August is National Catfish Month
East Texans are well acquainted with the bottom feeder, known as the the whiskerfish. Area residents have enjoyed catfishing and the fish fry feast they make for many years.
In East Texas, Toledo Bend, Tawakoni, Richland-Chambers, Livingston, Palestine, Cedar Creek, Conroe and Sam Rayburn are considered primo catfish lakes. In recent years, Lake Fork near Quitman has also become a catfish hot spot.
While there is “more than one way to skin a cat,” there is more than one way to catch a cat too. Just about anything goes on Texas waters, as far as catfishing is concerned. Noodling, pole fishing, bow fishing, trot-lining, jug-lining, and chumming are all ways East Texans catch whiskerfish.
Only recently did Texas grant catfisherman the official blessing to noodle in Texas waterways, after almost a century of banning the practice. During the 82nd regular session of the Texas Legislature, the long-since prohibited practice of “handfishing” for catfish was legalized. Anyone who is brave enough to wade out neck deep, sticker their arm into a dark hole until they feel the slick fleshy sides of a catfish, and then feed it their fist can now do so legally. All the state requires for noodling is a valid fishing license, and if you’re over 75-years-old, you don’t even have to have a license.
East Texans have expressed interest in the daring sport of noodling, however not many have actually braved the waters where the big cats swim. Numerous lakes in the region carry tales of monster catfish lurking deep in the muddy waters of East Texas. Tales of catfish large enough to swallow a man whole have been passed down from generation to generation, and have served as a deterrent for noodlers. Also, the fact that record breaking alligators have been pulled out of area waterways does not inspire many East Texas fisherman to go noodling.
Of course, there are several other, perhaps safer ways to catch a catfish. Chumming is a highly effective catfishing tactic, that boost the odds of snagging a fishing by large. Chumming for catfish almost always ignites a feeding frenzy. The trick is to toss a hook caked with shrimp, cheese bait, or stink bait into or near the baited catfish hole. The odds are much better for catching catfish than blindly fishing in open water and should produce results quickly, in as few as 10 minutes.
All kinds of fermented grain are used to make a sour explosion rank enough to attract big catfish from near and far. The most commonly used grains that ring a catfish dinner bell loud and clear consist of milo, maize, chicken scratch and cattle range cubes. Some serious catfisherman even add cheap beer to their chum.
If noodling and chumming don’t strike your fancy, one can always tie on a classic red and white cork, a hefty weight, and some smelly bait. The rod and reel catfisherman must be one of patience. While some people have reeled in fat cats, the general rule of thumb suggests the average size catfish caught on a rod and reel will be about one to two pounds.
Trotlining and juglining are by far the most popular methods of catfishing in East Texas. A trotline consists of a main line secured at both ends, usually between two stumps. Hooks are spaced at the desired intervals and baited with assorted baits such as live perch or cut bait. The line with multiple hooks is left for a period of time. A licensed angler can deploy up to 100 hooks at a time, but individual lines may contain no more than 50 hooks. According to Texas law, all lines must be rigged with a valid “gear tag” at each end. A jugline is similar to a trotline, because it allows anglers the opportunity to have multiple hooks in the water at one time. The main line of a jugline hangs vertically in the water, from a plastic gallon jug. The line contains four or five hooks and a weight at the end of the line to help hold the jug in place.
Most East Texans love catfish. Thick, white filets slathered with egg and milk, drug through cornmeal and tossed into a deep fryer serves up a mess of Deep South sea food no native can resist. If there were an official food for East Texas, catfish would be it.
Its no wonder Catfish King, the chain of catfish restaurants, was founded in East Texas. David Beard from Hughes Springs began his humble career in the food industry at the age of 14. In the “History of the Catfish King David Beard,” it states Beard walked away from school at age 14 because his family couldn’t even afford to purchase shoes for him. Beard struck out with a dream.
By 1969, Beard had opened his first restaurant in 1969. The restaurant was located on Highway 155 near Ore City, which was close to Beard’s home. Beard loved catfish and believed he was by far the best catfish cook around and wanted to cook the catfish served in his restaurant. In those early days, his mother made the hushpuppies from her own recipe, which is still in use today in Beard’s restaurants.
Beard served up his catfish to east Texans from miles around. People began to flock to rural East Texas to taste Beard’s mouthwatering catfish. Often long lines would form outside of Beard’s restaurants with hungry guests, anxious to wrap their lips around Beard’s catfish, hush puppies, and coleslaw.
Beard eventually opened a second restaurant in Longview. The second business was so successful Beard decided to open even more restaurants, which eventually led to the opening of even more Catfish King Restaurants, scattered across the Deep South, in several states.
- Texans eat more catfish than any other state in America.
- Catfish are raised in fresh water ponds only about four to six feet deep.
- Farm raised catfish are taught to eat feed pellets which float on the top of the water, while wild catfish are bottom feeders.
- When catfish reach 4 inches long they are called “fingerlings.”
- Catfish is now the fifth most popular fish in America.
- The “whiskers” that make catfish look like cats are really barbels (bar-bulls), which are covered with tastebuds that allow the fish to find food in the murkiest of water.
- A female blue catfish can produce as many as 100,000 eggs at a time.
- It is illegal to lasso a fish in Tennessee.
- The walking catfish moves across land from one body of water to another. It uses its pectoral fins like legs and has a modified gill chamber to get oxygen from the air.
- Catfish don’t have scales.
- The electric catfish, native to Africa, is capable of generating up to 350 volts.
- The glass catfish is mostly transparent and often seen in home aquariums.
- KING KONG MEKONG CATFISH — In June, World Wildlife Fund documented the world’s largest living freshwater fish: 646-pound catfish netted in Thailand. Fishermen in northern Thailand netted a fish as big as a grizzly bear, a 646-pound Mekong giant catfish, the heaviest recorded since Thai officials started keeping records in 1981. The behemoth was caught in the Mekong River and may be the largest freshwater fish ever found.