Catfishing old-school
By Luke Clayton
Jun 22, 2024
Print this page
Email this article

A fishing trip last week began as many do, with a telephone conservation. I called my long time friend
Jason Barber who guides for about anything that swims on his home waters of Cedar Creek Lake to get
an update on the fishing for a radio show.

“How is the catfishing? The channel cats should be in shallow water big time about now, right?” I quizzed.

“You bet! They are a dime a dozen around docks, bulkheads and shallow vegetation on just about any type catfish bait you choose to use," was Jason’s reply. "With all the fresh water, we’ve been loading up on blue catfish using fresh cut shad. Let’s pick a time for you to join me and we will stock your freezer with blues.”

My next question, I probably would not ask many of my guide buddies but I know Jason’s roots were much the same as mine, he grew up fishing for a variety of species and I remember him talking about fishing with cane poles back in the day.

“What do you think about cutting some cane poles and fishing ‘old school’, off the bank for channel catfish? We can go after the blues soon but it sure would be fun to enjoy some nonstop action on these good eating little channel cats,” says I.

Jason was all in and replied that he knew where a stand of river cane is growing. He would cut a few poles, rig them up and meet me at his home marina, Sandy Shores
Marina and RV Park, the following afternoon.

Fishing with a cane pole is a simple but effective method of catching lots of fish when they are in shallow water. All that is needed is a pole about 8 to 10 feet long, about 15 feet of twenty pound test line, a floater and hook that matches the species and a split shot to keep the bait down.

For channel catfish, a #6 or #4 treble hook is perfect. I grew up fishing for bass with my parents who were avid cane pole bass anglers using a standard J type hook and live minnows. My love of fishing with cane poles go way back to when my dad and I stabbed the poles baited with chunks of cut sunfish in the soft banks of Pecan Creek in Red River County and checked them during the first couple hours of dark. When we needed a ‘mess’ of catfish, this was usually a high percentage method.

As I pulled into the parking lot at Sandy Shores, I spotted Jason’s truck immediately. It had three freshly cut cane poles in the bed and my buddy was in his boat dockside tidying things up after a guide trip earlier in the day.

I asked Jason where we were going to fish and he pointed toward the shallow water in the cove. I glanced at my buddy’s big center console guide boat tied to the dock with all the modern day bells and whistles and then at the three green sticks of freshly cut cane we were planning to fish with.

“This is going to be a bit different fishing trip than the one with clients you just wrapped up,” I kidded.

“Yep," he replied. "We won’t be needing GPS or all this state-of-the art sonar. What kind of catfish bait did
you bring, Luke?”

I had a mix-mash of three or four prepared baits, all of them with a cheese base. Some were ‘dough’ type baits and others had fiber which keeps them on the hook longer when making long casts. Since we were going to be dropping our baits vertically into the water, it’s really didn’t matter which bait we used; they all smelled like cheese and we were soon to discover they all quickly
produced action when the hordes of catfish got a whiff of the cheese.

Granted, when the aggressive channel catfish hit the dough baits, we either hooked them or it was time to rebaited. The baits with fiber stayed on the hook better and sometime lasted for a couple of ‘strikes’.

We began fishing with floaters but soon learned most of the bites came from within inches of bottom. There was no need to use the split shot to keep the baits down, it seemed that when the bait slowly settled to bottom they attracted more instant strikes. The name of the game was keeping a close eye on the line. It was easy to see when a catfish took the bait and a quick hook set was key.

Chumming is a good way to concentrate the fish and I tossed out some of the older cheese bait when we first began fishing. During the first ten minutes or so the bite was sporadic but once the smelly chum was in the water for a bit, catfish had moved in like hogs to a feed trough. We fished a little over an hour and landed about 40 fish.

We left 'em biting, as the saying goes.

Cedar Creek Lake guide Jason Barber with a good 'mess' of channel catfish he and Luke landed using cane poles and fishing off the bank. (photo by Luke Clayton)

I think the heaviest fish we landed might have weighed 2 pounds, most were a pound or just over. Most catfish antlers are also catfish eaters and there the question of which species is the tastiest when dusted with cornmeal and subjected to “Lake Crisco”.

Some swear by the flavor of blue catfish, others sing the
praises of flatheads. But few fish-eaters I know will object to setting down to a big platter of crispy fried channel catfish fillets.

As Jason says, “When fried crispy, the fillets curl up and make a perfect scoop for tartar sauce or catfish.”

Some folks prefer to skin and fry smaller catfish whole and that’s the way I grew up eating them. But these days, I prefer not to have to deal with the bones. It really doesn’t matter one’s preference; it’s hard to beat the flavor of freshly caught channel catfish.

Jason says the channel catfish will be around shoreline cover for a few more weeks now. If you think you need an expensive fully rigged boat to go fishing, think again. As our little late afternoon outing proved, all you really need is a cane pole rigged for fishing, some cheese bait and the desire to fish.

Note: I filmed out little fishing trip for our TV show this week on A Sportsmans Life on YouTube and Carbon TV you might learn more about this simple but effective style of fishing by watching.

Contact guide Jason Barber, King’s Creek Adventures 903-603-2047.

Email outdoors writer Luke Clayton through his website