CATFISH AND CHRISTMAS don’t exactly go together.
Well, it doesn’t SEEM like there would be a connection, but the reality is some of the best action for big blue catfish comes this time of year along the coast.
We have put together some tips for blue cats as well as other coastal rod benders that bite when the temperatures drop. Frank Moore, who pursues these big, brackish blues every year, said there are precise locations you need to target to find them.
“My favorite spots to get them are the deep, wide bends in some of the bayous,” Moore said. “There tends to be a lot of mussel shells in some of these spots, which blues feed on. There are also quite a few crabs, which the blues and redfish feed on as well. If we find blues in these areas, the reds are always close by.”
He fishes small chunks of cut mullet on a Carolina (Fish Finder) rig and targets outgoing tides.
“These fish will move up tight to the shorelines to feed on high tides, and when it starts to trickle out, you can really get on a good bite. It is very common to catch fish up to 15 pounds but most of them are in the five to eight-pound range.”
Another spot he targets is along the edge of drop-offs in the Intracoastal.
“There are lots of big blues and reds in the ship channel during the winter, Moore said. “On warm afternoons when you have a high tide, the dark mud heats up and the fish move onto there. Any time from an hour or so before peak high tide until an hour or so after it starts falling is a good time.”
Jetties are home to massive “bull” black drum that can weigh more than 50 pounds, and once again the boat cuts can be a good location. Typically drums will gather and feed as the forage moves through the cut.
If the tide is going from the channel into the Gulf, anchor near the jetty and cast away from it. If, it is moving from the Gulf into the channel anchor out about 75 yards and cast toward the cut. Probably the best spots, however, are the deep holes formed by current near the southern tip of a jetty.
I prefer to fish for drums with heavy tackle, in the 30 to 50- pound class. Crab is the best choice for bait. Broken in half, and hooked through the carapace, crab has a long hook life and is irresistible to drum.
Drums are a pecking fish, and sometimes they’ll not take your bait and run with it. When you see something pecking on your line, pick it up and wait until you feel pressure on the other end. At that point, pull back and brace yourself.
Sheepshead are highly overlooked and are perhaps the coast’s best winter fishery. These fish congregate in the highest numbers in our jetty systems. Right now is an excellent time to catch them as they begin gathering in large numbers to spawn next month. This species’ unique dentures give them an edge on picking baits off of a hook.
My favorite method for catching them is using a 1/4-ounce jighead rigged with a small piece of shrimp, fished vertically over rock outcroppings at the jetties.
I use a light braided line such as Berkley Fireline, which has an eight-pound diameter and 20-pound test. This low stretch line helps with hookset in a hard mouth. Low stretch also aids with sensitivity.
The sheepshead’s bite can be so slight you actually have to watch the line. It can be virtually impossible to detect otherwise. A braided or fusion line can help overcome this, but it can still be tough at times. Many times they thump a jig pretty hard, but when they go stealth, few fish can pick a bait off of a hook quicker.
When the water clears up, these fish can be line shy, so use a fluorocarbon leader under the cork for best results. Fluorocarbon is virtually invisible. It also has low-stretch properties, which enhances its sensitivity.
Many anglers use small treble hooks, which the fish ingest. Yet with regulations that require us to throw back many sheepsheads, that is probably not a good idea.
I have my best luck with solid, short-shanked hooks. Hook girth is something to consider, because these fish often bite through thin hooks. I have had them bite through thick hooks as well, but that is a rarity.
Anglers should also target reds that gather in warm-water discharges during winter. A warm-water discharge comes in many forms. It can be a vast cooling plant that spews out thousands of gallons of warm water each minute, or it can be a small drainage pipe or culvert that has a very light flow. Chemical refineries often have small pump stations that produce a warm water flow that diverts into underwater pipelines.
Any of these areas can hold a surprising number of fish. More flow and warmer water, compared to the surrounding waters, will hold more fish.
Different species favor various degrees of warmth or current. For example, redfish congregate next to the outflow pipes and prefer areas where the water is warmest.
Deeper holes in the canal may also hold many reds. Dead shrimp will catch a mess of small reds, but use cut mullet or crab if you are after big ones. I have found squid to be an effective alternative. It has the right smell, and its bright color adds visual appeal in dark water.
Keep in mind that even small flows from a single drainpipe can draw fish. They may not hold massive schools of fish for long periods, but even a slight change in water temperature can make a big difference in cold weather.
Look for the little things in these spots, because very often that’s all it takes to attract game fish.
Team Catfish Video – Catching HUGE BLUE CATFISH on Lake Tawakoni Texas
—story by CHESTER MOORE