Oklahoma's premier catfisherman "Tiny" Tim Smith not only wrote a book on catfishing techniques, he's known for telling anyone absolutely everything they need to know about catching the whiskery cat. Except for his secret fishing holes. He saves those for paying clients. Or an occasional friend that needs the pity.
I'm pretty sure where I fit in that description. Tiny had invited his online Fishing Notebook friends Shawn Watkins and Steve "Hawker" King to join him on Keystone Lake for a January catfish trip and somehow I weaseled my way aboard. I wasn't about to miss the fun.
Our trip started on an early, cold morning with a fog so thick that Tiny had a hard time navigating the boat out of Appalachia Bay. It was soon apparent that Tiny had a natural "drift" to the right as he strained his eyes trying to keep the boat on course. It didn't help that Tiny had a boatload of ornery, smack talkers willing to post online anything unusual Tiny might do.
We were gleefully watching our erratic trail marked on Hawker's GPS and giving Tiny heck, but about a half mile from the ramp we suddenly cleared the fog and Tiny got the boat turned around and headed in the right direction.
He gunned it up the lake.
It was freezing cold cruising up the lake. 29 degrees. But upon reaching our destination the sun warmed us quickly and the expected lying and tall-tales started. I barely got a word in edgewise.
The first task of the morning was to find bait. Tiny only uses fresh cut bait. I've heard other fisherman make the mistake of telling Tiny that they like Punch Bait or some other prepared bait.
If they're lucky, Tiny just gives them a sardonic look.
If they're just a little too smug, Tiny gives them a sardonic look and says, "If you want to catch little peckers, you go right ahead. I'm after bigger fish."
So of course, we tell everyone that Tiny loves Danny King's Punchbait.
With Tiny, it's gotta be fresh shad or even better, his secret weapon - the fresh belly skin of a particular trash fish that most fishermen find little use for.
We didn't see any around this morning, but Tiny easily marked shad with the locator and Shawn quickly netted a bunch of 4 to 5 inch shad. Then, just to see what they were, he netted one of the many bigger fish that were working the water's surface nearby.
Gars teeth and a net don't separate easily, so we killed a little time there.
Later, Tiny trolled the boat close to a snag sticking up from the shallow bottom. Baitfish was flipping all around us. We quickly baited our rods with cut shad. Following Tiny's instructions, I weighted my line for bottom fishing, then fitted a small float just above the three-way swivel to keep the bait floating up out of the fine silt.
We tossed our offerings towards the snag.
Our fishing had begun.
Large shad heads would prove to be the preference of today's catch. Kahl hooks would also prove to work far better than my circle hooks which seemed to miss too many hits on the bottom-float rig.
We caught a lot fish early, but the largest, much to the chagrin of Hawker and Shawn was caught by Dan the Fishing Man - a fat 10 pounder. Hawker, always thinking ahead, threw Dan's nice blue in the livewell, just in case he didn't catch anything himself.
Before our trip wouId end, Dan the Catfish Man would also land a 12 pounder, the big fish of the day.
All of it caught on film by Tiny, who likes to post catfishing video on his popular website "catfishing.tv".
Tiny had to work harder than usual for what we caught that day, moving us quite often along the bank and even up in the flowing river water feeding into Keystone Lake. But the best fish seemed to come from the 5 to 6 feet deep waters along a nearby rocky bank.
With the exception of the time when Tiny mentioned tossing me out of the boat, it was a great day with a bunch of friends and I learned a lot. But the highlight of the day, was at the end of the day, when back at the ramp Hawker slipped off the trailer and rolled on the ground, almost atop a leftover shad Tiny had tossed on the road. When I ran over with my camera to capture the moment, the Hawker leapt to his feet and everyone doubled-over laughing.
A second more and I would've captured another popular "moment" for posting on the worldwide web.
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