January 03 2017

Charlie Brown Catfish Stew

A Charlie Brown Christmas takes on an entirely different meaning on Choke Canyon Reservoir where catching good numbers of winter blue catfish requires a healthy dose of the veteran guide’s pungent punch bait.

During December through March, the cold weather puts tasty blues and their channel cat cousins on the bite and good old Charlie Brown knows just the right tricks to full up an ice chest with fillets.

“Sometimes the bite can be a little slow until the sun comes out, but this is still a wonderful time of year to be on the water,’’ said the veteran guide who has been fishing Choke Canyon for about four decades.

Winter weather can require a change in angling tactics at Choke Canyon, considered one of the top blue catfish lakes in the state. Brown’s special homemade smelly punch bait – not even close to the holiday aroma of peppermint – always seems to do a good job of enticing cold weather catfish into participating in the holiday season action.

Run off from rainfall earlier this year has raised the lake level to about 41 percent of capacity, currently covering about 15,263 acres filled with tree trunks and limbs, in addition to brushy shallows, that serve as catfish magnets.

Texas Parks & Wildlife Department biologists conducting creel surveys have found that angler success took a sharp upturn this year with the rise in the water level, estimating about 106,283 blue catfish have been caught at the lake.

“We are catching a lot more fish that are 14-16 inches long now. Before the lake came up, we were tossing back about 5-8 undersized fish for every one that took the ride home (were keeper sized).

Now we are seeing very few undersized blues,’’ he said.

“It can be a little chilly on the water some days, but I think that beats the summer heat and even when it is cold, the catfish remain active.

“This time of year you have to fish in the deeper water, from about 15-18 feet deep. When the sun comes out and heats up the water, that is when they move into the shallows and you can start fishing with a bobber.

“The bite is pretty light in the deep water. Sometimes even the bigger fish will barely take the bait. When they start tap, tap, tapping, that is when you need to cross their eyes and set the hook,’’ he said.

The guide said while he started his extensive guiding career using shrimp or chicken livers, his special creation of stink bait has always produced better fish-catching results no matter what the season.

The concoction, which includes shrimp and a few other secret ingredients, is held on a catfish hook with a small wad of polyester batting. A sinker is tied about six inches above the hook to carry the bait down to the fish.

“In most cases, you want to drop the bait to the bottom and then crank it up about two or three cranks to keep it just off the bottom. The blue catfish will be suspended a little higher than the smaller channel cats, so you have to be able to find them,’’ he said.

On a recent trip with Brown, his deep water tactics produced a catch of 37 nice blue catfish, with the largest fish measuring about 17 1/2 inches. The 2 1/2 pound blue catfish was the first fish to be caught on the foggy morning adventure.

It was quickly joined by about seven other keeper blues caught at a fast pace before smaller fish seemed to move into the spot.

That seemed to be the pattern of the day, with Brown moving from one exposed tree limb after another when the smaller blue catfish or undersized channel catfish started taking the baits.

“I really like using a bobber in shallow water, particularly in late February and early March, when the bigger fish have moved in and they take the bait a little better.

“It is really a lot of fun to be able to cast out a bobber and have a blue cat take it under and away right after it hits the water,” he said.

For winter-time Choke Canyon anglers, the fast—paced action is like Christmas morning and New Year’s Eve all rolled into one happy package – except for the odorous smell of Brown’s cheese bait.

For more information about the catfish action on Choke Canyon Reservoir, Guide Charlie Brown can be reached at (830) 780-2162.

The following recipe is a good way to savor the experience of catching catfish with good old Charlie Brown and the dish is a wonderful, hearty creation that smells a lot better than his punch bait.

Charlie Brown Catfish Stew

2 strips thick-sliced bacon
1 cup onion, chopped
1 serrano pepper, minced
2 cups diced red potatoes
1 can (14.5 ounces) Hunt’s petite diced tomatoes
1 teaspoon Chef Ralph’s Super Seasoning
1 cup chicken broth
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup ketchup
1/4 teaspoon oregano
2 pounds catfish fillets, seasoned with Chef Ralph’s

Dice bacon strips and brown in a large cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Remove cooked bacon and drain on paper towels. Cook onion, pepper and potatoes in bacon grease, stirring often, until browned. Add bacon and remaining ingredients, except catfish. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Cut seasoned fillets into bite-sized pieces. Add chopped fillets to mixture in skillet and simmer about 10 minutes until fish pieces are cooked.

Now, let’s get cooking!