Flathead
David Rauls, a Fort Sill civilian employee, holds a flathead catfish he caught March 20 at Lake Lawtonka. He caught the monster fish that tipped the scales at 50 pounds and reached 42.5 inches long on a bait casting combo with 14-pound fish line. It took him 35 minutes to land the fish.

FORT SILL, Okla. -- When David Rauls leaves Fort Sill each day where he works as a network and video teleconference administrator, he may be headed to his second "job," one that can offer big rewards.

Rauls worked the Lake Lawtonka waters in late March boating two colossal catfish to set two lake records. How he did it speaks of the passion he puts into his hobby.

The first, a flathead catfish he caught March 20, tipped the scales at 50 pounds and reached 42.5 inches long. The second, is a fish story best saved for another edition of the Cannoneer.
"Where we're located, there's a lot of really great opportunities for sportsmen," said Rauls, a retired Army first sergeant. "Even though it's a lot of hard work, it's my therapy and what I do to relax."

Like a lunker bass exploding out of the water to grab an artificial lure, Rauls practically glows just from talking fishing. That enthusiasm runs deep even when bad weather looms. If his experience tells him the fish are biting, he's loading the boat and casting off. He said he's fished Lawtonka when waves were running about two feet higher than the back of his boat.

His late March rendezvous with the record book didn't begin with the intent to catch big catfish. Instead he slow trolled for saugeye, a walleye-sauger hybrid that may reach 12 pounds. But then, Mr. Flathead introduced itself to Rauls' bait casting combo strung with 14-pound fish line. When the fish first hit, it was anything but exciting.

"He bit the hook so subtle I thought I was hung up on a rock," he said.

Putting the trolling motor in reverse, he intended to slacken the line to work it free, instead the line immediately tightened up again.

"I knew it was something irregular and could feel him move. That's the therapy part of fishing. It is so exciting when you know you have a fish on and feel its weight. It's a real adrenaline rush and the safest form of self-medication you can find," said Rauls.

The big cat took the fisherman and his 18-foot boat on a tour of the lake, one that lasted about 30 minutes before he got his first look at the brute. Because he caught the fish on light line, he wasn't in a hurry to get it on board. Besides, hauling the boat helped tire the fish out. Thirty-five minutes after he first set the hook he hoisted the monster aboard.

In a similar fashion to how he puts in his hours for the Army, Rauls worked his fishing techniques from 5:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. daily the week he caught the two record fish.

Lake Lawtonka and many area reservoirs offer a variety of game fish to pursue, and for Rauls it's just a matter of going after the ones that are biting. Earlier this year he said he caught about 2,000 crappie and was ready for a change.

So, he transitioned to catfish thanks in part to insight he's gained through 12 years fishing area lakes. Experience helped him understand a catfish's nature. Rauls learned to develop and match his methods to spring, summer, fall and winter. During winter and summer the big cats reside primarily in deep water and conserve energy. However, in spring and fall they are more active, and Rauls changes his tactics accordingly.

"I like to match wits with catfish, especially the big ones. They probably aren't that smart of an animal, but when they are in their transitional periods specific techniques can help you catch the big ones," he said.

Rauls added big cats are more vulnerable especially during spring, because they are leaving the deep water to feed in the shallows. Also, with spawning season perhaps days or weeks away, the big males seek to expand their territories and are more aggressive.

"They must have some sense of intelligence or people would be catching them all the time," he said. "Their downfall is they are creatures of habit; they basically follow the same behaviors during the transitional periods."

Water temperature also contributes as spawning takes place when the water temperature is 64-68 degrees Fahrenheit. Once those eggs are deposited in a spawning bed, the fish amps up its aggression protecting the next generation.

Hi/lo tech
Rauls has invested about $1,500 in modern electronics for his boat. He said the instruments make him "a more effective fisherman" and able to see what the fish see. Although called lakes, many bodies of water in Oklahoma are actually man-made reservoirs that backed up water over previously fertile farmland.

"I can see structures down there, such as homesteads, fences, barns and vehicles. Fort Cobb Reservoir has an old airplane on its bottom, so with this imaging capability, I can fish around any man-made habitat."

Although electronics can help fishermen, Rauls said many fishermen use them and aren't anymore successful than if they didn't use them. He said the gear has been on the market for 30 years and lakes aren't over-fished yet.

For those who don't intend to buy the latest gadget, he said fishermen don't need to spend big money to be successful.

"If I had my choice between electronics or a good barometer, I would take the barometer every time, because it is usually the best indicator of when fish are biting," he said. "That along with matching up techniques with fish behaviors are more effective than electronics."

Bigger cats
While a 50-pound catfish is quite an armful, Rauls believes bigger fish are prowling the depths of area lakes. Just how big? He said before Lawton began documenting record fish with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, people caught catfish that exceeded 90 pounds but didn't keep official proof of those catches.

Complete lists of record fish caught at many of Oklahoma's top sport fishing lakes is available on the ODWC website at http://129.15.97.19/fishsite/.

In regards to catfishing, only one record matters to Rauls right now. He has his mind set on 119 as in a 119-pound blue catfish, which would beat the existing state record by a pound.

"That's my challenge."

Page last updated Thu April 12th, 2012 at 15:32