COLD WATER CATS
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
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
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.
Owner / Palmetto Guide Service
E - mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Phone - 936-291-9602
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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