COLD WATER CATS
David Cox

December is trophy month. No I am not talking about the rut, scrapes and trophy horns. I am talking about trophy fins. December is one of the best months of the year to hook up with a giant Flathead or Blue Cat in the Southern United States. Spring, Summer and Fall are all good for numbers and yes some big fish are taken throughout the year. However, In my experience your best chance at taking a giant Blue Cat or Flathead is in December. Living on the Trinity River for many years I see it happening year after year. Just this past December I lost count of the Blue Cats and Flatheads over 30lbs. that were brought into Freedom Shores Marina on Lake Livingston. Flatheads brought in 60lbs. and larger are not uncommon. Honestly, there is not a lot of fishermen targeting these big fish in December. Trophy hunting for fins is a very underutilized sport. While most outdoorsmen are deer hunting or waterfowl hunting a select handful of diehards here are braving the elements and weighing in magnum cats in the dead of winter. Fishing is just not the top draw until hunting season is over.
For the few dedicated anglers soaking baits in December they are often rewarded with a trophy cat.

Trot lines baited with live bait probably take the greatest number of trophy fish in December. Set a line in a deep hole on the bottom near a cut bank. Make sure your trot line is well made using quality terminal tackle. Swivels are a must when trot lining for trophy cats. I rig a barrel swivel off the main staging by crimping a brad on both sides of it allowing it to move a couple of inches either way. With out a good swivel and a quality staging the fish will wrap up on the line and pull free.

Rod and reel fishing is my favorite method for going after giant cats in the winter. It is time consuming and often unrewarded. When a fish is hooked however it can come with real bragging rights. Heavy bait casting tackle is a must. I use the carolina rig with a 30 inch leader made with 40lb. Mono.
I use a egg sinker above the swivel and choose a weight according to current. The more current in the river the more weight you need to hold your bait in the spot. A hand sized live perch hooked through the tail with a circle hook will draw strikes from big cats.

With water temperatures often below 55 degrees in December, the fish become dormant and do not feed much. This is why a trot line works well as it presents a bait near the fish for long periods of time. When the fish do begin actively feeding, the bait will be there for the taking. I believe that the larger fish move more often than smaller fish in cold water conditions. The smaller fish become more dormant and actually hibernate for longer periods of time. I can attest to this theory simply due to the fact that for years I never catch a lot of numbers of fish when the water temperature drops below 50-55 degrees. However, I have caught lots of big fish under these conditions.
In the Southern United States where I live in East Texas, the winter weather is often a rollercoaster of rises and falls in ambient air temperature dominated by Canadian Cold fronts. It may be 80 degrees today and 30 degrees tomorrow. However you will generally have slow rises and falls in water temperature. It is what is referred to as a sustained water temperature. Once your water temperature drops to 55degrees for example it will take quite a few days of warming weather to get the water temperature to climb.
Even though it may be a comfortable 75 degrees outside, the water temperature may still be around 55degrees. What does this mean for fishing. Pay attention to water temperature in the winter, as it climbs just a few degrees it will promote fish activity. I am also a big believer in the effect that the barometric pressure has on big fish. As cold fronts cycle through the barometric pressure will fall, pre-front and will rise post-front.
Fishing for big cats is always better when you have a rising water temp. combined with a falling barometric pressure. A rising barometric pressure post- front can have a profound negative affect on the bite. In the winter and early spring I pay more attention to barometric pressure than I do water temperature.

Another observation I have made over the years is that big flatheads live in the same spots year after year. You can take a couple big fish out of the same hole this year as you did last year.

One recent December morning I was out guiding a duck hunt on the river. A cold front had blown through a couple days before and the temperature was in the 40’s at mid morning. My party shot a few ducks and as the cold crept into our bones we decided to spool up and head in for a fresh hot cup of coffee. As we made our run down the river channel I noticed a boat ahead in the distance through my watery eyes. Something doesn’t look right as we got nearer to the boat. It wasn’t duck hunters but a man and a young boy in a center console fishing boat. At first I thought they were having mechanical problems. I politely slowed down as we neared their rig. The boat was doing circles and going from one side of the river channel to the other. As I got my eyes focused I could now see that the boy was driving the boat and the man was holding a rod and reel that was doubled over. I eased closer into shouting distance and asked the man if he was hung up.
“NO” he exclaimed, “ I’m on a fish, been following him for 45 minutes,” he continued. “ Hooked it down there by the bluffs about a mile from here.
Must be a big Op. He took a live perch,” the man continued as he cranked hard on the bait casting reel while the boy turned the boat. “ I just want to get a look at him,” the man said. We drifted near by in my boat and watched the action as the fight continued. After about 20 more minutes the fish was tiring. The angler began to gain ground on the fish and he finely worked him into a net and the two of them heaved the fish into the boat. The man picked the fish up behind the gills and lifted him up for us to look at. It was a monster Flathead, I estimated the fish would go 65-75lbs.

Back at Freedom Shores Marina the big fish was the talk at breakfast. Duck hunting seemed to be forgotten for the moment as the story of the big flathead took center stage. Maybe we will let the Mallards rest in the morning and go fishing someone said.

David Cox
Owner / Palmetto Guide Service
www.palmettoguideservice.com
E - mail palmettogs@yahoo.com
Phone - 936-291-9602


 

Dave Cox of Palmetto Guide Service is a regular contributor to the Lake Livingston edition of the Texas Sportsguide.  This article has previously appeared in that publication.


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