Late winter is prime time for catching the big fish of your lifetime. Pictured is Luke’s friend Jeff Rice (left) giving his career best blue catfish a farewell before releasing it to fight again. Rice landed the big blue fishing with Lake Tawakoni guide Tony Pennebaker (right).


Ask most serious fishermen what their favorite time for catching ‘numbers’ of fish and chances are good they will say early summer with fall running a close second.  If you ask them what’s the best time to catch a whopper, they will probably reply with a resounding right now!

When we stop and give it some thought, the reason that late winter is prime time for catching trophy size fish of several species is pretty obvious, the females are putting on weight every day in the form of growing egg sacs. A ‘spawned out’ striper, crappie, white bass or catfish caught post spawn will be a substantial amount lighter than before the spawn.  What does this mean to the fisherman? Right now is the time to catch the fish of your lifetime! Let’s take a look at some high percentage spots to get your line stretched by a fish that will challenge your angling skills to the max.

Catfish- While summer is prime time for catching heavy stringers of eater size channel and blue catfish, cold weather is prime time for battle with trophy size blue catfish; weighing 20 pounds or more, often much more.

On a good day on a lake such as Tawakoni, Texoma, Lake Waco or Whitney, it’s common this time of year to catch and release multiple fish weighing between 20 and 50 pounds. Giant blue catfish in excess of 50 pounds are caught less frequently but many trips this time of year result in the angler posing for a ‘grip and grin’ photo with a giant catfish. I have several good friends that make their living guiding for trophy blue catfish this time of year and all of them have had fish in the boat over 50 pounds recently. Catching a blue catfish 50 pounds or larger can be compared to taking a free range whitetail buck scoring 150 BC. The trophies are out there but they aren’t nearly as numerous as the average of their species. 

Regardless of where you fish for trophy blues, very fresh bloody, oily baits are by far the best; tackle designed to handle big fish is a must. High line capacity reels with smooth drag systems and rods with plenty of backbone are the name of the game when it comes to battling giant catfish. In Texas waters, large chunks of fresh shad is the favored bait but in river systems in states to our north, skipjack herring is very popular. While many of these giant blues come from deeper humps and ridges this time of year, many are caught from water three to five feet deep, especially after period of severely cold weather that results on a major shad die off. When this occurs, you will find blue cat anglers fishing the windward banks and they will often be catching some big fish. Wind action pushes the ka-zillions of dead shad into the shallows and the big fish.

Largemouth bass- Trophy bass hunters are busy right now fishing slow with big baits such a plastic worms, lizards and jigs for that one or two ‘big bites’ per day that might result in the bass of their lifetime. Trophy season for big bass begins with the onset of winter and peak right about now. Before very long, those egg laden sow bass will be moving to the shallows to spawn but right now, most are staged out in water a bit deeper and are as heavy as they will get this year. They won’t chase a fast moving bait very far. Bass are always ambush feeders, grabbing their meal as it swims near their hiding spot in heavy cover. But right now, it’s usually necessary to drop a slow bait right on the fishes’ nose in order to trigger a strike. This is definitely not a time to catch large numbers of bass (unless you are fishing a hot water lake such as Welsh or Monticello) but it is prime time for catching a lunker. Big baits and really slow down your presentation, don’t be disappointed if you catch only a few bass per trip but remember, one of them might just be the biggest bass of your lifetime.

Crappie- For many of us, any legal size crappie is a trophy when dusted with corn meal and exposed to some hot cooking oil, but now is definitely prime time for catching heavy female crappie. Crappie are the first of our gamefish in Texas to move shallow for the spawn. The females are full of eggs right now in just a few weeks, depending up water temperature, the big gals will join the smaller male crappie to procreate their species. Crappie are driven to move from very deep to intermediate depths throughout the months by warming water. After a few days of weather temperatures in the high sixties and seventies, expect crappie to move up out of the murky depths into water 12 to 20 feet deep. With the passing of the next Arctic front, the shallower water chills and they move deep again. Crappie are relatively easy to catch this time of year on a jig or live minnow but finding them can be tricky. We are now in a transition period, but with today’s advanced electronics, they can run but they can’t hide. Several of my guide buddies are using the new ‘livescopes’ that represent the cutting edge of fish finding electronics. With these units, it’s possible to identify individual fish and actually watch the screen, and see the fish take the bait. Granted, not everyone has one of these state-of-the-art sonar units on their boat just yet but old school techniques of finding fish and testing the waters with proven baits will still produce fish. 

Stripers-  My buddy Bill Carey with Striper Express up on Texoma, the mother of Texas striper lakes, says his team of guides are catching a lot of stripers weighing 10 pounds and larger. Stripers on Texoma have annual spawning runs up the Red and Washita Rivers and the sow stripers are chock full of eggs right now. They will be moving up into the currents in a few weeks but right now, they are stacked up in big schools and readily hitting Roadrunner jig heads tipped with big soft plastics. Striper fishing is about as good as it gets right now and we Texans are fortunate to live close to one of the premier striper lake in the south/southwest. 

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