When it comes to chasing trophy catfish, Robert Holloway takes the road less traveled. Well, let’s say boat lane.
East Texas has become famous for its winter trophy blue catfish fishing, but for most Lake Tawakoni is the epicenter of that activity with 50-pound-plus fish commonplace. But when Holloway recently caught a 48.2-pound lake rod and reel record, he was on Lake Palestine.
Holloway’s fish is a long way from Tawakoni’s 87.5-pound lake record and still shy of the 64.62-pound Palestine all-tackle record, which includes trotlines and juglines, but it did top the old record of 47.25.
Trying to deal with the wind the day he caught the fish, Holloway sought calmer waters where he could anchor down. Fishing four poles, Holloway was about to call it a day when the fish took the bait.
“It went down, but it didn’t stay down like normal. I saw it swim to the left 80 yards out and then did a 180-degree turn to the other side of the boat and got in the anchor line,” Holloway said.
Fishing alone, it took him several minutes to land the big fish, realizing that neither his net nor his live well were big enough for a fish that was 45.5 inches long and 31.75 inches in girth.
Holloway said the thrill of trophy catfish fishing comes from not knowing immediately what is on the other end of the line and whether his preparation was up to the challenge.
“It is a lot different. It is like trying to pull a bull up out of the water. You have to go slow and concentrate. It requires more focus to me,” he explained.
Holloway said the scenario plays out pretty much the same each time with the fish making its biggest run when it first comes to the surface and sees the boat.
Having been chasing big cats on Palestine since 2011, Holloway’s previous big fish was a 32-pounder. Unlike on Tawakoni where the best fishing is during the hardest winter weather into March, Holloway’s technique is better suited for more spring-like conditions.
“I have had my best success in March, April and May, but March and April have been my best months. I think it is the water temperature. The bait fish are moving into warmer water and the predators are gorging on them,” Holloway said.
When he caught his record fish, he was sitting in 7 feet of water and fishing only 3- to 4-feet deep. As the water warms in the summer, the catfish move deep and Holloway switches to drift fishing.
“Every day I have fished I have learned something new. It is like hunting. You try something and if it works, you repeat it and make adjustments. I am fishing for big cats and you have to be willing to adapt to where you are fishing. If there is a front or a warm stretch, they may be different,” said Holloway, who like the trophy fishermen on Tawakoni returns everything over 10 pounds into the lake.
Holloway only uses 25-pound monofilament line in case he is drifting and needs to break off. He does use a 50-pound leader the last two feet to a No. 7 circle hook, a style he uses because of the hook-up success over the years.
Getting a handle on the big fish from a management standpoint can be difficult. However, on paper both Palestine and Tawakoni should be similar when it comes to blue cats. Both lakes were stocked with 300,000 or so blue catfish primarily in the mid- to late-1980s, said Jake Norman, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Fisheries district biologist.
“Both reservoirs have excellent catfish spawning habitat such as cavities in rip rap, downed timber, bulkhead, eroded natural shoreline that helps support the quality populations,” Norman said.
So why does Tawakoni produce more trophy cats in a month than Palestine does in a year or more?
“While Lake Palestine has a great forage base, Tawakoni has a greater abundance of big gizzard shad 8 inches and larger, which are a critical component in the diet of large blue cats. We do not have extensive age and growth data for blue cats on Palestine, but I’d venture to say if we did, it would highlight slower growth rates than Tawakoni. The Palestine blues have plenty to eat, but they do not have as many large gizzard shad that likely help the Tawakoni fish pack on the pounds faster,” Norman explained.
Another factor is fishermen. According to the most recent survey, Tawakoni anglers spent almost 84,000 hours chasing catfish compared to 61,000 on Palestine. Most of Tawakoni’s fishing was geared to the big cats.
“I brought up this data simply to highlight the amount of angling effort that goes into targeting blue catfish on Tawakoni vs. other reservoirs in the area. The shear volume of angling effort will increase the odds of large fish being caught,” Norman said.
The biologist said he would not be surprised if a 50-pound-plus fish were to be caught on Palestine, but predictions are hard to make because individual growth varies tremendously.
“For example, three Tawakoni blues were collected in 2013 and 2014 that were found to be from the original stocking in 1989. The weight of these fish ranged from 27 to 84.5 pounds,” Norman said.