Each year in North Texas, around the beginning of February, there seems to be a lull in outdoor opportunity: duck season is over, the sand bass aren't fully running, the crappie aren't spawning, and it's cold. At times like this an outdoorsman's options can seem limited, but if you know where to look opportunity can abound.
North Texas lakes this time of year typically have a winter population of water turkeys. These birds fly down each winter and roost in the flooded timber of our lakes. They congregate in large groups at night and fly out at sunrise each morning. Lots of birds means lots of mess, and that mess attracts lots of fish.
I'd first heard of fishing these roosts several years ago, but never actually tried it until a few years back. The idea is that catfish are attracted by the concentration of undigested fish remaining in the water turkey mess. Get on the water right at daybreak and stink bait under a bobber will produce fish.
My first time using this technique was in 2016 when Lake Grapevine was at near-historic high levels. An extremely wet fall and winter had filled the lake and flooded much of the surrounding area. Grapevine is an interesting lake in that there aren't huge stands of flooded timber. There is, however, an island, and that island is covered in trees. The lake was so high that the island was completely underwater with only the very tops of the trees protruding.
That winter I would launch my kayak just before daybreak, quietly paddle to the island, and cast under the trees. Bites usually came quickly, nearly as soon as the bobber hit the water. There were only two roost trees, but they were always holding fish.
Grapevine returned to pool later that year leaving the island, and my fishing spot, dry. Driving to work this winter I'd noticed flocks of water turkeys flying over the road each morning and evening. In the morning the flocks are leaving the lake, flying north, and each evening they return.
It had been in my mind to find where these birds were roosting when my father called; he'd read an article in the Dallas Morning News about fishing the roosts, knew I'd done so before, and wanted to go out. He asked if Grapevine still had the turkeys on it, but I told him we should check out the lake by my work. Neither of us had ever been there but a quick Google image search revealed extensive stands of timber in the upper end of the lake. That was the general area the turkeys had been flying from so we gave it a shot.
We couldn't get out until a Sunday afternoon and the birds were long gone. We fished all afternoon and into the evening with only one bite. As evening approached the birds began to return. We were careful to stay downwind from them and allow them to roost without being spooked. Soon enough my father landed the first fish. We fished a little longer and caught one more channel cat, but that was it for the day.
A week later, this past Sunday, I decided to try the same spot but in the morning. I got out early, before light, and paddled to the spot. Getting in early made all the difference. Before it was even light I sat on the water, kayak bobbing in the light breeze, and the sound of catfish swirling at the surface was all around me.
In addition to my rod I'd brought along a trotline. Running a trotline in a kayak is tricky business, especially if there is wind, but it's one of my favorite ways to fish. At first light I cast to several trees with no bites. It was unbelievable, fish were swirling all around me and I couldn't get a single one to bite. I found an area where I saw several fish swirl, paddled over, and set out the trotline.
After putting out the line I paddled around, casting to each large tree as I came to it. There are so many trees in the area that I focused on those with the most branches. I continued to see and hear fish swirling, but just couldn't get them to bite. Finally, after a couple hours, I hooked into the first fish. The fish hit hard, running quickly sideways and tangled himself in some submerged branches. After a little coaxing the fish came free and was in hand.
It was at this point I noticed the wind had picked up. It was becoming difficult to fish due to the wind, my kayak was swaying about, my bobber was being quickly blown away from the trees, and accurately casting the setup became difficult. I decided it was best to go pull in my trotline before the waves go any bigger and made it more difficult.
On approaching the trotline there wasn't any visible shaking, usually not a good sign. Grabbing the line told a different story, though, and I could feel several fish on. In all I had four cats on the trotline, not bad for only a two hour soak. I pulled the line in and headed back to the launch with five fat catfish in tow.
I'm not sure why I didn't catch more cats when there were so many around, but next time I go out I plan to use a different setup. To combat the wind and allow for further casting I was using a slip bobber rig, with a larger weight and swivel. When the rig landed it didn't make the desired "plopping" noise, but instead splashed rather loudly. It might have been enough of a splash to spook the cats away from the tree and my bait. Hopefully I'll get to go out soon and test my theory.
If you have a lake near you that has a water turkey roost on it, and you enjoy catching catfish, now is a great time of year to get on the water and reel a few in.