Word travels fast when a youngster reels in a great big fish.
Just ask Brayden Rogers of Cisco. The 13-year-old caught a 67-pound blue catfish on March 16 at Lake Tawakoni. He’s been contacted bombarded by a media blitz ever since as news outlets from as far away as Maine pick up on the story of the seventh-grader at Cisco Junior High and his king-size whiskered fish.
“It’s been unreal,” said Amanda Rogers, the angler’s mother. “The story is everywhere. Brayden keeps telling me, ‘But it’s just a fish, Mom.’ I’m like, yeah, but it’s a really big fish. He’s a pretty humble kid.”
Rogers’ mom is dead-on with her description of the fish. In fact, the fat cat is big enough that it dethroned Lane Ferguson’s 66.20-pounder as the heaviest blue cat ever caught in Texas on a rod and reel by a youth angler. Ferguson caught his blue cat in December 2011 at Lake Worth, a 3,500-acre lake in Fort Worth. He was 12 at the time.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in a March 21 tweet confirmed that Rogers’ 47-inch-long fish “is now the junior state record, junior lake record, and the angler has received a Big Fish Award for this impressive catch from our Angler Recognition Program. Way to go, Brayden!”
Land of the giants
It’s was a nice surprise to hear that a kid caught such a big fish, but it wasn’t much of a shock to learn that it was pulled from Tawakoni.
The 38,000-acre reservoir 45 miles east of Dallas ranks among the best in the state for trophy catfish of all kinds. The lake record blue cat is 87.50 pounds, and the record flathead is 88 pounds. The lake record channel cat is a 29.80-pounder. All were caught since 2013.
State fisheries biologist Jake Norman of Tyler says Rogers’ catfish reflects the quality of fish Tawakoni is capable of producing in numbers. He suspects there are plenty of bigger ones in the lake, too.
“There’s no doubt about it,” Norman said. “It wouldn’t surprise me to see some more water body records broken there in the next year or two. The guides up there are really good at catching these big fish, the regulations are tailored towards making it a trophy fishery, and the fish are growing.”
Reeling in the record
Rogers caught the big cat during a spring break fishing trip with his grandfather Steve Billings and cousin Trent Huffman, both of Ranger. The anglers were fishing with Noel Ibarra, a full-time guide with Michael and Teri Littlejohn’s Tawakoni Guide Service.
The guide had staged a drift over 22 to 25 feet of water at the north end of the lake using fresh gizzard shad heads for bait. Roughly 20 minutes into the drift, something big gobbled up Rogers’ bait.
The youngster battled the fat cat for about 10 minutes before Ibarra got a net under the fish and wrestled it aboard.
Ibarra, 40, said he has been guiding on Tawakoni since 2000. He has seen dozens of whopper blue cats, including an 80-pounder that a customer caught last year. Like Norman, he feels certain there are even bigger ones finning around out there.
“Absolutely there are,” he said. “There have been some 80-pounders released that could easily go in the 90s by now. Personally, I believe there is a 105-pounder in the lake right now. These fish are really fat and healthy.”
Ibarra said he said he knew from the moment the fish ate Rogers’ bait that it was a giant.
“I could tell by the take-down on the rod that it was 60 pounds or better. When I saw it come up beside the boat I felt pretty certain it was a new record, or really close to it.”
Ibarra didn’t waste time finding out. The group cut the trip short and took the fish to Trotline Bait and Tackle shop in West Tawakoni, where it was weighed on certified scales.
Rogers said the 67-pound fish was nearly double the size of any fish he had previously caught.
“My biggest before this was a 34-pound red snapper I caught deep-sea fishing,” he said. “My pappy told me there are some massive catfish in Tawakoni, so I was pretty excited about the chances of catching one. It feels awesome to have the record.”
Interestingly, Rogers wasn’t the only Tawakoni angler who found the big ones biting that same day.
Roughly six hours after the youth reeled in the 67-pounder, Stephen Nixon of Woodson boated a 78-pound blue cat, also using a big fresh chunk of gizzard shad. He was accompanied by fishing guide Michael Littlejohn.
“Both of those fish came from the exact same area, probably 50 yards apart,” Littlejohn said. “It’s a big flat the fish are using as they transition to spawn. Those fish are on the move right now.”
According to Teri Littlejohn, Rogers and Nixon elected to donate their fish to the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens for live display in one of the facility’s large aquariums. Aquarium curator Wayne Heaton says the two catfish are in quarantine and undergoing treatment.
“They appear to be doing just fine right now, but it’s still pretty early in the quarantine period,” Heaton said. “They will probably be in quarantine for 30 to 60 days. After that we’ll make the decision as to where we’ll put them.”
Matt Williams is a freelance writer based in Nacogdoches. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.