Cold Water Cattin’
When many fishermen think of catching channel catfish, images of warm, sunny summertime days come to mind. Cool winter days are reserved for drift fishing for catching trophy blue catfish, right? Well, not if you fish Lake Fork and certainly not if your name is Stubby Stubblefield, maker of Stubby’s Cheesebait.
Stubby has spent almost half a decade guiding fishing trips. Not only for catfish, but stripers and largemouth bass as well. But for the past several years, after moving to the shores of Lake Fork, he mainly targets the lakes plentiful channel catfish.
“I began experimenting with making my own catfish bait about 15 years ago. From the get-go my goal was to make a bait that was the best one on the market for attracting and catching channel fish but also one that didn’t smell to high heaven. It also had to be of a tight consistency that would stay on a treble hook well.” Stubby explained, as we breezed along in his roomy guide boat early this week. We were headed to one of his several ‘baited holes’, where he catches channel catfish year-round.
“Feed them and they will come”, is Stubby’s moto. And feed them he does, with cattle range cubes. But after fishing with Stubby several times in the past couple years, I’ve learned that while randomly choosing a spot to bait with range cubes will probably attract catfish, there are other pieces of the catfish-catching puzzle that need to be in place to consistently catch fish in numbers.
Channel Catfish: Bottom Hugging Species
Channel catfish are appropriately named. They absolutely love hanging on ledges or drop offs which fall abruptly into creek channels. The bottom hugging species can quickly go from deep to more shallow water with a few flips of their tail, depending upon where the most comfortable water column is located on a given day. Almost all of Stubby’s baited holes sit around structures situated on the upper ledge of a creek channel. Locate an area where a couple of channels converge and you have found catfish heaven. This is regardless of whether you’re fishing the sultry weather of midsummer, or during the chill of a passing winter’s cold front.
Bottom depth can be a factor, as our trip this week proved. Stubby had been consistently catching fish in water about 23 feet deep on one of his holes. Naturally, this was the first spot we stopped to fish. While I was more than pleased to get a bite every few minutes, Stubby commented that the action was a bit too slow for him. “It’s a good chance the passing of the cold front pushed them into a bit deeper water,” said Stubby. “Let’s fish a spot close to 30 feet deep and see if we can find a concentration of fish.”
I always hated to leave biting fish. However, we cranked our baits in, took a 5-minute boat ride, tossed out a couple of double-handfuls of range cubes, and promptly had our baits dangling a few inches above bottom. I glanced at the sonar and noted we were in 28-foot water. I wondered if the difference of 5 feet could possibly make a difference. The next few minutes proved that it certainly can! The frequency of bites increased. As soon as the bait hit bottom and the slack taken out of the line, it was important to hand-on and ‘feel’ for the often-subtle bite.
Soft Bite Takes a Special Touch
While some of the catfish whacked the bait hard, the prevalent bite was soft, often just a slight jiggle of the rod tip, or possibly the ‘feel’ of the rod loading up and the line getting a bit taught, as a catfish sucked the bait into its mouth. Stubby builds some state-of-the-art extremely sensitive catfish and crappie rods. I can truly say that had I been using my old catfish rod, I would have missed most of the bites.
I have fished with a great many pro fishermen that I considered to be expert ‘finesse’ fishermen. Guys and gals that could set the hook on a bite that I could never detect. But on this trip, I was fishing with one of Stubby’s custom rods. Not bragging, but I think I caught about as many catfish as the pro I was fishing with. I don’t attribute this to any great angling skills on my part. Rather, it’s the difference a quality rod makes in detecting the ‘soft’ bite of a tentative biting fish.
Crappie, especially those caught from cold water, are notorious for their soft bite that is often hard to detect. When most anglers think of catching catfish, they believe a buggy whip limber rod with a strong backbone will always get the job done. This is usually not the case, especially when the fish are on a tentative bite. The sensitive tip on these rods made all the difference. Combined with a spine or backbone strong enough to drive the hook home on the hookset, these rods were obviously one of the prime reasons for our box full of good eating channel cats.
Ah, Good Eatin’
I would be remiss not to brag on the flavor of crispy fried catfish fillets caught from cold water. Catfish are tasty regardless the time of year they are caught. There is however, something very special about the flavor of those caught this time of year. After well over a half century of catching catfish, I always seem to learn something new when fishing with pros like Stubby. On this trip, I learned that I might just be a fair ‘finesse’ fisherman after all. I’ve just needed the right fishing rod all these years!
For more information on catfishing at Lake Fork, contact Stubby Stubblefield at 817-366-5492
Listen to “Outdoors with Luke Clayton and Friends on radio stations from Nebraska to Texas on weekends or anytime online at www.catfishradio.org.