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Cold weather can bring out a big case of the Texoma Blues

By Lynn Burkhead
For the Herald Democrat

Going through some files the other day, I found the folder that I’ve kept for years now on one of the biggest fish stories to ever come out of Texomaland, quite literally, I might add.

It’s the folder that contains the notes and subsequent Herald Democrat stories that ran earlier this century about Howe angler Cody Mullenix and his then world record blue catfish pulled from Texoma, a 121-pound, 8-ounce whiskerfish that he caught back in early 2004.

Known as Splash, the blue catfish — which was donated to the big aquarium at the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens — made a big splash around the country, being featured in a variety of places including ESPNOutdoors.com, whom I worked for at the time.

Why the current rehash of that big whiskerfish and it’s time as the International Game Fish Association world record? Because of when it was caught, on January 16, 2004.

Now admittedly, I’m no expert on catfish angling, especially for big blues. But in the aftermath of Mullenix’s big catch of Splash, I talked with someone who was an expert on the world class fish swimming in Texoma.

And that was Paul Mauck, the now retired Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation regional fisheries supervisor who gave me a “Big Blue Cat 101” education during some interview time.

Mauck’s first contention to me those many years ago was that many of the reservoir’s bigger blue catfish are caught during the colder autumn and winter months. While that’s not to say that a big blue cat can’t be pulled from Texoma during any other time of the year, the period between October and the end of March is when he felt conditions were most prime.

Second, the retired ODWC biologist felt that when you do go fish for big Texoma blue cats at that time of the year, keep in mind that the fish can often be found on wind driven banks.

“At (that) time of year, blue catfish like shallow water areas,” said Mauck in our 2004 conversation. “They like the wind. When you go fish, fish into the wind.”

Why windy banks?

“The wind blows food into the bank, so they're moving along in those shallow water areas seeing what they can find,” noted the biologist. “Don't go to calm side in wintertime, go to the windy side.”

And don’t forget the portion of Mauck’s comment where he talked about shallow water, either.

In fact, consider proof of that from another big Texoma blue cat caught during the cold water months of 2004. That comes from the story of Billy “B.J.” Nabors, who caught a then 98-pound Oklahoma state record blue cat at Texoma on Nov. 11, 2004.

“They don't mind coming up into shallow water (at that time of the year),” agreed Mauck. “Nabors caught his fish in water that was less than four to five feet (deep). It doesn't have to be deep, deep water, especially in the wintertime.”

A key consideration at any time of the year if blue cats are the target species at Texoma is the gear that a would-be whiskerfish angler needs to use to pull these muscular piscatorial critters in.

It needs to be stout — Mullennix used a 14-foot Shakespeare rod coupled with a Jarvis Walker reel that was spooled with 20-pound test Offshore Angler monofilament line while Nabors used a 12-foot-plus Eagle Claw "Cat Claw" fishing rod and 20-pound monofilament.

As for the bait used to entice a blue cat to bite, Mullennix used a 3-inch dead shad that was hooked to an 8/0 Gamakatsu circle hook while Nabors used a 3-inch shad himself on an unnamed hook.

After getting all of that stout tackle and the right bait in proper order — and putting the bait into the right place on Texoma during the winter months — an angler might want to hang on.

Because at Lake Texoma, an angler could be in for the blue catfish fight of a lifetime, even if Old Man Winter is making himself quite at home.

As long, of course, as those anglers are willing to leave the comforts of the warm fireplace burning back home. Because when your toes and fingers are turning blue out in the cold, it’s the best time of the year at Texoma to hear a big blue whiskerfish make a rod-and-reel sing.