A Morning With Palmetto Guide Service

By David Cox

Standing dockside at the Marina on Lake Conroe I watched as happy clients took pictures of their morning catch of  Channel Cats. “ Please don’t hurt your back trying to lift that stringer ,” I spoke to my client.  It was an impressive stringer as onlookers gathered.

“Nothing to it,” I answered someone asking details.  Honestly, the morning had been a real challenge.  I was very happy with the outcome of this  trip but  If people only new the details and what was going on behind  the scene.  My thoughts began to drift as I reflected on the mornings events that had just unfolded.  I don’t know if  I’m good or lucky , I pondered.  What ever, the fact is that on this trip I was prepared, I used my electronics, my gut feelings,  and had a little help from a friend and fellow guide.

It all started on this morning with the boat in the water before daylight ready to go. Waiting  on clients gave me time to go through the mental check list. The motor was warmed up, safety  equipment in order, chum on board, rods and reels rigged and ready, bait on ice.

Good to go, I waited patiently. 

I like to provide tackle including rods and reels when guiding for catfish.  I know what

works for different types of situations and would just as soon have the proper tackle rigged and ready so time is not lost once we get to the hole.  When structure fishing for channel cats I rig a shorter rod, 5 1/2  to 6 ’ medium heavy action.  You want a fast hard hook set.  I use 12 to 15 lb mono  rigged on  a good bait casting reel.  When you get into the fish remember to re-tie after several fish are caught.  Catfish teeth are rough on mono and you don’t want to loose a good fish do to a break off. Set your spool tension loose on your reel so you can get the bait down to the fish in a hurry.  Also, sometimes smaller fish are suspended above the bigger fish so you want to get the bait by them without them grabbing it first..  Set your drag tight to prevent slippage on the hook-set, after the hook is set get a feel for the fish, if he feels like a stronger fish back off on the drag as needed to prevent pulling the hook out or breaking off.  On the business end of the line when fishing over deep structure I use a small treble hook baited with fresh chicken liver.  I use a ¼ oz egg sinker above the hook.  Let the sinker slide freely on the line so it rides tight to the hook.  This gives you better control of your rig and a better feel for a strike.  Channel cats have a small mouth, I have used bait keeper or stinger type hooks but I like the treble.  I have caught Channel cats and Blues on many different baits over structure but chicken livers are hard to beat.  Keep your livers fresh.  I keep them iced as I am using them especially on warmer days. Generally , the fish are structure oriented and will be close to the bottom or on ledges or slopes.  As oxygen levels  and water temperatures change the fish will seek out comfort zones. Let your bait go all the way to the bottom, point your rod tip at the water and reel a couple of cranks or un till your line is tight. It is important to keep your line tight so you can feel the slightest bite.  Raising your rod tip up and down slowly will often trigger a strike.

When fishing over structure I anchor the boat on both ends.  I do not want the boat to have any drift do to wind or wave action.  I want to stay right on top of the fish.  Once the boat is secured the next thing I do is get the chum out. First I spread my secret  formula of soured chicken scratch evenly around the boat being careful not to get any in or on the boat.  Next, I throw out liberal handfuls of range cubes.  I make the  soured chicken scratch at home in trash cans and transport  both the soured grain and range cubes in  spill proof containers. 

Still reflecting back on the mornings events I recalled my cell phone ringing as customers arrived.  The sun was now up and boats were running the lake.  “Dave, somebody is already on your fist hole,” my friend told me.  He had gone by there on the way to his spot  and tipped me off.  We had pre-fished  the evening before and had found fish in two different spots, dumped chum and left them biting.  Ok time for plan B, Ill go to the second hole and set up. With clients on board I  idled out of the Marina and hammered the throttle on the 225.  Minutes later as I looked across the horizon my worst case fear seemed to appear like a mirage across a desert.  I slowed the boat grabbed my binoculars and was shocked to see a boat setting up on my back up hole.  What now? I thought as excited clients wiped water from their eyes.  It just doesn’t pay to run late on the weekend I said to myself. 

The past couple of weeks I had been catching Channel Cats consistently off the river channel in 20 to 25’ of water fishing on the bottom.  I was confident about our chances for success on this trip.  Now with plan  A and B gone it was time for plan C, problem is that I did not have a plan C.  My cell phone rang again, “Dave are you set up on the second hole?”  My friend and fellow guide asked.  “No” I answered.  “We have not even lost a bait over here,” my friend spoke.  A real sick feeling came over me, things were not going well.  A slight cold front had moved through during the night.  The wind had changed from the typical south east to a  slight north west breeze and the barometric pressure was rising. 

I really didn’t think it was a enough to effect the bite but now it crossed my mind.  I checked my  water temperature gauge,  the water had dropped several degrees overnight.

Maybe we need to fish a little shallower I theorized to myself.   “Hey Dave,” my friend spoke on the phone,  “We might need to fish a little shallower with this drop in water temperature and all.” “Good idea” I said.  We discussed a main lake creek about ¾ mile east of where I was, meet you there we agreed. I hadn’t fished there in years.

Watching my electronics running 6-8’ suddenly dropped to 12’ then 15’ and back to 8’ again.  I made a U turn found the drop off  on the creek and began setting up.  I anchored both ends of the boat right over the creek edge and began dumping chum over the side. “ Ok, lets bait up, drop it all the way to the bottom reel up two turns, keep your rod tip pointed down,”    I coached. “Be patient,  It may take the fish a few minutes to come to the chum.”  Moments later as I tried to pour a cup of coffee a rod slapped the side of the boat. “ Fish on” my client exclaimed excitedly as she heaved a  pan sized  Channel Cat into the boat.

“Good job, that fish is a real confidence builder” I commented.  Typically when fishing over baited structure for Channel Cats you don’t catch just one.  They come in schools.

Now, my friend and fellow guide had anchored his boat across the creek from us within talking distance, I got one I heard someone exclaim from his boat.  Things are looking up I thought as I took another fat Channel Cat off for my customer and flipped him into the live well.  The party was on.  Another rod went down.  For the next 2 hours we had steady action on hard fighting Channel Cats from 14 - 20 in.. We did catch a few small Blues but mostly Channel Cats.  When ever the bite seemed to slow down I would re- chum and the bite would start up again.  Most of the Channel Cats bellies were full of the chum.  I stayed busy taking fish off the hook until the sun got high in the sky and we ran out off bait.

Every one was smiling as we headed back to the Marina.  At dock side after pictures were taken and hands shaken I was relieved that we had a good trip. Lake Conroe has a great Channell Cat fishery and by being prepared, using some gut instinct ,good electronics and little help from a friend , customers are going home to fry fish.

Dave Cox
Palmetto Guide Service

Tel. 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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