing. The best place to locate your lines is along the rivers edge in relatively shallow water six to 12 feet in depth. Your top hook should be set in the shallows, then the line run out and dropped in the deep water. The natural current will settle it in the right spot.
Baiting a throw line is a three-fold process. Live perch is the best without a doubt. I like what I call two-finger perch. Just about the size of your first two fingers in length and width. These little darlings are like candy to the blue cats I target in the four to 12-pound range.
I often get much larger cats, but I target the really best eating-size cats this time of year. The colder water and often lots of fresh water lend to some of the best tasting fish you can get.
If I can’t get my hands on the live perch I love to use, I use beef liver and chicken hearts. You generally get a lot of smaller cats with this bait, but you tend to get larger numbers. The third bait choice is cut bait. During the year I save the filets and rib cuts from carp and buffalo. At times this bait works as well or better than live perch.
Prepping your gear is a must before you hit the water. Cold hands and freezing fingertips make it miserable to put your lines together in the field. Sharp hooks are as important as good bait.
Cold water makes for somewhat slow lazy bites. Needle sharp hooks assure more solid sets.
I let my lines soak a minimum of 12 hours. Generally, from late afternoon until early morning is a prime set, but in the winter early morning until late afternoon is often better. The sun warms the water, and the fish become more active.
It’s not unheard of to catch 25 to 30 fish a day. I often catch my limit with a 15- to 20-line set, but I am happy with 10 to 15 fish so I mainly do eight to ten lines.
This moves us on to using a good old rod and reel in the cold months. If at all possible try to get some chicken guts. I know this sounds gross, but the best cool catfish winter fishing I ever experienced was when I worked as an industrial electrician at a poultry processing plant and had access to chicken entrails.
The river was very high, and we fished the grassy rivers edge. In two hours we had a three-man limit of blue cats ranging in size from two pounds up to 15 pounds.
You are best off to find some fairly swift water off of a sand bar and fish a heavy sinker Carolina rig with a double hook. Fish that edge just off the vegetation. Water can range from three to eight feet in depth. Watch for trash on your line. If you have a lot of trash, gather up your line then move. Fish do not like to bite in water with lots of floating leaf litter and debris. It also gets on your hooks and obscures your bait.
I guess a few safety thoughts need to be addressed. If possible keep a small propane heater in your boat. You will never appreciate anything more than being able to warm your cold, wet fingers at a moment’s notice.
I like a heater that serves two purposes. A heater I can heat up some coffee and a can of soup on, is a lifesaver even in the not-so-frigid East Texas winter. When your hands are wet, 45 degrees is very cold. Also, a long boat ride can be excruciatingly cold even at mid-40s.
—story by Jeff Stewart