Nothing says summer like going after some catfish, whether they are blues, flatheads or channels. Here are some places to try your luck this summer.
Jane Shemwell enjoyed the fishing trip of a lifetime on Guntersville Lake early last fall to celebrate her 73rd birthday. Mrs. Shemwell and her sons Charlie Jo and Gary all went on the trip together. They caught 10 catfish with a cumulative weight of 482 pounds. Catfish guru Mike Mitchell of Albertville was their guide.
“We’d never had a day of fishing like that,” Charlie Jo said. “You hear people bragging if they catch a couple of 10-pounders.”
The big fish of the outing were both caught by Mrs. Shemwell — a 62 pound blue cat and a 67.9 pound flathead cat.
“The flathead came within 12 pounds of the state record,” Charlie Jo said.
He said they were fishing in the middle of the lake using “river herring” for bait.
“We wanted to do something special for mother’s birthday,” he said. “When your mother reaches 73, you’ve done just about everything for them. We just got to thinking that she likes to fish, so we came up with this.”
The Shemwells are from Camden, Tennessee, about a 250-mile drive from Guntersville.
But they’d heard about the big catfish in the Tennessee River and knew the drive would probably be worth it.
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He said they didn’t catch anything the first couple of holes they fished, but got into them on the third hole.
“Mama told us she forgave for whatever she might have been mad at us about,” Charlie Jo said. “She had a good time.”
Mrs. Shemwell looks the picture of health posing with her big fish, but she’s had some health issues.
“She’s had a rough go the last five years,” Charlie Jo said. “She’s had cancer and also had a pacemaker put in. On that last big fish, she said she thought she had pulled something. I said, ‘Please don’t be hurt, because I don’t want to have to explain it to the doctors.’”
He said it took her 15 to 20 minutes to wrestle the big catfish up to the surface. They were fishing in about 45 feet of water.
“We love Guntersville and we’re going to come back and do this again,” Charlie Jo said.
Whether monster size cats are your aim or you’d just like to catch a mess of eating size cats for a fish fry, North Alabama is an excellent place to wet a line.
Here are a few places you might want to cast when going after cats this summer.
THE TENNESSEE RIVER
Keith Floyd, the district biologist who covers North Alabama, said the Tennessee River is a premier destination for people looking for summertime cats.
But not just any site on the river will do during the heat of the summer.
The very best fishing occurs below the dams — Guntersville, Wheeler and Wilson, Floyd said. Live or cut shad are the bait of choice when fishing below the dam.
“You need a system for catching the shad,” Floyd said. “Some people use a cast net. I prefer a shad knocker. It’s a cone of hardware cloth. You drop it into the water on a rope and pull it up to catch the shad. You see the shad schooling and that’s where you drop the shad knocker.”
The best fishing below the dam occurs when the current is running. Depending on how strong the current is, you could need some heavy lead to keep your bait in the strike zone. An ounce or even more is not uncommon.
“You want to carry a lot of lead and a lot of hooks and maybe even some extra line,” Floyd said. “There are a lot of rocks below the dam and you’re going to lose some rigs.”
The angling can be excellent both from the bank and from a boat.
Floyd said he sees lots of catfish in the 4- to 5-pound range caught below the dams using shad for bait.
If you want to catch bigger catfish, he said, skipjack herring become the preferred bait.
“You want to cut these up,” Floyd said. “I don’t know why, but the head is one of the better baits for big cats.”
Blue catfish are the predominant species below the dams. But bullheads, channel cats and flatheads are also present. Big flatheads seem to prefer live bait more than the other species.
Floyd sees all kinds of rods and reels employed for catching catfish below the dams. The guys who go after the true heavyweight cats use saltwater rigs.
“But for most people going catfishing, a standard bass rig will do just fine,” Floyd said.
A benefit of this type of fishing — drifting live and cut bait below the dams — is that you catch much more than just catfish. It’s not unheard of to take stripes, bass, buffalo, drum, even big bluegills and crappie while employing this fishing technique.
While lots of cats in the 4- to 5-pound range are taken here, Floyd said he actually prefers catching catfish in the 2- to 3-pound range for eating.
“I normally don’t keep anything over 3 pounds myself,” he said.
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