|Tips for Summer Catfishing|
Randy Zellers, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission
Assistant Chief of Communications
from The Fishing Wire
The catfish may be one of the most misunderstood of all Arkansas’s sportfish. It occurs in practically every body of water in the state, grows to gigantic proportions, and is easy to catch with inexpensive equipment. Top off those features with its fantastic flavor, and it’s amazing that anyone would look down on these hardy fish.
The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission stocks thousands of catchable-size channel catfish through its hatchery system each year to small ponds and lakes that cannot keep up with fishing pressure. Mother Nature produces millions more of the fish in Arkansas’s rivers and lakes every year. All it takes to catch them is a little patience and the proper lure to tempt them into biting. The secret ingredient to all good catfish lures is scent.
Catfish can “smell” baits much better than many fish species. Highly sensitive membranes inside the fish’s nostrils detect compounds in the water. The more folds these membranes have, the keener the fish’s sense of smell. Trout have 18 or so of these folds, while largemouth bass may have only 10. The channel catfish is blessed with 140 of these specialized folds to sense smell, enabling it to detect compounds as minute as one part per 100 million.
So what odors make the best bait for catfish? Here are a few tried and true offerings to keep you hooked up this summer.
The best smells of all are going to come from the foods catfish are used to eating. Shad, small bream and chunks of less desirable species like carpsuckers and skipjack are top producers for many catfish anglers.
Justin Homan, lead biologist in the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s catfish team, says many veteran catfish anglers, especially those on the big rivers of east Arkansas, favor cut shad and skipjack. These oily fish will put out a scent big catfish are looking for.“When I’m running jugs with my wife and little girl, we tend to use cut bait as well, especially fish with a tougher skin,” Homan said. “Chunks of carp or buffalo stay on the hook well and will bring in a lot of fish.”
Homan says flathead catfish are much fonder of live baitfish than cut bait, so targeting these big fighters may require a little more effort to care for your lures. Many anglers use goldfish purchased from bait dealers, and he’s personally done well on Lake Conway running trotlines at night with live sunfish.
“You have to catch the sunfish first, and can’t move them from another body of water, but they work very well,” Homan said. “One trick is to check your bait at about midnight. Channel cats may beat the flatheads to your bait, and the flatheads are most active after about midnight. Rebaiting then can really help bring in some bigger cats.”
Any fish or crayfish caught in the wild can’t be transported to another body of water and used as bait there unless it is used as dead bait. The risk of spreading disease or invasive species is too high when moving live, wild-caught baitfish. If you want to use live baitfish but don’t have time to catch them in the body of water where you’ll fish, goldfish, shiners and minnows that can be purchased from bait shops come from baitfish farms that are certified to be free of diseases and other nasties live fish may carry.
Catalpa worms, nightcrawlers and other crawling critters from the flowerbed also make great bait, and they can be pulled up from the dirt can be transported without issue. Flipping a few bricks from the flowerbed or scraping aside some leaves and digging at the surface of the dirt should garner enough worms for a quick trip.
Some anglers have taken the collection of worms to the next level, using a special technique called “worm grunting” or “worm fiddling” to get gobs of bait in a hurry.
Compost bins also are great places to find active red worms nicknamed “red wigglers,” that don’t grow as big as the nightcrawlers you find on the ground after a rain but give plenty of action to entice finicky cats to bite.
One of those overlooked grocery store baits that definitely works wonders is good old canned meat. As outdoor writer Don Wirth always penned in issues of Bassmaster Magazine’s humorous Harry ‘n’ Charlie columns, SPAM isn’t cured and ready to eat until it has a half-inch of dust collected on the top in the back of the convenience store shelves. Believe it or not, Arkansas’s current state record and once world-record 116-pound, 12-ounce blue catfish was caught on this easy-to-store bait in 2001. It doesn’t hurt to keep a can handy in the tackle box, and if the fish aren’t biting, it’s not half bad with crackers and a little hot sauce. You can’t say the same for nightcrawlers.
Clint Coleman, assistant coordinator for the AGFC’s Family and Community Fishing Program, has seen his share of stinky lures, as he helps run dozens of fishing derbies each year. His favorite bait is pieces of hot dog soaked in a mix of cherry Kool-Aid and garlic powder. For some reason, that combination sets catfish in fishing derbies on fire.“It’s easy to get at the store, and it’s easy to handle with kids,” Coleman said. “Some kids may not want to mess with worms, livers or stink baits, but everyone will pick up a hot dog. The garlic will put out plenty of scent to get the fish honed in on your lure.”
Coleman says don’t worry about adding water to activate the Kool-Aid. The juice from the hot dogs is all it takes.
Trey Reid, host of Arkansas Wildlife Television, has had the opportunity to fish for big catfish on the Mississippi River with some real sticks, and he agrees that cut skipjack is the prime rib of the catfishing world, but for his excursions to smaller waters, he still tends toward the bait he was introduced to catfishing with — chicken livers.
“You can pick it up at nearly any grocery store on the way to the lake or keep it in the refrigerator with a little less complaints from family members than other wild concoctions,” Reid said. “Sometimes it’s good to just keep it simple and remember that fishing doesn’t have to be a huge expense or take a ton of time to prepare for.
”Keep it Clean
Strange as it may sound, you may not need to get stinky to get on a good channel catfish bite. Jon Stein, district fisheries biologist for the AGFC in Rogers says soap is one of the best baits used for sampling channel catfish in nets.
“Biologists used to use a manufactured soybean cheese log for bait, but we caught a lot of turtles, too,” Stein said. “Staff now use Zote Soap to bait nets. It attracts the channel catfish without the turtles so we can focus on getting valuable information on Channel Catfish including lengths, weights, population size (catch per net), age and can evaluate how much of the population is from stocked fish.”
Stein says that although he’s personally never baited up with soap, he’s talked to many anglers on the water that swear by it.“It needs to have a high animal fat content in it,” Stein said. “Some anglers say they melt it, pour it into ice cube trays and place a hook in it so the soap hardens around the hook, then they can keep things clean and organized on the water.”
Zote is even scientifically proven to catch catfish, so-to-speak. A study conducted by Russell Barabe and Donald Jackson at Mississippi State University and presented to the American Fisheries Society in 2011 found that the catch rates of catfish between Zote soap and cut bait on trotlines was statistically insignificant. The study was in an effort to find alternatives to catfish baiting that would not catch some species of endangered aquatic turtles. The soap caught zero turtles while nabbing 193 blue catfish and 462 channel catfish when fished from 11,000 trotline hooks in six coastal rivers overnight in the Magnolia State.
Have a favorite formula for catfish success? Send a comment to firstname.lastname@example.org. If we can stomach it, we might just feature it in an upcoming edition of the AGFC’s Weekly Fishing Report.
Hand-Grabbing for Mississippi Catfish
By Jerry Brown, Mississippi DWFP
from The Fishing Wire
Hand grabbing for catfish has been around for centuries. Depending on where it is practiced, hand grabbing is known by an assortment of names, including noodling, hogging, and tickling. Some might refer to it as crazy, but in Mississippi, it is a time-honored tradition. I first learned of this fishing technique as a child listening to stories told by my family. They were usually based on big blue catfish or spotted catfish caught from the Homochitto River by my great-uncles, way before my time. One story that has been passed around our kitchen a time or two was when one of those uncles found a large water moccasin when grabbing in a log. They say he reached in, grabbed the snake, threw it up on the bank, and told his friends to kill it. Then, back under the water, he went for the catfish that was also in that log. I always assumed he caught the fish, but the story was more about the snake.
Hand grabbing for catfish is only legal in some states, primarily in the Southeast. Anglers enter the water and catch catfish with their hands from either natural or artificial structures. Yep, that is right—no hooks, no corks, no bait…just their hands. Because research associated with hand grabbing has been limited, the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks (MDWFP) initiated a project to learn from anglers who participate in this exciting and often misunderstood method. The project included a two-year survey of hand-grabbing anglers at Ross Barnett Reservoir.
WHEN TO FISH
Hand-grabbing season runs from May 1 through July 15 each year in Mississippi. This period coincides with spawning season when catfish are looking for cavities in which to spawn. Common spawning sites include hollow logs, stumps, or holes in a stream bank; however, artificial structures are also used. As with most other freshwater fish species, the male begins searching for and preparing potential spawning sites. The only parental role that a female will play is laying the eggs, and it is the male who will stay and aggressively guard the nest against predators. This aggressive behavior is what gets the adrenaline flowing for many hand-grabbing anglers.
WHAT CAN YOU EXPECT TO CATCH
Flathead catfish and blue catfish are the two most common species caught by hand grabbers, but channel catfish are also caught. Anglers tend to catch more blues earlier in the season and then start to catch flatheads as the season progresses. The most likely reasons are rising water temperatures and the preference of each species when spawning. The most sought-after catfish is the flathead (also called spotted cat, tabby cat, yellow cat, or opelousas cat). This fish has as many nicknames as the fishing technique itself. Flatheads are preferred by many anglers because they can grow to large sizes and remain great to eat, even when large. Seventy percent of the anglers interviewed during the survey said they preferred to catch flatheads.
More than 200 catfish were harvested during our survey with flathead and blue catfish accounting for 90 percent of the total catch. Hand-grabbing anglers appeared to be harvest oriented, but not size selective about their catch. Essentially, anglers harvested what they caught.
Fishing in other places may produce larger or smaller fish depending on the body of water. The fertile Big Black and Yazoo rivers are known to provide trophy-size catfish that can grow to 80 pounds or more. Fish this size are often caught and released… after a few social media photographs, of course.
This angler is wrestling with a flathead catfish, which, along with the blue catfish, are the two most common species caught by hand grabbers. Anglers tend to find more blue catfish early in the hand-grabbing season, moving on to flatheads as the season progresses. The flathead is the most sought after of the two because they can grow to large sizes and remain great to eat, even when large.
WHAT TO USE
The vast majority (95 percent) of anglers interviewed on Ross Barnett Reservoir used a probe while fishing. Probes include wooden sticks, pieces of cane, broken off fishing rods, and other items used to “poke” at the fish to make it swim toward the opening. Anglers reported that catfish were often located in the back of the box beyond arm’s length.
Some hand grabbers chose to grab barehanded, but most wore gloves. Catfish do not have actual teeth, but they have a tooth pad that is abrasive and feels like coarse sandpaper. Gloves that can provide protection to the skin and still allow the angler to feel with their hands are preferred.
Ropes can also be used when grabbing as long as they do not have an attachment. The use of grappling tongs or any hook is illegal when hand grabbing. Ropes can be used as a stringer to secure the fish before it is brought to the water’s surface.
WHERE TO FISH
Ross Barnett is a popular destination for hand grabbers, but there are many other places across the state where it is practiced with success. Pickwick Lake and the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway (TTW) are popular choices in northeast Mississippi, as are the “Big 4” flood control reservoirs (Arkabutla, Enid, Sardis, and Grenada) in the north-central part of the state. Delta oxbows along the Mississippi River, along with oxbows of the Pearl and Pascagoula rivers in south Mississippi, can be great choices, depending on water levels. Okatibbee Reservoir near Meridian is another popular spot for hand grabbing.
On Ross Barnett Reservoir, hand grabbers typically were found wading in water that was between 3 and 6 feet deep. A small percentage fished in deeper water and used compressed air to breathe when doing so. Anglers often wade around in small groups to locate their submerged containers. Some use physical markers to remember where boxes are located. Others mark their spots using GPS.
Fishing in natural cavities is common in rivers and oxbow lakes where hollow logs or large cypress stumps are available. A big stump can have several exit points, so having a few friends can be handy for blocking holes to keep fish from escaping.
Anglers are allowed to place wooden, hand-grabbing boxes in public waters to imitate spawning habitat. It is unlawful to place structures such as plastic or metal barrels, hot water tanks, concrete pipe, tires, and other non-biodegradable materials in any public waters of the state. Placing artificial structures in the TTW is prohibited, and special permits might be required for other lakes or streams. Anglers must check with authorities before adding any structure to any public waters. It is unlawful to raise any part of a natural or wooden container out of the water to aid in the capture of the fish.
The size and shape of grabbing boxes can vary, but they all have common features that make acceptable sites for catfish to use. Each container requires a main opening that allows fish to enter and this is also where the person reaches in to grab the fish. The opening should allow fish to come and go freely without trapping the fish inside. The size of the catfish using the box can be dependent on the size of the box itself. The largest catfish observed during our survey was 43 inches and weighed approximately 38 pounds.
Hand grabbing for catfish appears to be a growing sport. What was once just something we heard of people doing a long time ago is now being practiced around the state. Young anglers are being taught the art of grabbing, so the tradition lives on. Several children were seen in the Ross Barnett survey learning how to grab and experiencing the excitement of being “bit” by a catfish for the first time. Hand grabbing has received wide exposure recently, including outdoor television shows, magazine articles, and videos.
Mississippi is known for having an abundant catfish population in almost any lake or stream. Anglers across the state target catfish with several different methods from rod and reels to trotlines. It is a great feeling to have a big catfish tug on your fishing line or seeing that red and white cork go under, but if you want something that will get your adrenaline pumping … then go grab you one!
Jerry Brown is the State Lake Coordinator for MDWFP.
Give CPR to Big Catfish
Today’s feature comes to us from Greg Wagner of Nebraska Game & Parks, on the importance of releasing large catfish to fight again, whether they’re caught in Nebraska or anywhere across the nation.
By Greg Wagner, Nebraska Game & Parks Commission
From The Fishing Wire
Did you see that? She released that big catfish back in the water! But, why? She should have taken that big fish home, cleaned it and ate it!
Why do some people get perplexed when they see someone release a massive, master angler-sized catfish? After all, catfish, especially larger ones, sure taste good, don’t they?
So why is it every time we see an angler report or post a mention or picture of a large catfish they have put back in the water, a spirited discussion, no scratch that, a huge dispute ensues over what is ethical?
So how do we move beyond flaming the angler who chooses to release a sizeable channel, blue or flathead catfish?
Allow me to inform you on why I am so passionate about and concerned with that whopper being taken home for the fryer.
First, let me say that I have never judged any licensed angler who has kept a large catfish to eat, and I won’t as long as that licensed angler is obeying the laws and regulations set forth by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.
But, let’s go deeper into the issue of catching and releasing voluminous catfish family members.
Unlike other game fish, the growth of catfish is very slow. Actually, catfish are among the slowest growing freshwater fish in our part of the country.
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department age and growth studies indicate that a 40-pound blue catfish could be 25 years old! A 30 inch blue catfish in Oklahoma and Missouri averages 10 to 12 pounds and is most likely around 14 years old! And, in Nebraska, Daryl Bauer of the Game and Parks Commission’s Fisheries Division adds that a 10 pound channel catfish is most likely dozens of years old!
So, it takes a while for catfish to reach trophy and spawning sizes with some not even surviving adulthood under ideal or normal conditions. Also, with catfish, larger specimens pass on physical traits and survival instincts to thousands of young. Essentially, proper catch and release fishing improves wild catfish populations by allowing more fish to remain and successfully reproduce in an aquatic ecosystem in greater numbers. Keep in mind that mature catfish can lay anywhere from 4,000 to 100,000 eggs in cavities, and breeding males can fertilize as many as nine spawns a season if the eggs are removed from the spawn site each time.
Furthermore, In-FishermanvMagazine’s Doug Stange, says statistical evidence suggests that once catfish attain a larger size they may continue grow exponentially by weight. One key, he says, to catching bigger catfish in any water body, is to limit the harvest of large fish, in favor of releasing them to be caught again and again. The practice of catch and release fishing provides an opportunity for increasing numbers of anglers to enjoy fishing and to successfully catch a memorable catfish.
Your blogger shows you a hefty channel catfish caught and then immediately released in a private sandpit lake in western Douglas County, NE. Photo by Rich Berggren/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.
Catch and release fishing works but only if you learn to properly handle and care for big catfish.
Brad Durick, renown channel catfishing guide on the Red River of the North in North Dakota, and longtime Nebraska Game and Parks Fisheries Biologist, Daryl Bauer, both unequivocally agree.
Here are their eight things to remember when putting a lofty catfish back in the water to ensure the best chances for its survival:
Grab that rubber net. Unlike most fish species, catfish aren’t armed with skin-protecting scales. Instead, they have skin and secrete a viscous slimy substance that acts as an antiseptic. So for landing big catfish you need a knotless, rubber or rubber-coated net that won’t abrade their skin or remove their vital slime layer. A rubber-coated net with micro-mesh and a flat bottom panel is a optimum because it gently supports the fish without contorting its body in abnormal angles. Without a net, a large, wild catfish flopping on the boat floor, bank or dock is asking for trouble — broken equipment, sprained ankles and severely injured fish.
Wear rubber gloves. In the case of handling big catfish, a variety of rubber gloves specifically designed to make gripping fish easier without removing their slime, should be worn. They should always be wetted first, before grabbing a fish, in order to be minimally abrasive. Gloves also have the added bonus of protecting anglers from catfish spines, sandpaper-like teeth and even hooks!
No vertical holds! Fully support the weight of that big catfish fish with both hands and hold it horizontally. Keep hands away from gills and gill openings. Grip the narrow body section just below the tail with one hand and then basically cradle the fish’s head and shoulders with the other, avoiding pectoral and dorsal fins completely. If the fish decides to shake, you simply keep a firm grip on the tail and keep its head balanced until it calms down. It’s an safe, easy grip that just works.
Use good quality circle hooks. A huge part of proper catch and release for substantial catfish involves the use of circle hooks and and preferably higher quality, tournament grade circle hooks. Good circle hooks are a must for hooking catfish safely and securely. Employing tournament grade circle hooks, allows nearly all of big catfish to be hooked in the corner of the jaw. This allows for a quicker hook removal, causes less stress on the fish and shortens time that the fish has to be out of the water.
Carry long-handled needle nose pliers. Long-handled needle nose pliers let you to remove hooks with better control and limit your “hands on” contact with big catfish. Fish that are barely hooked or hooked in the lip can usually be freed with your hand, but it’s a good idea to always have a pair of long-handled needle nose pliers for those harder to reach hooks.
Take quick pics. Take a few quick Smartphone or iPhone pics (photos) of the big channel, blue or flathead catfish you landed to preserve the memory of that trophy catch, and then put the fish gently back in the water right away. Practice conservation, practice CPR — Catch, photo and release! Just think, next week, the large catfish you released could be the biggest catfish some other lucky angler ever caught!
Be prepared. Are your rubber gloves or rubber net and pliers within reach? Is your camera ready? Anything you can do to get that big catfish back in the water as soon as possible helps to improve the odds for survival. If you have everything you need handy you won’t have to keep the fish out of the water for very long.
Little, long and cut. Catch and release fishing for weighty cats works if three basic tactics are remembered and followed: Play the fish as little as possible, keep the fish in the water as long as possible and cut the line if the fish has swallowed the hook.
“Game fish are too valuable to be caught only once” – Lee Wulff, Widely Acclaimed Fly Fisherman.
How to Find and Catch Channel Cats
Editor’s Note: Here’s a useful novice level how-to for locating and catching one of the most widely-distributed fish in the nation, the channel cat, from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
from The Fishing Wire
Channel Catfish – What do I need?
Lake anglers use fairly short rods, while stream anglers like longer 6 to 8 feet rods. Some even use a fly rod. Longer rods offer better placement of the bait and lets you fish many good holes without casting. Just drop the line near a likely spot with no more line out than the rod length. Ten-pound test line is suggested over lighter weight line since the bait is fished on the bottom and often near underwater snags.
Match the reel to the fish. Light duty reels are made to catch small fish and heavy duty reels have the power to land lunkers. Light tackle will catch more smaller fish but may not handle one of record class size.
Terminal tackle is an important consideration when setting out after “old whiskers.” The sinker and hook is the most important part of the terminal tackle. Always use the lightest weight needed and a slip sinker. The slip sinker rig lets a catfish pick up the bait without feeling the weight of the sinker. With any resistance on the line, a channel cat will leave the tasty bait in search of another.
Use a sharp hook. Hooks with bait holders on the shank are preferred. Use sponges or plastic worms when fishing with soft, prepared cheese baits. Present your selected hook and bait to the fish in the most natural manner, which requires the use of a minimum amount of sinker or weight.
Circle hooks are popular when using live or cut bait. There is no need to “set the hook” as they are designed to hook the fish themselves. Slowly pull back on the rod when it starts to double over as the fish takes the bait. Quick hooksets typically result in missed fish. When used properly, circle hooks reduce the chance of the fish swallowing the bait as they are usually caught in the corner of the mouth.
Bait options range from nightcrawlers, leeches, chicken blood, chicken liver, chicken or fish guts, crawdads, grasshoppers, water dogs, live and dead minnows, cut bait and a variety of prepared “stink” baits. Prepared baits usually have one thing in common – cheese. Use cut bait or dead minnows in late winter and spring- just after ice-out. Made of half-rotten fish, use this bait when the water temperature is less than 60 degrees F. Catfish actively eat fish flesh and other animals that die during winter and sink to the bottom. The stronger the rotten odor of bait, the better the success. Fish in deeper areas of the lake or stream before ice melt then shift to shallow water that warms faster and draws catfish into the near-shore reaches. Catfish can be caught under ice conditions, but feeding begins in earnest after the water temperature reaches 40 degrees F.
A channel catfish’s keen sense of smell makes it one of the few game fish species that can be readily caught during high stream flows in the spring, summer, and early fall. Rising water levels often provide more food for channel catfish to eat by flooding terrestrial areas along the river and food being washed in from runoff. Fish become more active during this time. Catfish become less active when water levels fall. During times of stable or rising water levels nearly all baits will produce good catches of catfish. Use baits that are most available under natural conditions.
Easy to store prepared bait is one of the most popular catfish baits. Many catfish anglers switch to prepared baits when water temperatures warm to 70 degrees F and above. Prepared bait is most effective for pan-sized catfish in mid-summer (June, July and August). Use large-sized baits such as dead bluegill, live chubs, water dogs, crayfish and frogs when seeking larger catfish. Large catfish like a good-sized meal and the movement of these creatures will get their attention.
Channel Catfish – Tips and Tricks
Catfish eat a variety of food items and are attracted to “smelly” morsels. Smaller catfish (less than 14 inches) feed primarily on bottom-dwelling organisms, such as aquatic insect larvae and other invertebrates. As catfish grow, their diet changes and a wider variety of food items are eaten. Fish, alive or dead, make up the bulk of their food after they reach 16 inches.
Channel catfish diets vary with the seasons. A wide variety of organisms, including fish that died in the winter, are available in late winter and early spring. Catfish devour these morsels, in various stages of decomposition, in large quantities. It is not unusual to find catfish stomachs full of decaying fish shortly after ice-out. As the water warms into late spring and summer, aquatic and terrestrial worms, fish, frogs, crayfish, mulberries, insects and their larvae forms, elm seeds and algae are the most prevalent foods. Many other items are eaten but usually make up only a small portion of the menu. Catfish food choices change again in the fall as the water cools. More fish is eaten along with aquatic invertebrates and terrestrial insects. Frogs become an important food source as they move into streams before the onset of winter.
Streams and Rivers
Fish upstream of river snags and log jams and cast the bait back towards it so the scent of the bait is carried downstream into the structure by the current drawing the catfish out.
Channel catfish move into the deepest holes of a river in late fall to over-winter. Fish won’t be as aggressive as they are in the spring and summer because of the colder temperatures. Try cut bait or nightcrawlers on slip sinkers rigs fished near the bottom.
As June approaches, catfish begin to spawn. Male channel catfish will find a cavity in a rocky shoreline, snags or stump to make a nest to guard its eggs. The male channel catfish will defend the nest from other fish attacking it. Float live fish, crawlers, or leeches under a bobber along rip rap shorelines, stumps, snags or any other structure that may provide a cavity for the fish. Riprap shoreline with big boulders is best because of the bigger cavities it makes. Let the bobber rig drift in the current or with the wind close to the structure to lure the catfish out. Strikes are fairly aggressive so you need to set the hook quickly before the fish releases the bait.
Most midsummer Mississippi River fishing is done anchoring above snags along the main channel and side channels or above the wing dams in the main channel. Use slip sinker rigs fished on the bottom with stink bait or shad guts and nightcrawlers. Walleye anglers often catch channel catfish casting or trolling crankbaits on the wing dams in the summer.
Increase the weight of your sinker when fishing for Missouri River channel catfish and use cut bait, stink baits, crawdads and nightcrawlers. Try fishing the outside bends of old oxbows cut off from the river as this is where the deeper water will most likely be. Use slip sinker rigs fished on the bottom with stink bait or nightcrawlers in the summer.
Lakes & Reservoirs
During the spawn in early June, target channel catfish around rock structure that offer cavities for nesting. Many smaller lakes have rip-rap (rock) along the shoreline to protect the banks from erosion. Large rock is also placed on the dams of man-made lakes or impoundments to protect the dam from erosion. This large rock provides large cavities for channel catfish to make their nests. Drift minnows, night crawlers or leeches under a bobber along the rock.
As June approaches, channel catfish begin to spawn. Look for channel catfish along rocky shorelines that offer cavities for nesting. Large rock along the shoreline is best because it provides better cavities for nesting. Float bobber rigs along these rocky shorelines with live green sunfish, minnows, crawlers or leeches.
Buy Your Fishing Licenses Online
Channel catfish are found in nearly all Iowa lakes, ponds, streams and rivers. They are the most abundant game fish in our nearly 20,000 miles of interior streams.
Fish Details – Channel Catfish
(Characteristics, distribution, etc)
Channel Catfish – Where to Find Them
Streams and Rivers
Studies show that populations of 500 to over 5,000 pounds of catfish per mile in Iowa streams are common. Look for catfish in riffle areas just above pools, cut-banks, snags, rocks and other submerged structures in the stream. The outside edge of river bends usually has a cut-bank and deep water which hold large catfish populations. These outside bends usually have snags or log jams that provide good cover for catfish.
The Mississippi River has many areas that hold channel catfish including snags and log jams along the main channel and side channels, main channel wing dams, rip-rapped (rock armored) shorelines and shallow stump fields in the backwaters. Fishing typically begins in the spring as the ice goes out and channel catfish start to eat winterkilled shad. Many of the backwaters and shallow mudflats usually have dead shad that died that winter. Use cut bait or shad on the bottom in the mouths of these backwaters and shallow mudflats .
The Missouri River, heavily channelized with fast currents, has good numbers of channel catfish. Target the wing dike fields which create current seams, eddies, and sandbars that hold baitfish and aquatic invertebrates and attract channel catfish. Snags in the river hold channel catfish as well.
Lakes have excellent catfishing thanks to an aggressive stocking program. Stocked fish grow fast and to a large size. The largest catfish caught in Iowa each year are taken from lakes and ponds. Fish over 10 pounds caught in our man-made lakes are common. Lake-dwelling catfish are not evenly spread but gather into specific locations. Most ponds and fishing lakes stratify into three distinct thermal layers 10 to 15 feet below the surface and water in the lower strata contains no oxygen – and no fish. Limit your fishing to depths above this stratification level. Streams that flow into the upper ends of lakes hold catfish, as does submerged structure such as timber, rock protected shorelines and drop-offs. Look for diverse habitat – the more diverse the habitat, the more attractive it is to catfish.
Iowa’s large reservoirs offer great channel catfishing throughout the open water season. Fishing usually begins in the spring at ice out as channel catfish begin to eat gizzard shad that died over the winter. Focus fishing efforts towards the upper ends of the reservoirs fishing the shallower and warmer mudflats. Fish the windblown shorelines and points where the dead shad have been blown into to find actively feeding fish. Use cut shad or shad parts fished on the bottom.
Channel catfish move out along the channel edges of the reservoir in the summer and follow schools of shad to eat. With today’s advancements in sonar technology, many anglers will boat around until they find schools of shad. Usually there will be larger arcs on the sonar under the school of shad showing the presence of channel catfish or other predatory fish. Drift through the school of shad from the upwind side using lindy rigs/three-way rigs with cut bait fished on the bottom. You may have to move around some as the schools of shad and channel catfish move. Bends in the creek channel or drop offs near shallower stump fields are often good places as well. Catfish may also move up into these shallower stump fields or mudflats to feed at night.
Catch Giant Winter Catfish on the TVA Lake Chain
By Frank Sargeant
from The Fishing Wire
Fishing for these catfish is a whole different ballgame from going out to land a few pan-size cats for dinner. Blues reach enormous size–the International Game Fish Association (IGFA) all-tackle record now stands at 143 pounds–and there are few places where the big ones are more abundant than in the lakes of North Alabama.The current Alabama state record, 120 pounds, came from Holt Reservoir not far from Tuscaloosa, and the former record, 111 pounds, came from Wheeler. Blues reach lengths of almost 5 feet, and the largest have girths approaching 4 feet, according to the IGFA. Several blues over 200 pounds and one over 300 pounds were reported in newspapers of the 1800’s from the Missouri River, but whether these weights were anywhere near accurate is anybody’s guess.
Biggest catfish in the Winter Blues event was not record class, but Team Magness from Mississippi did manage a 72.58 pounder, the heaviest fish for the event. The team with the heaviest total weight for the event, Tammy Strouth and Brian Lawson, had a fish that went 68.69 pounder as part of their three-fish total bag of 168.9 pounds, while the second place team of Nick Diminio, Adam Long and Doug Jolly brought in a 69.58 pounder as part of a total bag of 151.9 pounds.
These fish can live at least 20 years, and don’t reach sexual maturity or spawning age until they’re 4 to 5 years old. Since they’re valued more as trophy fish than as food fish in the larger sizes, Alabama has placed a limit of one fish daily over 34 inches on the species. The idea is to allow more fish more time to grow into the lunker class. (All trophy-class fish caught in the Alabama Catfish Trail events are released.)While the giants are most often found in the deepest holes in the river or directly below the dams in summer, in winter they spread out to feed on river points, shell beds and sandbars, and the big ones are evidently most active in the colder weather.
Blues eat just about any type of fish, but they seem to have a special preference for a herring-like baitfish called the skipjack, which is found naturally throughout the Tennessee River system. Most expert catfish anglers here prefer cut skipjack over gizzard shad or other bait. A chunk about 6 inches long is typically used to lure the larger fish.
The baits are usually fished on bottom, or just off bottom via a small float between a heavy egg sinker and the bait.
Most anglers use 40-pound tackle and up, with heavy spinning reels loaded with braid a favorite with some. Hooks are 8/0 or larger circle hooks, which are said to hook the fish without a hook set, and which make it easier to release the fish alive since they usually lodge in the front of the jaw.
Big cats are strong adversaries, and battles of 15 minutes and more are not uncommon with a lunker. However, the biggest problem most anglers face when the fish finally rolls at boatside is how to get it aboard–even the largest landing nets are likely to buckle under a 60-pounder.Gaffing would work, but since the fish are to be released alive, it’s not a good strategy. Some anglers who fish the giants regularly use two nets, placing one over the head, the other over the tail for a combined lift.
For more on catfish tournaments, visit www.alabamacatfishtrail.com.
Electrofishing’s stunning success in harvesting blue catfish on Chesapeake raises concerns
Technique is highly effective, but impact on other species not fully known
By Karl Blankenship, Editor
from The Fishing Wire
For years, George Trice watched as blue catfish numbers on the James River grew, while his blue crab catches dwindled.
The James is filled with huge numbers of catfish that are “eating the whole river up” including the crabs, the Poquoson-based waterman said.
So Trice, as he puts it, is working to get even. He does that by sticking two electrodes into the river and sending a low-frequency electric jolt through the water.
All around, stunned blue catfish pop to the surface, and Trice and his crew dip them out of the water in almost unfathomable numbers. His catches can routinely hit 6,000 pounds a day.
“The only limiting factor is what the truck will carry away,” Trice said.
Last year, he caught 170,000 pounds of blue catfish, and he expected to more than double that to 400,000 pounds by the time he pulls his electrodes out of the water in early October.
Electrofishing isn’t a normal method of commercial harvest, but Trice has a research permit from the Virginia Marine Resources Commission and is working with scientists from the Virginia Commonwealth University and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science to determine the potential of the technique to help control the rampant population of nonnative blue catfish. A grant from Virginia Sea Grant helped him purchase the equipment.
But the unconventional fishing technique has drawn the ire of some recreational anglers on the river, who prize large blue catfish. And while the VMRC has allowed him use the gear in tidal waters, where it licenses commercial fishing, another state agency is worried about the practice.
Biologists with the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries say electrofishing may have unforeseen consequences for other species in the river. While the VMRC licenses the gear, the DGIF sets catch limits for blue catfish. Right now, though, the only limit is one blue catfish larger than 32 pounds a day.
Most of the fish Trice — and other commercial fishermen — catch are small, weighing only a few pounds, so there is no limit. And there’s ample demand. “There’s people competing over them,” Trice said. “The market is definitely there.”
But DGIF staff, worried about potential consequences, are preparing a recommendation that opposes the use of electrofishing for blue catfish harvests, said Bob Greenlee, a DGIF fisheries biologist who has been working with blue catfish for years.
Greenlee said that outside a couple of counties in North Carolina, “there is no where else that I know of where electrofishing is allowed to used by anyone other than fisheries professionals.”
Biologists have long used high-frequency electrofishing, which essentially stuns everything in the water — and can be dangerous to people — to conduct fish surveys in rivers and streams.
But catfish can be stunned with less-intense, low-frequency electrofishing, which provides a mild jolt barely felt by humans. Biologists have used the technique for years to work with catfish.
When Trice shocks a section of the river, all that pops up in the surrounding water are catfish — primarily blue catfish but also flathead and white catfish. Two-man crews in two chase boats quickly go to work with dip nets to scoop fish out of the water. After about two minutes, the fish recover and begin to swim away.
Because only catfish come to the surface, the crews can selectively dip only blue catfish out of the water.
“It is a really clean fishery,” Trice said. “I have commercially fished since I graduated in ’90, and this is the best way I see to do it. You don’t have any bycatch. You don’t kill anything you don’t want.”
But there are limitations to the equipment. It can only be used in low-salinity water. Much of the lower James River — and the blue catfish living there — are off-limits to Trice. Also, water temperatures have to at least be in the low 70s for it to work, so his fishing season is limited to about four months.
Greenlee said those limitations raise questions about whether electrofishing is actually increasing the overall harvest, or simply giving Trice a technological edge over other fishermen who work the same areas day after day. Other commercial fishermen have complained that electrofishing is reducing their blue catfish harvest, Greenlee said.
But multiple fisherman may not be able to use the electrofishing gear in the same river. Trice said the fish begin to get tolerant if he shocks the same area more than once, so he has to keep moving from place to place, typically revisiting an area only after a couple of weeks. Sometimes he takes a break from the James altogether and uses the gear on the Pamunkey River.
“It is not going to be the only way to harvest blue catfish because of those limitations, but it is incredibly efficient,” said Greg Garman, director of the Virginia Commonwealth University Center for Environmental Studies, and one of the scientists involved with the project. “We think there is a huge potential here.”
Garman said electrofishing might be especially useful in smaller rivers with ecologically important species that biologists want to protect. It would be too expensive to pay biologists to try to control blue catfish populations in those places, he said, but it might make sense to let commercial fishermen do the job — and make some money.
“It’s not going to solve all of the problems out there overnight, but it could be part of the solution to a couple of problems,” Garman said.
Greenlee, though, said it’s not clear that electrofishing itself isn’t causing a problem, or that only catfish are affected. During thier own work, he said, DGIF biologists have observed other species affected by low frequence electrofishing, including longnose gar, common carp and gizzard shad.
While only catfish rise to the surface, he said other species, such as Atlantic sturgeon, sink to the bottom and therefore go unseen. “That is a question that is of concern, particularly with Atlantic sturgeon,” Greenlee said. Atlantic sturgeon are an endangered species.
Even if it did not harm a sturgeon directly, he said, it could have other impacts, such as causing them to abandon a spawning run.
Garman said he is skeptical that the electrofishing is having a signficant impact on other species, but said research should continue. “I hope the agencies can wait long enough so they can make decision based on good fisheries science,” he said.
Laurie Naismith, spokeswoman for the VMRC, said the commission would also like to see the electrofishing research continue. “We are eager to see what the research shows about using this methodology, because something has got to be done,” she said. “We have to somehow get control of the blue catfish population.”
Greenlee said his department does support a commercial blue catfish harvest — just not one that uses electrofishing. In fact, he said ramped-up fishing could actually be beneficial.
The James River only a few years ago was a hot spot for trophy blue catfish, some of which reached 100 pounds. But the river has become so overwhelmed with catfish that it has exceeded it carrying capacity and large fish have become scarce.
Instead of producing large trophy fish, it is increasingly filled with slow-growing small catfish, all competing for a limited food supply, rather than the large trophy size fish prized by many recreational anglers.
“If we can harvest enough small fish and get them out of there, there is that potential for the trophy fishery to sustain itself at a higher level,” Greenlee said.
About Karl Blankenship
Karl Blankenship is editor of the Bay Journal and Executive Director of Chesapeake Media Service. He has served as editor of the Bay Journal since its inception in 1991. Read more stories like this at www.bayjournal.com.
Hot weather and catfish go together like fried fish and hushpuppies. And catfish are one of the best fish to fry with your hushpuppies, too. Summer is a great time to catch some hard fighting, tasty catfish and there are several excellent places to catch North Georgia catfish. From lakes and public ponds to rivers, catfish are plentiful and hungry.
Catfish are the ordinary citizen of the underwater world. You can find them in most waters, they aren’t picky about what they eat, tackle does not have to be fancy or expensive, and you can catch them from the bank as well as from a boat. They bite night and day and there are several kinds of cats you can catch in most places.
Tackle can be as simple as a cane pole or as fancy as a custom rod and expensive reel. But you can catch them on trotlines, jugs and limb lines, too. Bait ranges from live bream and minnows to stink bait that only a scavenger could love. You can go after frying size fish or try for a trophy weighing over 100 pounds.
There is nothing quite like setting out a trotline across a cove, baiting up a few limb lines and then sitting around a fire on the bank with a few rods in holders waiting on a bite. You can pretty much keep as many cats as you want to clean since some species have no creel limit and the ones that do have a limit have a very high number you can keep.
Georgia produces some big catfish. The state record flathead weighed 83 pounds, the record blue cat 80 pounds and the channel cat record is 45 pounds. You may break one of those records.
The following waters offer a variety of kinds of places to fish in north Georgia and the chance to catch several kinds of catfish.
Also known as Clark’s Hill to most Georgia anglers, this big lake has flatheads, blue cats, channel cats and bullheads. Located on the Savannah River near Augusta, you can find good bank access in several areas and there are many boat ramps to launch and go to secluded coves to fish. The lake record cats show what you might have a chance of catching. The biggest flathead from Clarks Hill is a 64 pound fish caught in 2010. A 62 pound blue cat was landed several years ago and the lake has produced a 25 pound channel cat. There are bigger cats in the lake.
I grew up running hooks on Clark’s Hill for catfish back in the 1960s and 70s. We used live bluegill for bait and never caught a flathead since there were none in the lake back then. Fishermen introduced them to the lake and they have grown fast and you have a good chance of catching a 40 pound plus fish.
Live minnows and small panfish are the preferred bait for flatheads and the big ones usually stay deep. The Georgia Little River arm is a good place to catch them and concentrating on the old river and creek channels are your best bet. Fish a three inch bluegill on a stout rod and reel loaded with heavy line and you can hook one of the monsters that live there. If you want a really big flathead, use a bigger bluegill.
Blue and channel cats will also hit small live bream and minnows. A couple of summers ago Javin English and I put out 50 jug hooks with small bream for bait one night and landed 14 channel cats, all about six pounds each. We put them out in Germany Creek and checked them twice that night. One problem with jugs at Clark’s Hill now is the hydrilla. You have to keep moving them out in more open water or at least near the edge of the hydrilla.
Better baits for channel cats include earthworms, chicken liver, shrimp, cut bait and stinkbait. They have smaller mouths than the other species so smaller baits are best. Cut blueback herring, mullet or whole threadfin shad are excellent baits for channel cats and blues will hit those baits, too. Cut bait and stinkbait seem to work best for the blue cats at Clarks Hill.
There is good bank access at the Highway 43 Bridge. The river channel swings right in to the bank at the south end of the bridge, the corner on your left before you get to the bridge going toward Lincolnton. You can park there and join the group usually fishing there at night for big flatheads, blues and channel cats. There is also bank access at the other bridge further downstream on Little River and there are many ramps, like the one at Amity Park, where you can fish from the bank.
Put in at one of the many ramps in Little River and go up above the Highway 43 Bridge and fish the edge of the river channel for cats. A hot spot is where two channels come together, like the one just above the island upstream of the bridge. The Little River channel comes in from the right going upstream and the Hart Creek channel comes in from straight ahead. Anchor on the point between the two channels and you will catch cats.
Also find ditches and small creeks running into either Hart Creek or Little River and fish their junctions. The outside bends of the creek and river channels are also good. Put out several rods with different baits, sit back and let the cats tell you what they want that night.
All catfish from Clarks Hill are good to eat and there are no advisories on any species. Bigger blue and channel cats may be tough and better for stews, but big flatheads stay tender and delicious.
The Etowah River downstream of the Lake Allatoona Dam is an excellent river for catfish. There is some bank access at bridge crossings and boat ramps but your best bet is to launch a small boat and fish from it. There are channel, blue and flathead cats in this section of the river. You will catch a lot of three pound blue cats and one pound channel cats, but ten pound blues and five pound channel cats are fairly common.
River fishing is different from lakes but fish can be found in consistent places. Find a deeper hole where the river forms a pool and the biggest cats will be living there. Logjams or rocks make pools even better. The fish hold in the deeper water and will feed, but they also move to the more shallow water at each end of the pool to feed.
The best baits in the river for blues and channel cats are chicken liver, earthworms and stink baits. For bigger blues and flatheads try live or cut shad or live bream. The bigger fish tend to stay deeper so fish the deepest water in the pool with big live baits to entice them.
Anchor your boat at the head of the pool and let your bait drift down the slope into the deeper water, or cast into the deep water and fish on the bottom. Also try anchoring in the pool or tying to a shoreline limb and letting your bait drift to the end of the pool where the water gets shallower.
Two of the best areas to catch catfish here are just downstream of the Allatoona Dam and near Heritage Park in Rome. There are some good holes near the dam and at the park where the Etowah joins with the Oostanaula River to form the Coosa River.
There are no restrictions on eating catfish from the Etowah River and the average size blue and channel cat is good eating, any way you want to cook them. Flatheads are also good at any size cooked any way you like. There are restrictions of one meal per week on channel cats from the Coosa River because of PCB contamination, so if you fish near the junction of the two rivers near the head of the Coosa you should consider releasing most of the channel cats you catch there.
The numbers and size of catfish in Lake Oconee often surprise anglers, especially when bass fishermen have their plugs slammed by one. I have caught an 18 pound channel cat on a spinnerbait and a 35 pound flathead on a jig and pig in club tournaments there. If they will eat artificial baits you can catch a lot of big cats on baits they like better.
Located on the Oconee River near Eatonton, Lake Oconee offers both bank and boat fishing. You can fish from the bank at any of the boat ramps and bridge crossings on the lake and catch fish. Bridge crossings are especially good around the riprap at night if you suspend your bait a few inches above the rocks so you don’t get hung up on every cast.
You can catch blue, channel and flathead catfish as well as bullheads there. The lake has produced a 40 pound flathead, a 34 pound channel cat and a 15 pound blue cat, but much bigger blue cats are in the lake. Bullheads will average about a pound each but are very common. Often called mud cats or yellow cats, bullheads are good to eat but have very red, soft meat. There are also white catfish in the lake and they look a lot like channel cats.
Live shad or bluegill as well as cut bait work well for blues and flatheads. For channel cats earthworms and stink baits are good. Night fishing is best on this heavily used lake and the calmer water at night gives you peace and quiet and there is a more consistent bite than during the day.
There is a lot of standing timber on the lake and cats live in it, but it is hard to land a big one around it. The best bet is to anchor your boat on a point near the timber and fish on the bottom. Baiting up a hole to draw the fish out of the timber works. You can pour out a bag of rice, put a bag of fish guts on the bottom or throw out some sinking catfish food in advance of your trip then sweeten the hole the day before you go fishing to get them to come to you.
Rocky points always hold bullheads and catfish so concentrate on them. There are fish all over the lake but the Oconee River above the interstate bridge has some good holes and channel swings to fish. Anchor on the edge of the river channel where it makes a bend or where a feeder creek or ditch enters it and catfish will be there.
There are no advisories or restrictions on eating catfish of any size or species from Lake Oconee.
West Point Lake
West Point Lake on the Chattahoochee River near LaGrange is one of the best catfish lakes in middle Georgia. There are many two to three pound channel cats in it and they are a good eating size. There used to be a lot of commercial cat fishermen working the lake due to the numbers of fish there, and the fish are still there. Flatheads and blue cats are also in the lake.
A 33 pound flathead and a 20 pound blue cat have been recorded at West Point but there are much bigger fish in the lake. Access is good for fishing from the many parks and ramps on the bank and there is a boat ramp close to any part of the lake you want to fish. Yellowjacket Creek, Whitewater Creek and Wehadkee Creek are all good areas to try for channel cats. Your best bet for flatheads is the upper Chattahoochee River.
Fish at night around the bridges in Yellowjacket and Wehadkee Creeks but also try the Highway 109 bridge on the main lake. You can fish from the bank around those bridges or tie up under the bridges and fish beside the end pilings. Also try fishing just off the riprap from your boat.
For flatheads here and anywhere else live bream are the best bait. For blues and channel cats the usual baits like earthworms, stink baits, live or cut shad and cut mullet works very well. When getting a fish for cut bait, an oily fish like a mullet or shad is best since it will put more scent into the water to attract the fish.
The Georgia Environmental Protection Division has no restrictions on smaller channel cats from West Point but you should not eat more than one meal per week of fish 16 inches long or longer due to PCB contamination.
McDuffie Public Fishing Area
McDuffie PFA offers great fishing for channel cats and easy access for bank and boat fishing. There is handicapped fishing access and the seven ponds ranging from five to 37 acres are stocked with channel cats regularly and are fertilized. You will one of the following if you are ages 16 to 64: A 3-day hunting/fishing license, a Wildlife Management Area License, a 3-day hunting/fishing license, a Sportsman’s, Honorary or Lifetime License or a Georgia Outdoor Recreation Pass.
The McDuffie PFA is near Thomson and offers concrete boat ramps, restrooms, picnic tables and camping. Shorelines are clean and easy to fish from but you can fish only from sunrise to sunset Wednesday through Sunday. The limit on channel cats is five per day and you are limited to two lines in the water at a time.
Best baits are chicken liver, blood and stink baits and earthworms. You are not allowed to use live fish of any kind, including minnows, to fish here. Most channel cats are good eating size but you are not likely to catch a really big cat here. The best bet is to find a sandy bank, set up two lines in the water with one of the above baits on a small catfish hook and light lead and wait for a bite. Fishing is relaxed and simple.
You can launch a boat on any of the open ponds and get away from the more crowded bank access areas. Boats are restricted to electric or paddle power only. A gas motor may be attached to the boat but may not be cranked. Find a small drop off or channel with a depthfinder in the ponds and fish around it for the best chances of catching fish.
This is a great place to take kids fishing since facilities are convenient and fishing is good. Kids can play when they get tired of fishing, something important when teaching young kids to fish.
Any of these destinations would be a great choice this summer and you will catch catfish if you give them a try. Load up your tackle, head to one and bring home a mess of delicious fish for your next c
Georgia’s Catfish Bonanza
Where and how can I catch catfish in Georgia?
If you want variety in your fishing, go for catfish. They are in all our waters so you have a wide choice of places to fish. You can try for small eating size channel cats or you can go for a huge flatheads that approach 100 pounds. And you can use just about any method you want to catch them, from jugs to rod and reel.
The following offer a place to catch cats in a wide variety of waters around our state. Check them out for some fun this summer.
McDuffie Public Fishing Area
Located about eight miles east of Thomson and a couple of miles off Highway 278, McDuffie PFA offers seven ponds ranging in size from five to 37 acres. Six of the ponds are stocked with channel catfish. Bank fishing is good and you can use a boat with an electric motor. In most cases you will need a Wildlife Management Stamp as well as your fishing license.
The ponds are maintained for easy bank access and offer bank anglers good fishing. Some of the ponds have fishing platforms on the water that are handicapped accessible. Concrete boat ramps make loading and unloading your boat easy. Restrooms on the PFA as well as hiking trails and picnic tables make this a good place for a family outing. Camping is available on-site but fishing is limited to sunrise to sunset.
Channel cats are the only cats you are likely to catch here and most will be eating size in the one to two pound range. There are cats up to 20 pounds in some of the ponds so be prepared for a strong fight at any time. You can not use live baits like minnows so stick with earthworms, chicken liver, stink baits and crickets.
I grew up less than three miles from the McDuffie PFA and spent many happy hours there. My best luck for catfish came late in the afternoon although cats will bite all during the day. Warmer months were best so right now through the end of September is a good time to go.
Find a sandy spot on the bank near the pond dam and drive a forked stick or rod holder in the ground. Cast out a cricket, earthworm or piece of liver on a #4 hook and a light split shot, let it hit bottom, tighten up your line and place the rod in the holder. Watch your line for bites but wait to pick up your rod when the cat starts swimming off with the bait. Channel cats often bite slowly and you can pull the bait away from them if you try to hook them too quickly.
High Falls State Park
This 660 acre lake in a state park is just a few miles east of I-75 north of Forsyth. There is limited bank access at the dam and at the park and boat ramp on the Buck Creek arm, but most fishing is from a boat. Motors are limited to 10 horsepower and two concrete ramps offer easy loading and unloading. You can be on the water only from sunrise to sunset each day.
Some big flatheads are caught each year with fish in the 30 pound range showing up fairly often. There are tales of much bigger flatheads, too. I took a picture of a 35 pounds flathead from High Falls that was the state record for a short time many years ago so there can be some huge fish in the lake.
But your best bet will be for channel cats. In 2008 there was an exceptional spawn and survival rate and those fish have now grown to a good size for eating. Almost half the channel cats will be in the 12 to 18 inch size and weigh an average of about two pounds. You will have a good chance at a five pound channel cat.
The best fishing for all cats will be in the deepest water in the area this time of year. The old channels at High Falls are silted in badly but the depressions formed by them are still the deepest water. A depthfinder helps find this deeper water to concentrate your fishing and the lower lake will be best.
If fishing for flatheads a live bream or shad is best, and bigger channel cats will hit them, too. For smaller fish go with cut bait. You are more likely to catch channel cats if you use earthworms or stink bait.
Rig up a sinker heavy enough to keep your bait near the bottom and tie your hook on a short leader. Put the bait on a #2 to #4 hook for smaller cats and slowly drift the bait right on the bottom. There is a lot of slimy “moss” on much of the bottom at High Falls and the leader will allow your sinker to stay on the bottom without getting the gunk on your bait.
I-20 crosses the upper end of Lake Oconee west of Greensboro and the lake extends south, covering 19,000 acres and 374 miles of shoreline. Access is good for boat anglers at several marinas and public boat ramps, and bank fishermen can fish around bridges and in the parks. The lake is so big a boat is definitely the way to fish.
There are lots of channel and white cats and bullheads in Oconee but the population of big flatheads and blues is increasing. Oconee may be the sleeper lake in the state for big catfish. I landed a 20 pound blue cat on a spinnerbait three years ago in Double Branches and a 35 pound flathead on a jig and pig last summer in Lick Creek while bass fishing. If you target cats there is no telling what size you might catch!
There are a lot of 15 pound plus blues and flatheads in the lake so use stout tackle if you are fishing for them. Live shad or bluegill are best for the bigger fish but cut bait also works well. For smaller channel cats and bullheads live earthworms are good.
Both big cats I caught hit in the middle of the day but late afternoon to early morning is the best time for catfish. On a big lake like Oconee it pays to bait up a hole for them. Pick out a small cove that drops off to deep water and throw out sinking catfish food for several days. Although cats like the standing timber on Oconee, make sure you pick a cove a good ways from it or any big cat you hook will likely wrap you up.
Come back late in the afternoon and anchor, cast out several rods baited with live bait, cut bait and earthworms and wait for the action. Offer a variety of kinds of baits and sizes of baits since you may draw in smaller channels or trophy size flatheads and blues. You can fish all night during the summer and catch fish.
Although Andrews Lake offers good cat fishing, the best area of it is just below the Walter F. George dam. The bigger cats tend to move up the lake to the fast water in the tailrace just below the dam on the Chattahoochee River and feed there. There is some bank access but a boat is a better way to fish. The dam at Walter F. George is near Fort Gaines.
You can catch a lot of ten pound plus flatheads and blue cats here and a real trophy is possible. The state record blue was held for a short time by a 67 pound, 8 ounce monster caught just below the dam in 2006. Then in February, 2010 an 80 pound, 4 ounce monster caught here set the new state record. There are good numbers of 40 pound plus blues in the area. Channel cats are also abundant and will average from two to four pounds.
For smaller blue and channel cats try earthworms and blood baits fished on the bottom. Bigger fish are used to eating shad injured or killed at the dam so live or cut gizzard or threadfin shad are excellent baits here. Bream and live shad or suckers are best for flatheads but will also catch big blues.
During the day fish your bait on the bottom in the deepest water near the Walter F. George dam. At night you can anchor and cast your bait up onto flats and sandbars near the deeper water. The big cats hold in deep water during the day and move up into the shallows to feed at night.
Use heavy tackle and a one ounce sinker will often be needed to hold your bait on the bottom in the current. Try to find eddies or slack water where the current washes injured baitfish and let your bait soak on the bottom in those places.
Be careful of water release at the dam when fishing from a boat or the bank. Water can rise quickly and become very strong when power is being generated so be aware of the changes. Don’t get caught by rising water and strong currents.
Most fishermen think of spotted bass when the Coosa River in northwest Georgia is mentioned, but it is a quality catfish river, too. From its start north of Rome to where it crosses the state line into Lake Weiss, big cats are caught in this river. Boat fishing is the best way to find the fish here since you need to seek out the places they hide.
One thing may help to make this river a trophy catfish hole is the restriction on eating big cats from it. The Georgia DNR says you should not eat blue cats over 32 inches long from the Coosa and should limit eating smaller cats, so many of the cats here get released to fight again. If you want a fight the Coosa is a good place to head but if you want catfish to eat you would be better fishing another spot.
You can catch blue, channel and flathead cats of all sizes in the Coosa and 50 pound blues are not uncommon. For smaller fish use stink baits, earthworms and liver. For the bigger trophy size cats the best baits are live bream and shad, or cut bream and shad.
The Coosa is full of log jams on the bank and big blues and flatheads love to hide in them. Drift a live bream or shad into eddies created by brush and log jams and be ready for a strong fight. Use very heavy tackle to get the fish away from the wood and out into the main river to have a chance of landing it.
Deep outside bends in the river where the current creates slack water can be excellent, too. You can anchor on the inside part of the bend and fish your bait on the bottom toward deeper water. Drifting it with the current will also take it to where the catfish hold, rather than waiting for them to come to your bait. But they are going to be harder to get out of the place they are holding since it is likely to be in heavy cover.
Also look for current breaks in the middle of the river. Bridge pilings, logs and deeper holes will hold fish. Let your live bream or shad or cut bait drift into those areas and the current will take it right to where the catfish is waiting. Use the current to move your bait in a natural way.
These spots offer you examples of the wide variety of cat fishing hole we have in Georgia. Check them out for some fun fishing and, in most of them, good eating. There are many similar lakes, rivers, state parks and Public Fishing Areas around the state to try if one of these is not near you. The same methods that work on these should work on one closer to you.