You can probably guess what fishing cats eat—fish! Of course, they
don’t use a fishing pole! Instead, fishing cats wade in shallow water and
use their paws to scoop fish out of the water. Sometimes they dive into deeper areas and catch a meal with their teeth. Fishing
cats have been seen swimming underwater to grab a duck’s legs. (photo: Todd Lahman)
Percy Lyons headed northeast along Main Street. A pair of fishing poles in his grip rattled as a Metro train ran by in the opposite direction.
As tall buildings eventually gave way to open sky, he began his descent toward the banks of Buffalo Bayou.
First stop that Saturday morning was to a shaded area under the Milam Street bridge on the outer edge of Downtown Houston’s Historic District. The sound of Lyons’ voice was greeted by the appearance of a tabby cat – then two more.
Jennifer, Pocahontas and Tom are survivors of a pride of feral cats that was culled by flash-floods over the past year. The cats kept Lyons company at a time, not that long ago, when he was homeless. Lyons spent nights on a cot than now lays abandoned under the bridge, where the cats continue to find shelter.
Lyons makes it a habit to check in whenever he can. The cats recognize his fishing poles – a hearty meal is coming.
Known in the area as The Fisherman, Lyons grew up in Louisiana. He learned to fish at the age of 5 by his grandmother’s side. After high school, he made his way to Arizona State University, where Lyons studied photojournalism. He later found work in his field.
Eventually, he ended up in Houston. Then lost his home. Able to draw on his past fishing expertise, he managed to regularly feed both himself and his feline friends.
Lyons learned that the best fishing after a heavy rain can be found at the confluence of Buffalo Bayou and White Oak Bayou. Situated between the Harris County Jail Facility on N. San Jacinto Street and University of Houston-Downtown, the spot offers an ample supply of catfish and the occasional gar.
In his homeless days, Lyons used scraps of Popeye’s fried chicken to lure his catch. Wheaties breakfast cereal also worked well. Now, he baits his hooks with bits of hotdog, dipped in fish-fry grease. He stores the latter in an old grape jelly jar. The hotdogs are left out in the sun for a while, which hardens their casing and allows them to stay longer on the hook.
Despite being left-handed, Lyons casts with his right.
He easily fishes two rods at a time. The reels are placed on the ground at Lyons’ feet and watched closely for vibrations and movement. It only takes one cast to pull in the first catfish of the day. The best are about a foot long, Lyons said, calling them “sandwich size.” Those get battered and fired whole, fitting perfectly into a po’boy.
After reeling in a catch, Lyons grabs the catfish behind the head, careful not to get stung by its whiskers, and dislodges the hook in a single motion. The creature is tossed onto the concrete behind. It flaps around for less than a minute as water drains from its gills, forming a small dark puddle.
The Fisherman reappears with a yellow nylon rope. He feeds it into the fish’s mouth with the aid of a large rusty nail. An index finger thrust into the gill helps guide the rope through, with a wet gurgle, leaking from the fish.
With the catch now attached to the rope, one end of the line is tied to an anchor in the concrete wall and the fish and the rest of the rope are flung back into the water where they stay, secure, until eating time.
Every so often, a cast goes to waste by hooking debris that collects in the urban bayou. Lyons cuts his losses and draws a spare hook and lead weigh from a little tin box, then drops in a new line.
A few cigarettes pulled from a mix-matched pack are consumed in about an hour. Smaller catch will become cat food.