Tuttle Creek anglers zero in on channel catfish

TUTTLE CREEK LAKE —Every summer, thousands of kids cast bobbers and bait near rocks for tiny panfish.

But Jeff Hawkinson, 39, is far from a kid, and the fish that towed his bobber under near a rocky shoreline Thursday afternoon wasn't a panfish — or tiny.

It took Hawkinson several minutes of give-and-take fighting before he had the channel catfish close enough to be netted by his father, Jon.

"Now that's the kind of fish we're looking for," Jon Hawkinson said as he unhooked the six-pounder that wore the dark color and oversized head of a male fish.

"He was right up there in the rocks where you'd expect them to be."

For about the last decade, the Hawkinsons have come to expect to find spawning channel catfish in shallow water along Tuttle Creek's rocky shorelines in early June.

The fish are often males protecting nests.

"When they're really going, it's pretty exciting," Jeff Hawkinson said. "You toss the bobber in there, you kind of see a flash and it's gone. Sometimes it seems like the splash (of the bobber) attracts them. That's when it's really fun."

His father and another friend had such a fun day last weekend when they each caught their limit of 10 channel catfish.

Their combined catch totaled an estimated 120 pounds.

A bait not often associated with catfishing is their favorite.

"A lot of guys use nightcrawlers and some use minnows but they also catch a lot of other little fish, like crappie and white bass," Jon Hawkinson said. "It seems when I use leeches about all we get are channel cats."

Last week he stuck with leeches while a fishing partner used big minnows.

"I think I had nine fish and he didn't have any by the time I talked him into switching to leeches," he said.

Shrimp are also a popular bait for spawning channel catfish in some areas.

Like most fish, channel cat can be finicky when it comes to proper spawning conditions.

Weather systems and falling water levels can push them from the shallows.

Jon Hawkinson prefers warm and calm conditions. Late afternoon and evenings during steady weather are usually best.

The Hawkinsons have key elements that often give them added hope when searching for promising fishing areas.

They like shorelines with lots of big boulders in the shallows.

"I think it's the big cracks and crevices where they actually do their spawning," John Hawkinson said.

Gar rolling nearby also give added promise.

Jeff Hawkinson said gar seem to appreciate the same spawning conditions as channel catfish. Catfish also like to feast on eggs laid by gar.

Since last weekend's great success, a combination of changing weather patterns and falling water levels had greatly hampered spawning activity on Tuttle Creek.

Eventually the Hawkinsons found a section of shoreline with rocks the size of washing machines and gar rolling nearby.

It was there they placed seven nice-sized channel cats in the livewell in a few hours of fishing.

Better times could be coming.

"Things ought to break loose this weekend. It's supposed to get pretty hot," Jeff Hawkinson said. "That ought to get the fish going in the shallows."