August 30th, 2011

Outdoor Journal: Catfish Crazy on Lake Houston

A lot of anglers use that “I find God in the serenity of nature when I’m out on the lake” mantra in order to hit the water on a Sunday morning. Maybe that’s true if you’re on a picturesque creek in Montana flicking flies at brown trout while bear cubs scurry about, but the only thing present on a shrinking Texas reservoir in mid-August are Satan himself and the mentally deranged. And hopefully- catfish.

After dropping my wife off at work and ordering a grande Redeye, I hit the road for Lake Houston Marina via 59 N and 1960. I had read in the Chronicle that Lake Houston was one of the primo catfish spots in Texas. The lowering water has diminished oxygen levels in the northern parts of the lake, and while bass, crappie and other more highly sought game fish seek less stagnant areas, it’s become increasingly active habitat for the whiskered beasts. Basically, the cats are stoner-hungry and a Golden Corral of carrion opened in their neighborhood and it only accepts “their kind”.

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Launching my 10 ½’ Pelican kayak for the first time was a relative breeze. I paid $10 to park, purchased a package of frozen shad and hopped right in and started paddling. Before long, I realized that all of those spots I had noticed on the bridge that looked like good prospects were actually hundreds of miles from my launch point. Or at least it felt that way as my shoulders strained against the tepid water and the sun began to rise and give me the middle finger. I assumed that I looked like a brawny Norse fisherman that had lost his way whilst heaving against the sea’s might until I caught my reflection in the water. I was closer to heat stroke than He-Man.

Parking under a bridge seemed to be the logical thing to do- if I needed shade, the fish must be stacked beneath it as well where the channel boogied through. I baited a 3/0 circle hook with a shad that had come unfrozen from its brethren, threading the hook through its goggly eye, then rolling its body in upon itself and re-hooking it through the spine. (If they need a consultant for Saw VII, I’m available for a nominal fee.)It’s a nasty business and even though I’m always prepped to get a little dirty, my stolen gym towel came in handy. I cast him out accompanied by a 1/8 oz. split-shot and waited. And waited. And waited.

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“What’s the deal?” I asked a plastic bag floating by. It didn’t answer. The heat, even under the bridge, was getting to me. After more than an hour listening to cars hum overhead and droplets of guano and pigeon shit hit the water, I had nothing to show for my efforts. I decided to go for broke at that point and fish the flats- the massive areas of thigh-deep water and sand bars that cover acres and acres of northern Lake Houston in the summer. This would, however, mean abandoning my semi-comfort zone and wandering aimlessly in the Texas sun. It was like being on the Oregon Trail and leaving the safe confines of the general store when you know that the only thing ahead is Snake River and dysentery.

I paddled to a sandy point pocked with newly exposed stumps and threw out some chum. Catfish Magic comes in pretty large bags from Academy, and all you have to do is soak it in your hand, roll it into a few balls, and broadcast it where you want catfish to show up. I watched my neon 20 lb. test for the twitch-and-run, tell-tale sign that a cat had latched on, and sure enough, within 10 minutes, the frenzy had begun. I had made the mistake of baiting two lines, which really did nothing but slow me down in the long run considering I only had to wait a couple of minutes between channel cats 14-16’’ long. As suddenly as they had started though, after I had landed 10 fish, things shut off. I switched baits. I switched spots. I beat the water into submission with every tactic I had under my belt- but it yielded nada. It appears that come mid-day, even these resilient felines tend to get sluggish.

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Now then, what every fisherman/woman wants to know. Is it worth making church excuses to hook, stab, soak, burn, scratch and dehydrate yourself for the potential of catching a few fish for the fryer? This trip, in my opinion, is definitely worth it if you are within a half hour of the action. If you’re outside of that range, wait until it cools off a little. By then, the fishing pattern may have changed, but you also won’t sweat buckets while you try to figure them out.

What you’ll need:
- A kayak and $10 for parking.
- A rig you don’t mind beating up a little. I fish with an Ambassadeur C-Series reel on a 7’, medium action Ugly Stick. I have prettier stuff, but I like that I can just throw this in the truck and roll, so to speak.
- 15-20 lb. test Catfish line. Yes there’s a difference. The monofilament made for catfishing is usually pretty stiff, and its neon color makes it really easy to identify a strike when fishing with dead bait on the bottom.
- 3/0 circle hooks. Circle hooks often set themselves, so when you’re not paying a lick of attention or babbling to your heat-stroke inspired imaginary friends, you’ve still got a shot.
- 1/8 oz. splitshot weights. One on your line a foot above your bait is enough to keep your setup on the bottom and stationary when your kayak is getting slapped around by boat wakes.
- Hook removers. A must for a big cat’s tough maw.
- A stringer or a fish basket.
- Sunscreen. Lots of it.
- Small cooler with water. Freeze a few bottles the night before and they’ll stay cool for as long as you really feel like fishing.
- A box of frozen shad. Sure, the fresh stuff probably works better, but if the fish are differentiating that much, their just being assholes anyway, and I’d prefer not to associate with them.
- A bag of Catfish Magic chum.
- Sunglasses. The glare that comes off the water as the sun rises on a bluebird day is, in a word, uncomfortable.

Poquito Lagniappe

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Bombshell Catfish
Here’s a fish fry recipe that I’m looking forward to trying out. If you beat me to it, let me know what you think:

½ cup flour
½ cup cornmeal
½ cup Panko bread crumbs
Old Bay seasoning
Cayenne pepper
1 can Southern Star Bombshell Blonde (Room temp.)
1 egg
Peanut or canola oil

PREP
1.) Cut fish filets to desired size, pat mostly dry
2.) Mix Panko and cornmeal in a bowl and add Old Bay and cayenne pepper to taste
3.) Flour goes into separate bowl
4.) Lightly whisk the beer and 1 whole egg together in a bowl
5.) Heat your oil in a large pot. It will be hot enough to fry when you can sprinkle a little flour on the surface and watch it sizzle

COOKING
1.) Dredge filets in flour, coating all sides in thin layer
2.) Dip each filet into the beer/egg mixture and dredge immediately in cornmeal/Panko mixture, coating all sides
3.) Slowly add filet into fryer
4.) When filets begin to float and turn a golden color, they will be done. Carefully remove.
5.) Eat immediately out of the fryer. Burn mouth and make weird noises. Drink rest of Bombshell Blonde. It’s the only way to enjoy a fish fry.

— Tea Jones

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