Angling For Middle Georgia Cats
What could be better this time of year than kicking back under a shade tree with a rod or two set out for catfish? The bigger lakes are churned with pleasure boats and the sun is hot, but you can go to smaller waters and have a ball catching cats. And it is hard to find a better meal than fried catfish.
If you live in the mid-Eastern part of Georgia you have some great catfish waters near you. From Public Fishing Areas to rivers to state parks, you won’t have to drive far to catch a mess of cats. You can fish from the bank or from a boat and enjoy the peace and quiet while filling up the stringer.
The following waters are all good for cats and at least one should be close to you. Pick one and learn more about it by fishing it often or try them all for a nice variety in your catfishing.
McDuffie PFA is a few miles from Highway 278 east of Thomson. There are signs from the highway to the 570 acre site and it is open from sunrise to sunset each day.
With a few exceptions, a Georgia fishing license as well as a Wildlife Management Stamp is required to fish there.
Campsites are available for tents and RVs and they have ADA sites, too. There are restrooms and bath houses and some of the ponds have picnic tables and grills. You can use the covered picnic pavilion. You may not fish from sundown to sunrise even if camping there.
You can choose from seven different ponds to catch catfish and they vary in size from five to 37 acres. The ponds are fertilized and each fall harvestable size channel cats are stocked in some of them. The fishing is good year round for channel cats since this stocking raises the numbers in the pond and are not all caught quickly.
All the ponds have boat ramps and most are easily accessible from the bank all the way around the water. Boats are restricted to electric motors only but can have a gas motor attached as long as you don’t crank it. Your boat must be registered if it has any kind of motor on it. The ponds are small enough to cover them by paddling a small boat.
You are allowed to use two poles per person but no live minnows are allowed as bait. You may keep five channel cats per day and you are unlikely to catch any other species from these ponds. Watch for closed ponds and any special restrictions posted on a specific pond.
Most cat fishermen target eating size channel cats but some big fish are in all the ponds. Early and late in the day offers the best time to catch catfish and it is much more comfortable to fish when the hot summer sun is not beaming down.
To catch your limit of cats from the bank, pick a spot near the dam where you can reach deeper water. Bait a #4 Eagle Claw 100 hook or other short-shanked heavy wire offset hook with liver, earthworms or blood bait and fish it on the bottom. Use a small split shot to take it down but don’t use more weight than necessary to cast it out and keep it on the bottom. Eight pound test line will get more bites and give you a better fight than heavier line.
Since you can use two rods have a second rod with heavier line and a bigger hook. Bait it up with a big chunk of gizzard or cut bait and fish it for bigger cats. The tougher, bigger bait won’t be eaten off or swallowed by smaller cats.
Hugh Gillis PFA
Hugh Gillis PFA is ten miles east of East Dublin on Keens Crossing Road off US Highway 80. The area is open from sunrise to sunset and you will need both a Georgia fishing license and, in most cases, a WMA stamp to fish here. If you buy a one day fishing license or have a honorary license, either senior or disability, or a Sportsman’s or Lifetime licensee you don’t have to have a WMA stamp to fish any state PFA.
There are restrooms and picnic tables available on the site and some are ADA accessible. The 109 acre lake has a concrete boat ramp and a fishing pier you can use. You can use any outboard motor here but you must stay at idle speed only.
As on all PFAs you are limited to two poles in use at any one time so you can try for eating size cats with one and bigger cats with the other. Fishing from the pier is often good and about half of the bank is accessible around the lake. There are channels, coves and points to fish but you need a boat to fish most of them.
Some standing timber was left when the lake was built and many brush piles have been added. Cats often hold around this wood cover but sometimes are hard to land. They get tangled up if you wait too long to set the hook and reel them in, but fishing around the wood is often productive. A boat gives you better access to this kind of cover.
Since cats often bite slowly, a good method is to stick a rod holder or forked stick in the bank, put out your two rods and sit back and watch them. You can clamp a rod holder on the side of your boat, too. Bait up with liver, earthworms, stinkbait or cut fish and use bait appropriate for the size of the fish you want to catch. Watch your line for bites and be ready to reel in the fish when it hits. Don’t let it pull your rod in the water.
In the summertime deeper water is usually better for cats so fishing near the dam is best. Look behind the dam to find the channel and fish around it above the dam for the deepest water. You can also locate channels from a boat with a depthfinder. Cats often hold near the old channel. Early in the morning or late in the afternoon is best since you can not fish at night.
Evans County PFA
Evans County PFA is off US Highway 280 east of Claxton on Old Sunbury Road and is open from sunrise to sunset each day. It has the same license requirements as other PFAs and the area consists of three ponds. You can pick from an 84 acre lake, a 30 acre lake or an 8 acre lake to fish.
The lakes have concrete boat ramps and fishing piers and there are restrooms and picnic tables available. Primitive camping is offered on the area and some of the facilities are ADA accessible.
The ponds are managed for good fishing and they contain brown bullheads as well as channel cats. There is good bank access available on the lakes and the fishing piers get you out over deeper water, but a boat will let you cover more of the lakes.
Each year there are two kids fishing events at the PFA and the eight acre lake is stocked with 2,500 eating size channel cats for each one. Fishing is real good after the events when the lake is opened back up to the public. There is a five fish limit on channel cats but there is no limit on bullheads.
Dana Dixon is a fisheries technician at the Evans County PFA and he says chicken liver and shrimp are the best baits for both kinds of cats. He also said there are some big cats in the lakes. One has never been drained so it has the potential of a real big cat. The eight acre lake has not been drained in about 15 years so it could have some big ones, too.
Rivers offer a different kind of fishing for cats and more variety in species. In the Oconee River you can catch flatheads, channel cat and blue cat and some grow to huge sizes. The lower Oconee, from the Sinclair dam downstream to the junction with the Ocmulgee River where they form the Altamaha River is an excellent catfish river.
Access to the river in this section is very limited. The only state boat ramp is way down stream in Laurens County at Shady Field but it is a long run up the river to fish this section. The only bridge over this section of the river is the Highway 57 Bridge near Toomsboro. You can put a small boat in there and float down or motor upstream.
This section of the river is in the upper coastal plain and you will find undercut sand banks and bluffs, lots of fallen trees and a sand or silt bottom. The river gets wider and deeper when you get downstream of Dublin. The area between the Sinclair dam and Dublin offers good cat fishing for all three species. The DNR reports good numbers of 2 to 4 pound channel cats and some big flatheads sighted while doing population studies.
Flatheads grow very big and usually are caught out of the deeper holes in the river. Big live bream are the best bait for them. Blues and channel cat will hit live bream but cut bait, liver, shrimp and earthworms are best for channel cats.
A lot of big catfish are caught on limb lines and trotlines set in the river but you can catch them on a rod and reel, too. You need a boat to get to the best fishing on the river since shore access is limited. Find a sandbar on the upstream side or the inside bend of a deep hole and put out several rods in holders. Hard bottoms are best and an eddy in the current offers a resting and feeding spot for the biggest cats.
Use a big hook and heavy sinker to take it to the bottom and hold it in one place. Hook the bream so it will stay alive and move around. Watch your pole carefully for bites. For channel cats use smaller hooks but you will need a heavy sinker to keep your bait on the bottom in the current.
All three species of cats feed better at night so set up camp, build a fire, put on lots of bug repellant and spend the night. If fishing from a boat make sure you are anchored securely and keep a light on in case other boats are running the river. If you are going to fish all night fishing from the bank is much more comfortable.
The Ogeechee River is one of our most pristine rivers and has no dams on it. Rivers with dams upstream have regulated flows and predictable rises and falls. The Ogeechee does not and fishing can vary a lot depending on river level.
There are no flatheads in the Ogeechee and anglers should help keep it that way. If you happen to catch one, kill it. There is no limit on flatheads anywhere in Georgia since they are an invasive species and harm local populations of fish, especially redbreast. Never transport flatheads to this river.
There are good populations of white cats and bullheads in the river and they seem to concentrate where there is swift water and lots of cover. You will find many trees in the water, some all the way across the river, and breaks in the current hold cats. There are also good numbers of channel cats. Cut bait, shrimp and earthworms are all good for these three kinds of cats. Live minnows, shiner or small bream, also catch white and channel cats.
DNR boat ramps at Highways 88, 1 and 78 offer access to the river and you can also put a small boat in at several other bridges. A small jon boat, canoe or kayak is best for fishing this small river. There is also bank access around most of the bridges where you can fish.
The Savannah River from Augusta to Savannah is a big river with big catfish. Although the most common catfish in the river are white cats, some monster blues and flatheads live here. This is the best place to target a trophy cat in the area. There are many five-pound plus blues in the Savannah.
Cats in the Savannah are most likely to be in deep holes with strong current during the day but they will move out of them at night to feed in more shallow water. Fish live bream or cutbait on shallow flats and sandbars near deep holes at night. During the day set up above the holes and fish big live bait on the bottom. Outside bends in the river are best.
If the bank is undercut you can hook some of the biggest cats in the area by drifting a live bluegill under the bank. Use just enough lead to keep it down and control it. Hooking them is one thing. Getting them out from the heavy cover under those banks is difficult. Use heavy tackle and line.
Access to the river is good with several DNR boat ramps from Augusta to Savannah. You can fish from the bank around them, too. Bigger river boats and even bass boats can be used on this river but smaller jon boats will work fine.
Hamburg State Park
Hamburg State Park is the sleeper catfish hole in this area. Although the state park website does not mention catfishing, channel cats are stocked into the 225 acre lake for kids fishing events and it is managed for good fishing. The lake is full of stumps and is well known for crappie and bass, but catfish are common and grow big.
The state park is located just south of Jewell and Highway 16. Signs from I-20 at the Highway 80 exit point the way. Camping is available and there are docks to fish from in the campground. There are boat ramps and fishing piers, and bank access is good, too.
Kay Clark, clerk at the park, said there are pictures of several big channel cats on the wall there. A 16 pounder was caught from a dock in the campground last July and others have been caught all during the year.
According to Kay, shrimp is the best bait for the cats at Hamburg and there is a bait machine there that dispenses shrimp and other bait. Reserve a campsite or go for the day. Fish shrimp, earthworms or cut bait on the bottom from the bank or a boat and you will catch some channel cats.
You have many options for catfish this summer. You can fish from boats, piers or the bank and use a wide variety of baits to catch several species of cats. Pick what you like best, grab your tackle and go fishing.