By Ralph Winingham
Special to the Express-News
At this time of year, when most people are thinking about Christmas gifts and holiday fare, chunky channel catfish at Braunig Lake are having visions of a big blob of cheese bait floating down from above.
”If you want quantity, you go to Calaveras, but if you want quality, you come to Braunig,” said catfish guide Wesley Moseley of L&M Guide Service. “The best time to find good-sized channel cats stacked up along the rocks and in the reeds is during the winter and spring.”
Catches of 25-fish limits of channel cats, all in the 2-5 pound range, are common in the spots where Moseley has baited with a combination of horse and mule feed mixed with milo.
The concoction draws in channel catfish from across the lake and makes them eager to snap up treble hooks that have been dunked in the odorous Big Marv’s Cheese Bait.
”The warm water of the lake (discharged from the CPS Energy power plant), and the cold air temperatures put the catfish in a biting mood,” said Moseley, who has joined veteran redfish guide Manny Martinez in hooking up anglers with some rod-bending action.
While Moseley, 30, is a newcomer to the fishing guide business, Martinez has been working both Calaveras and Braunig for more than 26 years and is well skilled at finding redfish, stripers and keeper catfish.
During an early morning adventure at Braunig Lake when the air temperature was a chilly 36 degrees and the water temperature was a pleasant 69 degrees, the two guides backed their catfish-catching promises with plenty of action.
After dunking a No. 6 treble hook into the pungent bait with a screwdriver, Moseley cast his line about 18 inches from rocks lining one of the intake areas of the power plant. A big popping cork allowed the hook to drift along about 3-feet deep, and the current of the intake helped carry the bait down the rocky shoreline.
”You want to fish in water that is near the rocks and about 3-feet deep,” Moseley said. “If the current pulls your bait out into the deeper water (about 10-feet deep), you won’t catch anything.”
Just a few seconds after his cast put the cork next to the rocks, a hungry channel catfish sucked the float out of sight and Moseley set the hook with a skilled snap of his wrist.
The catfish’s fight for freedom put a hefty bend in the medium-action rod but was no match for the 20-pound Cajun Red line filling the spool of the bait-casting reel.
”The cats will all be about the same size. We don’t catch any small ones here,” Moseley said as he netted the chunky 2-pounder. “When we clean him, you will see that his belly is full of horse and mule feed. They just love that stuff.”
In less than two hours, 18 channel cats were brought into the boat, with two hookups at one time not uncommon. All of the fish weighed more than 2 pounds, and the biggest fish tipped the scales at just more than 5 pounds.
”They will all eat well,” Moseley said. “These fish don’t have a muddy taste at all.”
The cold weather catfish action will continue at Braunig Lake through the end of February, when redfish and stripers caught on downriggers — Martinez’s specialty — become anglers’ fish of choice.
”Catching catfish like this brings back memories of my childhood,” Martinez said. “I did this a lot when I was a kid. This is the kind of fishing that a lot of people really like. They just want to see that rod bend.”
Ralph Winingham is a freelance outdoor writer and photographer. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.