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Ray Sasser: Catfishers using cold-weather byproduct to net epic hauls

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Ray Sasser, Outdoor Writer

At Richland Chambers Reservoir southeast of Corsicana, clients of fishing guides Royce Simmons and son Adam ( have been loading ice chests with big blue catfish, the bite sometimes so frantic that there's no time to get a fish in the box before the next one is on the line.

Chicken gizzards are the bait of choice for the Simmons duo, but it's a bird of a different color that causes catfish to gang up along tree lines. This winter, cormorants, often called water turkeys, are more plentiful than usual on Southern lakes.

Cormorants migrate south for the winter. The colder the weather, the more birds come south. Most anglers dislike cormorants because they eat small game fish and the shad upon which game fish dine. When cold weather slows down the shad, their movements become a sluggish banquet table for the fish-eating birds.

Big flocks of cormorants herding shad on North Texas  lakes is not an unusual sight. The bait fish are often close enough to the surface that the commotion they make is readily visible on a windless day.

At night, cormorants congregate in roost trees in numbers that look like thousands but are more like hundreds. They perch there all night, their digestive systems hard at work, raining down poop filled with fragments of undigested fish.

Cormorants are inadvertently chumming up catfish. Catfish have a sense of smell that rivals that of a shark and an indiscriminate palate.

Chad Ferguson calls this style of fishing "splat cats." Ferguson is a Dallas-Fort Worth catfish pro who's written an entire book on cormorant toilet habits. It's available on his website,

Ferguson said he was somewhat disgusted by the idea of fishing in a cormorant cesspool, but he got over it when his first trip yielded over 100 fish. Since then, he's made a science of the technique. Like many catfish specialists, Ferguson prefers using a stinkbait that he doesn't have to touch.

He's settled on Benny Roberts' Sure Shot Catfish Punch Bait. The "punch" part of the bait means you can take a screwdriver or similar tool and punch a No. 4 treble hook down into the bucket of bait until the hook is evenly coated with the vile concoction.

Not only does Ferguson's choice of bait resemble cormorant droppings, it even mimics the smell. It may seem like a disgusting niche market, but catfish are the third-most sought-after American freshwater sport fish.

Ferguson fishes his punch bait under a traditional bobber rig without a sinker. He sets the bobber to suspend the bait about 18 inches deep because the fish are never far beneath the surface. Unlike most catfish techniques, which favor patience, Ferguson advises anglers to make a cast, wait no longer than 10 seconds for the fake cormorant excreta (you can't make this stuff up) to work its magic, then make another cast.

Royce Simmons uses a No. 5 circle hook without a bobber. He enjoys this fishing style because it reminds him of bass fishing — always moving, always casting. Simmons and his son specialize in family outings, but fishing cormorant-style requires accurate casting with 30-pound braided line — not the best situation for a novice.

Once a fish is hooked, it takes both skill and muscle to extricate it from the fallen timber and brush that invariably litters the lake bottom beneath a cormorant roost.

Simmons said the cormorant commode pattern is yielding catfish limits nearly every fishing day. It gives a new meaning to the term "fishing under the birds."


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