Catfish training in numbers this time of year is very essential – feed them and they will come! I’ve written enough words about catching catfish to fill a pretty big book over the years and I’ve fished and cooked my share, but only a few sentences can sum up the ease of catching so many catfish during the summer months.
The first step is to locate permanent woods in water 12-20 feet deep, and isolated trees are often good structures to target. Feed the water around the tree with two coffee cans of sour bean or cattle cubes and then give the ‘companion’ some time for the scent to permeate the water. The catfish will soon find your feed tank and making summer fish fry will start to fill you up.
Best baits? Well, the sky’s the limit, but cheese or bait on a #4 or #6 treble hook with a split shot to keep it low is a simple ticket to success. A cube liver will also get the job done and so will everything from nocturnal crawlers to catalpa worms. Once a catfish is attracted to the grain, it does not usually pick up on what it eats. It is very common to catch a catfish that devours itself on a friend but continues to feed it.
At Lake Tawakuni I join my guide friend Tony Pennebaker a few times each year and I can honestly say we’ve never been back to the pier without a lot of catfish. In winter, fall, winter and spring, target the blue catfish available in the lakes, but when the waters warm up, it’s time to bait the holes and start fishing for cheese bait for the channel cats. As he guides almost every day, Tony keeps a bait on several “trees” and often spins fishing grounds. When he pulls into a hole with a bait, he doesn’t have to wait for the action to begin, the fish is already there, and a little fresh friend usually puts it in a biting position.
Although the average angler like me can’t expect that kind of constant movement on every flight just because we can’t keep bait somewhere on a daily basis, we can expect to start catching fish from where we’re feeding it within a few minutes. It is a good idea to feed two or three places when you reach the lake and then move from place to place if necessary to find actively feeding fish. It shouldn’t take long to find receptive fish.
Last week, I joined Tony and my friend Jeff Rice for an early morning two hour non-stop fishing. We came back to the dock with a thickness of 1.5-3lbs, nothing really big but plenty of good eating. Jeff filmed the trip and you can watch the action now on A Sportsman’s Life at CarbonTV.com or YouTube.
With so many tasty fillets on hand, I plan several catfish meals including of course the fried fish. But I have some other ways to cook catfish and I want to share them with you.
I first cooked a walleye in Saskatchewan using this method and it is one of my favorites. Instead of heating a cast iron skillet to a white temperature, I cook over medium-high heat. Put a little unsalted butter in the pan and sprinkle a generous amount of black seasoning on one side of the fillet and put its seasoned side in the skillet, seasoning the top of the fillet. It is better to do this outside because even at medium altitudes there will be smoke. Allow the fillets to cook for 5 minutes, then flip and brown the other side for about the same amount of time. Just before removing the fillets, turn up the heat a bit and brown the outside of the fillets, this forms a delicious crust and the heat adds a little flavor to the seasoning. Squeeze a little lemon on the slices and dig in!
For years, I was slow to warm up to the idea of tacos but once I started cooking them, they became a staple. Fish tacos can be made from just about any fish, whether it’s fried or blackened. Regardless of your choice, the end result will be chunks of fish, not big chunks. Fresh shredded cabbage goes well with fish tacos, and I always serve either style with a generous amount of pico with a little fresh lemon juice. Most people prefer corn tortillas for fish tacos, just make sure and buy good tortillas that hold together and keep the ingredients intact.
My friend Danny Hood lives in South Carolina where catfish stew is great. I haven’t tried Danny’s recipe yet but it’s on the agenda soon. There are many variations of this recipe but Danny is an excellent cook and I try his recipe first!
1 1/2 to 2 pounds catfish fillets, 4 cups of water, 3 slices of lean bacon, 1 onion, chopped, 2 large potatoes, cut into 14-inch cubes, 3 tomatoes or diced canned tomatoes, 8 oz. can tomato sauce, 1 tbsp. chopped basil, 1 tbsp. Thyme, bay leaf, 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar, hot ketchup or regular ketchup, seasoned with hot sauce, salt and pepper to taste.
Place the catfish in the water in a large saucepan. Bring to a slow boil, then reduce heat to medium-low. Partially cover the pot and simmer until the meat is tender and opaque, about 20 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat, and remove the fish from the broth to cool, reserving the broth. After it cools, divide the fish into small pieces. In a large saucepan or saucepan, fry the bacon until crispy. Remove, drain on a paper towel and break into small pieces. Add onions to the pan and saute for three minutes. Add broth, bacon, potatoes, tomatoes, tomato sauce, herbs, vinegar, and bay leaf. Cover the pot and simmer over a low heat until the potatoes are tender. Combine cooked catfish with ketchup, salt and pepper, heat and eat!
Call Tawakuni Lake Catfish Guide Tony Pennebaker at 903-474 3078. Email Luke through his website www.catfishradio.org