Athens Review, Athens, Texas

June 19, 2013

MATT WILLIAMS: Finding the perfect catch

A rundown and fishing tips for Texas' top 3 freshwater fish

The Athens Review

Athens — Texas freshwater fishermen love their sport. Statewide, the crowd numbers nearly 2 million strong, and they invest a ton of money and gobs of time in chasing everything from gargantuan size alligator gar to pint size bluegills on lakes, rivers and streams in every corner of the state.

I'm not sure how many gar fishermen there are in Texas, but you can bet the number is laughably low compared to the number of anglers who place game fish like largemouth bass, catfish and crappie at the top of their hit lists.

In terms of angler popularity, the largemouth bass is the king in Texas. Catfish rank second, while crappie run a close third. The numbers don't lie, no matter how you shake them up.

“Roughly 50 percent of the fishermen we have polled say they prefer fishing for largemouth bass over other species,” says Ken Kurzawski, regulations and programs director with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. “Catfish are in the low 20 percentile and crappie usually account for about 15-16 percent. Those numbers have been pretty steady since the survey was started back in the late-1980s.”

What follows are some timely tips for going after the Big 3 as summer heat cranks up:

Bass Fish

• One of the best ways to catch big bass during the heat of the day on a “grass lake” is to flip heavyweight jigs or soft plastics into the edges of matted hydrilla or milfoil beds that are in water 10 feet deep or more. The water is cooler beneath the dense canopy. Plus, the grass provides concealment for bass so they can ambush unsuspecting bait fish.

• Flipping is a vertical fishing technique that works best in combination with a heavy action rod and braided line with a breaking strength of 50 pounds or more. The stiff rod provides plenty of leverage for horsing bass out of heavy cover, while the braid cuts through the grass like a butter knife.

• You can refine the search for grass bass by looking for little points, indentions and cuts in the grass bed. Such “oddities” are reliable indicators of a change in water depth where bass will sometimes concentrate in groups or schools.

• Always make sure the hooks on your bait are sharp. The best way to test for sharpness is to use the fingernail test. Place the point of the hook on your thumbnail, apply very slight pressure and try to slide the hook point across your nail. If it sticks, it is sharp. If it slides, you need to sharpen the hook or replace it altogether.

• Try to keep your distance when approaching bass that are actively schooling on the surface. Move too close and could spook fish prematurely. How close should you get? Just close enough that you can reach them with a long cast.

• Assorted topwater baits will catch school bass, but they will also hit Rat-L-Traps, crank baits and small jigging spoons retrieved just beneath the surface. Often times, a deep-diving crankbait or plastic worm fished just beneath the school will catch bigger bass that are cruising along picking off wounded shad left behind the small fish.

• Buzz frogs like the Stanley Ribbit and Zoom Horny Toad are deadly medicine on bass that are holding around shallow lily pads and scattered clumps of hydrilla. Ribbit's have boot-shaped feet that kick up lot of commotion as the bait skims the surface, whereas the Horny Toad has flat feet that make a subtle “pitter pat” sound. As a rule, frogs that make less noise work best in still water conditions.  Louder baits work best when there is some chop on the surface.

• Sometimes school bass will so keyed in on small shad that they will not hit a standard size lure. A good way to remedy the problem is to tie an 18-24 inch strand of monofilament to the rear hook or split ring eye and add a small crappie jig that is white or smoke in color.

• Always use monofilament or braided line in combination with topwater baits. Those two types of line float, whereas fluorocarbon line sinks. Sinking line will hamper the action of a topwater lure.

• Just about any boat dock is prone to hold bass, but some are more attractive than others. The best docks are those located in close proximity to deeper water provided by a channel swing or abrupt drop off. A brush pile can make good dock even better.

Crappie Fish

• One of the best ways to insure some success with summer crappie is to build a few man-made “fish hotels” or brush piles in water ranging 20-30 feet deep. Crappie are object nuts and they will often congregate around brush piles in big numbers.

• Crappie will gravitate to all sorts of brush, but willows and sweet gum work exceptionally well. The trees can be utilized whole if they are the proper size, or you can whack several limbs off larger trees and bond them together at the base using a heavy wire or nylon rope.

• A brush pile intended to attract crappie should be weighted at the base so it will stand erect as opposed to laying on its side. This allows the fish to stay comfortable as they move up and down in the water column over the course of the day.

• Cinder blocks or buckets of concrete make good anchor weights for brush piles, but they can get expensive if you are doctoring multiple spots. A cheaper alternative is to use polypropylene bags filled with sand. You can buy the bags and bulk and fill them with sand for free at the lake if it is available.

• Highway bridge crossings will attract crappie, as well. Long bridges over deep water are supported by concrete pillars that are connected with one or two sets of cross members. The fish generally to like congregate around the cross members.

• A good depth finder is a valuable tool for crappie fishing. Not only will it help you locate brush piles, it will also tell you depth at which the fish are holding around the available cover.

• Crappie will hit assorted baits, but live shiners fished on a 2/0 gold aberdeen hook and small jigs typically rule. Sometimes crappie will hit both baits equally well, other times not. It is never a good idea to go crappie fishing without both.

• Berkley Crappie Nibbles are a great addition to any jig. The small dough baits come in a jar, are clean to handle and are just the right size for tipping the hook. I've seen time when jigs tipped with the nibbles would out produce a standard jig or minnow rig 5:1.

• One of best the shiner rigs for fishing for crappie around brush piles consists of of two 1/4 ounce slip sinkers rigged above a No. 2 gold Aberdeen crappie hook. If the hook snags on a limb, jiggle the line up and down a few times. This causes the top weight to crash repeatedly into the bottom weight. This will usually knock the hook free.

• When casting jigs around bridge pilings and cross members it is a good idea to fish parallel with the concrete structure to keep the bait in the strike zone for the longest period of time. Pay close attention and watch your line where it enters the water to detect the subtle strikes that sometimes occur as the bait is falling.


• One of the best ways to better the odds of catching catfish is to “bait a hole” using soured maize, milo or corn. Range cubes intended for cattle also will attract catfish from a distance.

• The idea of baiting a hole is to attract catfish to a given spot and trigger a feeding frenzy, not serve up a full meal. In other words, don't overdo it. A couple of coffee cans of grain down either side of the boat will get the job done.

• Always make sure both ends of the boat are secured before you bait a spot and begin fishing. That way you can drop the bait straight down into the strike zone and keep it there 100 percent of the time.

• Catfish like to hangout around brush, log jams and stumps. Always be sure to take along plenty of extra terminal tackle such as hooks and weights. You are likely to break off several times over the course of the day.

• Catfish like to patrol underwater structure such as creek channels, humps, timber flats, points and ridges. Keep that in mind when baiting a hole.

• Never leave your rods unattended when fishing for catfish. It is a good idea to place them in some sort of rod holder. This will prevent the rods from getting jerked overboard when a fish takes the bait unexpectedly.

• Channel and blue catfish will hit assorted baits including prepared punch baits and stink baits, fresh shad, cut perch, night crawlers, minnows, shrimp and liver. Flathead catfish prefer live bait over dead. Small bream and pollywogs are excellent bait for flatheads, especially when used on trotlines.

• Trotliners routinely stretch their lines between two stumps. Always be on point when approaching the final hook closest to the stumps. Often times, this is where  the biggest fish will be.

• A trotline should be built using high quality materials that will take some punishment, especially if will be dunked in a lake known for kicking out monsters.

Use 600-test tarred nylon for the main line, 200-pound tarred nylon for the stagings and 2/0 Roscoe swivels to prevent line twist.

It also smart to use big circle hooks (9/0 or 10/0) made from stainless steel.

• One of the best ways to rig for bottom feeding catfish is the Carolina-style rig.

If there are a lot of channel cat around, use a short leader (12-14 inches). The shorter leader will enable you to detect subtle strikes when channel cat are biting light.

• Sliding a small Comal cork onto the leader, about two inches above the hook,  will help elevate the punch or dough baits off the bottom so the catfish can find it easier. The company makes corks of different sizes; the 1 1/2 inch model works best on channel cat bottom rigs.

Matt Williams is a freelance writer based in Nacogdoches. He can be reached by e-mail,