All About Middle Georgia Lake Cats
There is something special about sitting by a small lakeside fire on a hot summer night watching lines set out for catfish. It is very relaxing to cast out a few baited hooks, prop the rods in a holder or forked stick and watch for line movement indicating a bite. And the results of the catch, fried catfish with hushpuppies and slaw, is special, too.
Catfish are in all our lakes and are willing feeders on many kinds of bait. They are easy to catch and excellent cooked in a variety of ways. A bulldog type fighter, they will stretch your string and grow bigger than any other kind of freshwater fish in our waters.
Georgia lakes have populations of blue, channel, white and flathead catfish as well as three kinds of bullheads, often called yellow or mud cats. The most popular are the blue, channel and flatheads and they also get bigger than the other species.
Catfish are known as bottom feeders but they will eat just about anything. Tales of them hitting chunks of Ivory soap are common, but other baits probably work better. Night is the most active feeding time for most catfish but many are caught during daylight. Overall it is hard to go wrong no matter when you go or what you use if a mess of catfish is your goal.
Although it would be hard to find a pond bigger than a puddle or a creek barely too big to jump across without catfish in it, there are better choices for catfishing for most of us. Our big public lakes are excellent places to catch catfish. Everyone can fish them, access is good and catfish often grow huge in them.
You don’t need special equipment to fish for cats although a boat can help. Any kind of rod and reel or cane pole will do, and you don’t even need them to land a bunch of cats. This variety can get confusing but it is fun to try them all and decide which you like best.
Everyone has favorite ways to catch catfish and all of them work. Trotlines are used by many commercial fishermen and recreational fishermen take tons of cats on them each year. Jugs work well and are easy to check. Limb lines are a favorite where shoreline trees and bushes make them possible, and set poles can replace the limbs on clean banks.
All the above methods are fun and provide large numbers of cats, but nothing beats the fun of reeling in a big cat on a rod and reel or fighting an eating size cat on a cane pole. There is no reason not to combine several of these methods, putting out a trotline then sitting on the bank nearby with a rod and reel out for cats, or putting out limb lines then going back to the dock and fishing for cats there while waiting on the set hooks to do their work.
Trotlines are simply a main line with short dropper lines attached every few feet. A hook is tied on the end of the dropper line and baited. The main line can be run across a cove or between two trees out in deeper water, and some, especially commercial lines, are simply anchored at each end with a concrete block. Run them parallel to the bank to fish a set depth or stretch them across the cove to cover different depths.
You can buy commercially made trotlines or make your own. Get a spool of strong cord and another of slightly lighter line. Tie a two or three foot section of the lighter line every four to six feet apart on the main line. Tie them far enough apart so they don’t tangle. If you use a two foot dropper, tie them four feet apart.
A 100 foot line with 25 dropper hooks is a good size to use. You can cover the back end of a cove or the side of one with a line that long. It is also easier to handle than longer lines, and recreational fishermen are limited to 50 hooks or less so you can put out two trotlines that long. The law also says you must sink the trotline at least three feet deep and mark it with visible buoys with your name and address on it.
Commercial fishermen bait their hooks while the trotline is on a rack then put them out. Wrapping the main line around a block of Styrofoam then wrapping each dropper and sticking the hook into the Styrofoam works for recreational fishermen. You can put the line out then go back and bait it.
Run your line across a cove or down the side of a cove, tying it off so you can find it. Make sure it stays down by putting a weighed like a half a brick in the middle. Bait up with pieces of shrimp, pieces of cut fish, live bream, earthworms, liver, commercial stink bait or anything else you like. Tougher baits hold up better to the movement of the line.
Bait up just before dark so bream don’t steal as much of your bait. Check your line in the middle of the night and again at daylight, but don’t bother it too much. Pulling it up too often makes it less effective.
Limb lines are a fun way to fish. Tie a line to any overhanging limb that is strong enough to hold a catfish and make it long enough to go into the water. Tie a hook on the end and bait it with any favorite catfish bait. One trick is to tie the hook so it is just at the water’s surface then hook a live bream in the back so it creates a disturbance on the surface when it tries to swim.
Live bream are legal baits if you catch them legally on the lake you are fishing for catfish. You can not go over the limits on the lake you are fishing. Keep them in a live well or basket in the water until you need them. You can have a lot of fun catching the bait on a light pole or rod and reel. Bream two to three inches long make excellent bait.
It is easy to check limb lines by shining a spotlight on them. You can quickly learn how they move differently when a catfish is pulling rather than the live bait you are using. You have to get closer to the line if you are using other baits to check them and put more bait on if it is missing.
Set poles work the same way, but are easier to set out and check without a boat. Cut some cane poles six to 15 feet long and tie a line to the end with a hook on it. Chose a bank on the lake that drops off fast. The outside bends of the old creek channels are good. Stick the butt end of pole in the ground at a angle so the pole sticks out over the water and the hook is in the water.
It is easier to bait the hook before putting the pole out, and you can use rocks to hold it in place if the ground is real hard. Make sure the angle is steep enough so the fish is pulling against the pole and does not pull it out of the ground. A 45 degree angle is usually about right.
Jugs are an exciting way to fish but you need a boat. Use a quart Clorox jug or similar size plastic bottle for this fishing. Don’t use too big a jug or the wind will move it around too fast and far. Tie a dropper line of three or four feet to the jug and attach your hook. A sinker on the line helps and you can cut cost by using an old spark plug tied to the line a foot above the hook.
Find a cove on the lake protected from the wind, or choose one with the wind blowing into it. If you put the jugs out in open water even a very slight breeze will move them all over the lake by morning. Bait the jugs up with your favorite bait and toss them into the water a few feet apart.
It is fun to watch the jugs and try to find them at night with a spotlight, but you will have to wait till daylight to find most. Spray paint the jug with florescent orange spray paint to make finding them easier. Some fishermen even stick a strip of reflective tape to their jugs.
A big cat will pull the jug under but will pop back up in a few feet. You may have to chase them for a while but that is part of the fun, watching to see where the jug will appear and trying to grab it before it is pulled under again.
Some folks use PVC pipe to make their jugs. One method is to cut 18 inch long sections of four to six inch pipe then cap it on both ends. Attach your line and hook and you are ready to go. Another interesting way is to make them out of one to two inch PVC three feet long with caps on both ends. Attach your line to one end and when a fish is on the hook the pole will stand up, making it easier to spot.
Livewells or ice chests can both be used to hold your catch until time to clean them. Catfish are easy to clean but not like scaled fish. Special catfish skinning pliers help a lot. These pliers have a wide pinching jaw that grabs the skin better than regular pliers.
With small cats, cut through the skin around the head then put your thumb in the fish’s mouth. Hold it by placing a finger under each side fin. Grab the skin a the cut and pull apart, stripping the skin off. Be very careful of the fins since they are sharp and will stick into you easily. It is a good idea to clip off the top fin before starting the cleaning process.
With big cats that you can’t hold in one hand, nail their heads to a tree or a wooden bench you use for cleaning fish. That will hold them in place as you strip off the skin. With real big cats you will need both hands to pull the skin off.
After skinning, cut the head off. It is amazing how much fish you lose. It seems catfish are at least one-third head. After cutting off the head cut out the vent with a notch cut then split the belly open. You can pull the guts out easily then.
With smaller fish you can pan fry the whole fish. You can also filet a catfish but you need a very sharp knife or and electric knife to cut through the tough skin. With really big catfish you can make vertical cuts through the backbone, cutting the fish into steaks an inch thick.
Fried catfish are always good but the mild flesh makes them good for most recipes. Catfish stew is a traditional southern favorite. They are also good baked, broiled and sautéed. It is hard to cook a catfish wrong.
According to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Resources Division, all of our central Georgia lakes are good for catfish. Each has specific species that are more common and they also offer some tips on catching them on their website in the “Lake Predictions” section.
Lake Andrews is a 1540 acre lake on the Chattahoochee River between Lake Walter F. George and Lake Seminole. There are large numbers of four to six pound channel cats caught there at night during the summer. The area just below the George dam is good for numbers of cats as well as some big ones, including blue cats over 30 pounds. Remember that you are not allowed to put out trotlines within one half mile below any lock or dam.
Lake Walter F. George has a good population of channel cats but the DNR is seeing and increasing population of blue cats, too. There are a lot of both species in the one to two pound range and the DNR suggest fishing in 15 to 20 feet of water for them. Blue cats up to 30 pounds have been taken there in the past few years.
West Point Lake probably has the best population of channel cats of any lake in middle Georgia, according to the DNR. Dam and bridge riprap is a good place to catch them as are the big flats on the lake. Live or dead threadfin shad are excellent bait for them and you can catch them for your bait with a cast net.
Jackson Lake has good populations of channel and white catfish as well as bullheads, and they are the second most harvested fish there, according to the DNR. The average size of channel cats is two to three pounds but Jackson probably has the highest population of channel cats over 30 inches long in middle Georgia.
Lake Oconee has an excellent population of white and channel cats but recently blues and flatheads have been increasing. That means there are fewer small cats but more bigger ones. Live bait is best for blues and flatheads at Oconee and summer nights are the best time to fish, according to the DNR.
Lake Sinclair has some of the highest catfish populations in middle Georgia, with white and channel catfish and bullheads most common. Recently blue cats were illegally introduced and they will grow fast, reaching 50 pounds or more. Channel cats may reach 30 pounds at Sinclair.
Lake Juliette has a small population of flathead catfish but they grow big. They are hard to land because of the abundant standing timber in the lake. Fishing for smaller cats is not very good, with bullheads making up most of the catch.
Lake Tobesofkee has a good population of channel cats and bass fishermen hook them often. Most are in the half to one and a half pound range but bigger ones are present. Trotlines are not allowed in Tobesofkee.
Lake Thurmond, better known as Clarks Hill, is the lake I grew up on and ran trotlines and limb lines on for years. We caught many eating size blue and channel cats and live bream were my favorite bait. When I fished it back in the 1970s and 80s we never saw a flathead cat, but several over 40 pounds have been taken there during the past 10 years.
Pick any middle Georgia lake. Take your favorite bait, or take several different kinds. Set out some hooks and then cast out your rod and reel. No matter where you go and what you use, you will catch a mess of good eating cats.