Outdoor Commentary: Catching Cats Under the Cork | News

I like to catch catfish when it bites on a “narrow line” at the bottom, when it is in the grass and flooded willows during spawning, over holes full of sour grains and when it is “on the rocks” feeding on tar eggs. I love screwing up the catfish on the troutline. But what excites me most is watching the pontoon (cork) begin to vibrate at the surface and then disappear, being pulled down by thick channel catfish that have moved into shallow waters to lay on their forage bag.

Last week, I joined my old friend, guide Seth Vanover, and my nephew Billy Kilpatrick (retired guide) for a few hours of catfish fishing in the red-hot shallow water channel of Lake Fork. This wasn’t the first time I’d been to this annual Hunting Festival and certainly not the Seth Festival. Around this time each year, we set aside mornings to fish together when the fish are in very shallow pockets, feeding on spawning shad, worms, and insects that have washed the lake from recent rainfall. Fish are usually in these shallow pockets during most of May. Running from the downpour charges the sting but the fish are shallow, regardless. Add a wind blowing to the shallow bank and the bite gets really hot. This was the case last week.

Some say this catfish pattern is the beginning of breeding and only a couple of the many fish we landed could have developed egg sacs. I think for the next few weeks, before the water warms up and the catfish really begins to spawn, the main reason for this wonderful bite of shallow water is shad spawning. Catfish are opportunistic feeders. They go where the food is and now, their primary food source is shadd, shallow.

As Seth eased the throttle back on his boat, the bay we were heading to looked familiar but different. With the water level currently lower at the Fork, it was a little lower than I remembered from previous fishing trips.

“Luke, here we are,” said Seth as we entered the sheltered cove, and a heavy breeze in the back. “I think the first time we fished here together was about seven years ago. Although the vegetation on the shoreline has disappeared due to lower water levels, the catfish is here on schedule. We pulled the boundaries of good eating canals from this pocket and another pocket.”

A quick look at the chart indicates that the large boat was sitting in five feet of water, near the center of a small cave, within walking distance of the shallow waters near the shore. Our equipment was simple, light swivel pads wrapped in braided line, a number four treble embedded in a ball of cheese bait and a 14-inch spring-loaded float. In fact, these catfish are likely actively feeding on anything from live worms to chicken livers. With power shafts embedded in the mud, our boat was a stable fishing platform. Soon the baits were dumped close to shore and we quickly found that the fish were concentrated on the clear water side of a mud line running along a small shelf or coming down from about a foot 15 feet from the bank. The trick was to get close to the shore and push the bait out at the edge of the colorful water. This is where the shad gathers. On several occasions, we were able to see catfish fins running to the surface or hear the “drop” sound of pushing the bait to the surface.

Seth always experimented and tested different methods, and equipped a rod for fishing in the depths. Thick catfish bait does not require weight and quickly settles to the bottom. Instead of a “tight liner” as is common when bottom fishing with a weight, Seth left a little slack in his line and became a line watcher. This method actually produced as well as cork fishing but in my biased opinion, it’s not half the fun of seeing that pontoon sink. When the slack line trembled, Seth put back the hook. Using either method, the bait is placed on or very close to the bottom and the results are the same: fast paced fishing.

If you’re planning a shallow-water excursion for catfish, be aware that not every shallow bay you fish catch catfish. It may be necessary to test the fish in a few potential areas before you find a fish focus. Shallow bays can be especially good at this time of year, but bank fishing along straight stretches of beach can also be fruitful during early summer, especially along beaches where winds push shallow shadows against the bank. A few four-foot throws will produce all the shade you need for the bait. Tripping is a necessary evil in this type of fishing, and the crappie wire hook works better than a treble. These hooks will be straightened when they fail and “downtime” relink hooks will be reduced. The lightweight clamp helps pour the bait and keep it close to the bottom. Mixed cysts are common from white bass, catfish and even largemouth. All freshwater species benefit from the abundant food source provided by the hapless spawning chad.

Seth noted that this shallow water sting certainly isn’t the only way to fill the cooler with catfish for the next few weeks, but some of the larger spawns will come from water three feet or less.

This week’s episode “Life of an Athlete” on Carbon TV www.carbontv.com highlights this fishing expedition.

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