Of the three most popular species of catfish swimming in Texas waters — blue catfish, yellow catfish and channel catfish — the blue catfish is most active in cool waters during the late fall through early spring months of the year.
This is when knowledgeable guides, like Central Texas’ Jason “Spud” Barton, pursue these behemoths in waters from under 2 feet deep to well over 70 feet deep.
All fish have preferred temperature ranges. Some fish, like trout and salmon, prefer very cold water.
Other fish, like sunfish, prefer very warm water. The preferred temperature range for blue catfish here in Central Texas typically exists from around Thanksgiving through mid-April when water temperatures are in the 50’s and 60’s. During this time, gizzard shad — the primary forage fish blue catfish feed upon — school up heavily in predictable areas.
As the baitfish concentrate, so, too, do the blue catfish that feed upon them. When asked where to go looking for blue catfish, Barton’s three-word response was “Edges and ledges.” Barton further explained that ‘edges’ are typically the perimeter of stands of submerged timber, and that ledges are where shallow water suddenly drops off into deeper water.
Although Barton fishes in whatever nature dishes out, he described his least favorite and most favorite conditions. Least favored are post-frontal conditions with their characteristic clear, blue skies, light winds and cold temperatures. Most favored are cool, cloudy, breezy conditions with a falling barometer and perhaps a bit of drizzle mixed in.
When asked to rank-order our Central Texas lakes when it comes to turning out big blue catfish, Barton put Lake Waco at the top of the list, followed by Navarro Mills, Limestone and Granger. Belton Lake
made the list at No. 5, primarily because it is a technically challenging lake when it comes to catching big blues consistently.
Regardless of location, Barton’s approach to attracting big blue catfish is much the same. Barton’s go-to rig is the Santee-Cooper Rig (search the term via the internet for helpful images). To construct this rig, Barton typically uses a 3- to 4-ounce sinker slipped onto his 60-pound test braided main line, a barrel swivel, a 2- to 3-foot long leader made of 50-pound test monofilament, a Whisker Seeker XL Rattler rattling float, and an 8/0 or 10/0 Whisker Seeker Triple Action hybrid circle hook.
The rig is presented with Whisker Seeker Chad Ferguson Edition 7½-foot long medium heavy action rods and Abu Garcia 6500C reels.
This rig is baited with large pieces of large, fresh, dead gizzard shad which Barton catches with a cast net before his clients arrive. Barton counts on big blues finding his bait using their highly developed senses of smell and taste. He does not employ chum.
Barton deploys as many rods as is practical along the edge or ledge that he suspects will hold blue catfish using Monster 3345 rod holders. If he can find an edge or ledge impacted by current, the likelihood of that area holding fish increases greatly. Often, Barton will scan an area for the presence of bait or even for catfish themselves using state-of-the-art Humminbird Helix 12 G2 sonar in side-imaging mode.
Barton typically begins in deep water in the early morning and then moves up shallow as the sun warms the shallows, thus drawing baitfish there. He typically finishes his eight-hour trips by moving back to deeper water as the sun begins to set and the water begins to cool once again.
Like many guides these days, Barton has recognized how valuable a resource truly large fish are, regardless of species. For this reason, he has adopted a catch-and-release policy in which all fish over 10 pounds will be released so as to keep such genetically superior fish in the ecosystem to spawn more fish with the genetic predisposition to growing large.
Barton’s customers are welcome to keep smaller fish as regulations allow.
When asked how a “rookie” blue cat angler might go about tangling with a blue catfish, Barton suggested modifying the Santee-Cooper Rig to allow it to be fished while drifting using a drift sock, thus allowing for a lot of water to be covered. Using a longer, 4- to 5-foot leader and a “slinky” style weight will set the drift fisherman up for success so long as he focuses on edges and ledges.
Barton’s final words of advice: “Bring a big net!” Barton keeps a Monster HD80 net aboard his boat which is 3½ feet in diameter and capable of lifting 80 pounds.
For all the big fish Barton has guided clients to, his most memorable were the ones he helped his own children to catch. Barton’s son, Blayne Haney, landed the Junior Angler state record blue catfish when he was just 10 years old. That fish weighed 57.3 pounds. That record was later eclipsed by a fish of 64 pounds.
Barton’s goal now is to help his daughter, Tristyn Barton, catch an even larger fish while she is still a Junior Angler (under the age of 17).
If you would like Barton to try to make your Christmas “blue,” he may be reached at cattinaroundadventures.com.