Seasoned Anglers of All Ages Enjoy Winter Catfish Action

By Ralph Winingham

Carefully bringing a chunky four-pound blue catfish into the net, veteran angler Sienna Martinez was all smiles with a slightly sore armas she took advantage of some winter catfish action at Calaveras Lake.

“I think the smaller catfish fight harder – they are more afraid of getting in the boat,’’ said the seven-year old Martinez, who has been fishing for both redfish and catfish since she was three.

“It kind of hurts my arm reeling them in, but I really like it,’’ she added.

The youngster was enjoying a chilly afternoon on the water with her father, Roland Martinez, on a trip with veteran Guide Manny Martinez.

In just about an hour, the young angler landed three nice blue catfish, including the four-pounder that was her first catch of the day, and four channel catfish ranging in size from about a pound and a half up to three pounds. Her father brought in one channel cat, but was happy to be out fished by his avid angler daughter.

“This is the third time we have been out this year,’’ he said. “She really loves it.”

The cold winter months are a prime time for anglers of all ages to venture onto Calaveras and Braunig lakes in search of Mr. Whiskers, according to the guide who has been plying his trade on the lakes for more than three decades.

“This is a particularly good time to bring out youngsters because the action can be really fast and furious. That keeps the youngsters on fish rather than just sitting in the boat – it is more fun for everyone,’’ he said.

Helping fire up the action this year is the operation of two of the three units at the Calaveras Lake CPS Energy power plant, which has increased the amount of warm water discharge into the reservoir. This discharge produces a bait-rich environment, resulting in an abundant food source for the catfish that can feed all year long.

Even when the air temperatures drop to the 30’s and 40’s during the winter months, the water temperature never dips below about 55-58 degrees. Any reading under about 65 degrees normally will result in some red-hot catfish action.

“Typically we will find a mix of channels and blues in the same area,’’ the guide said, pointing out that blue catfish are normally a little larger than their channel catfish cousins. Channel catfish being brought in normally weigh between 2-3 pounds, while blue catfish tend to tip the scales at 3-6 pounds, with 10-15 pounders occasionally giving anglers a good tussle.

The lake limit is 25 catfish of any combination for each angler and Martinez said the winter months are when quick limits are pretty common.

“There are thousands of catfish in the lake and we are seeing some huge schools at various places around the lake,’’ he added.

Early in the winter, catfish school in water about 12-15 feet deep and then move into shallower water of 3-4 feet deep as air temperatures plummet. Cold, cloudy days with light winds seem to be the optimum time for some hot action.

While Martinez is pretty secretive about the honey holes he has baited with a combination of horse and mule feed and cattle pellets – the scattered bait, particularly the large pellets, sink to the bottom and can attract catfish from quite a distance – he is open about his bait of choice.

Both channel and blue catfish seem to favor CJ’s Punch Bait or Big Marv’s Punch Bait, depending upon the fishing conditions, with original, minnow or shad flavors producing good action.

“One of the secrets is to use a very sharp hook and to replace the hook after about six or eight hook ups,’’ the guide said. Martinez has settled on a VMC 4X Strong No. 6 treble, molding a ball of the baitabout the size of a walnut around the hook.

With the colder water temperatures, the bait stays on the hook better in the winter than during the warm summer months. Fishing on the bottom in the deeper water and with a bobber holding the bait slightly off the bottom in the shallows both can produce some high quality fishing action.

Another tip that Martinez readily offers up is concerning how to remove the smell of the punch bait from an angler’s hands after a successful catfish trip.

“The secret to removing the smell from your hands is to wash with warm soapy water right after the trip and then rub your hands with toothpaste,’’ he said.

For more information on some cold weather catfish action, Martinez of L&M Guide Service can be reached at or by calling (210) 386-6695.



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