August Cats In The Yellowhammer State

This is the month to hit the water for some serious catfishing in the southern part of our state. Here are some well-known honeyholes for those whiskerfish, and some overlooked ones!

Photo by Jeff Samsel

The lure of plentiful catfish beckons many South Alabama anglers today as it has for many years past. Fortunately, the major river systems throughout Alabama hold tons of cats. This is one sport for which the "good old days" were no better than the action is right now.

To learn the best locations for finding and catching cats, we talked to the south Alabama catfish specialist, David Armstrong. He is the Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries biologist for District V. He is going to provide an overview of five places he considers above average for catfish action in the southern part of Bama. Then as a kicker, we will finish out with another overlooked destination of our own.

MONROE COUNTY LAKE

Armstrong selected Monroe County Public Fishing Lake, near Beatrice, as one of the best bets for catfish. Lake anglers usually can catch their limit of six cats, with the average weight running 3 pounds each. Usually it takes only a morning or an afternoon of fishing, and rarely a full day.

"In this lake, you don't have any current to deal with," Armstrong says. "This lake provides a great place to take your family and let everyone fish for cats."

Most catfishermen use commercially prepared stink baits, all different kinds of live worms, and some cut bait in this 84-acre lake that has easy access from the bank. Located on a feeder stream of Robinson Creek, Monroe County Lake holds only channel cats, which are restocked regularly by the DWFF.

"The lake has quite a few shelves, dropoffs and points, and the state has put brushpiles, logs and other structure in the lake to provide habitat for not only cats but also bass and bream," Armstrong explains.

If you're looking for a good place to catch a mess of cats and want to take your family and friends with you, try out Monroe County Lake.

The facility is open from sunrise to sunset six days a week beginning Feb. 1 and going through Nov. 30. It is closed on Mondays. For more information, call the lake manager's office at (251) 789-2104.

To reach Monroe County Lake from Monroeville, take State Route 21 north to Beatrice and go left on SR 265 for a fourth of a mile. Next, turn left on Robbins Street (County Road 50) and travel for 2 1/2 miles to the lake.

TOMBIGBEE RIVER

Obviously, the Tombigbee River is a long waterway, but the biologist focused in on a smaller area for catfish action.

"The Three Rivers area of the Tombigbee River all the way down to Bates Lake has provided a highly productive catfish hotspot in south Alabama for many years," Armstrong reports. "This region has a wide variety and plentiful numbers of catfish. Although the channel cat dominates the waters, you catch plenty of blue cats and an occasional flathead. In this section of the Tombigbee River, there is swift current and quite a bit of structure. You find numbers of willow flats and backwaters here, as well as hard, deep banks to fish in this region."

If you head for the Claiborne tailrace, take stiff rods, strong lines and heavy weights to get your baits down because of the very strong current.

Catfishing wears three faces in this region around Coffeeville. You find quite a bit of trotlining, a good number of jug-fishermen, and many rod-and-reel drift-fishermen bumping the bottom for cats. Access below Coffeeville Lock and Dam for shore angling is difficult, but a few catfishermen do show up there.

"The area below the U.S. Highway 84 bridge west of Coffeeville has good current, good banks and good dropoffs to fish," Armstrong says.

Catfish here prefer live shad, cut shad, catalpa worms and night crawlers. If you have a boat, you may want to head to the town of Coffeeville and fish this section of the Tombigbee River.

CLAIBORNE TAILRACE

"Anglers do quite a bit of catfishing below Claiborne Dam, between Monroeville and Grove Hill, near Fountain and just off County Road 17," Armstrong points out.

This part of the Alabama River historically has been home to great catfishing opportunities. Extremely fertile, this section of the river has a variety of cats and a long growing season; thus, the Claiborne tailwaters are especially productive for catfish.

"This area has a strong current, and you really can get your rod doubled-up by big blue cats in this tailrace," Armstrong emphasizes. "You also find some really nice-sized channel cats and a few flathead cats there."

If you head for the Claiborne tailrace, take stiff rods, strong lines and heavy weights to get your baits down because of the very strong current. Most catfishermen here prefer live or cut shad, and although most anglers drift-fish this tailrace, some others prefer to anchor. If you anchor, use your depthfinder to locate holes, dropoffs or boulders on the bottom that break the current and provide holding places for cats. Just upstream of those spots are where you want to drop the anchor.

In August, the blue cats, which are the dominant whiskerfish here, provide most of the action.

MILLERS FERRY TAILRACE

Millers Ferry Lake, near Camden on the Alabama River, is officially known as the William B. Dannelly Reservoir. Regardless of what you call it, this patch of water has always has had a reputation as a great bass and crappie lake. However, many anglers fail to realize that one of the state's best catfish hotspots lies in the tailrace just below the Millers Ferry Dam. Part of that has to do with the problem of reaching the action.

"Because of the difficult access, you often don't find large numbers of catfishermen in this tailrace," Armstrong admits. "You catch some channel cats and a few flathead cats, but the blue cat will be your primary target."

Like almost any tailrace in the Cotton State, at Millers Ferry tailrace you have to use heavy weights to get your baits down when the current's running. Once you're hooked up to one of the river's plentiful cats, the need for heavy line also becomes obvious. In the cool, highly oxygenated water, the catfish are strong and use the current to make boating or landing them even harder.

Baitfish congregate around the dam, and so will the cats.

"You se

e plenty of shad in this tailrace," Armstrong says. "Of course, the catfish's primary food source consists of shad. That's why catfish here prefer live and cut shad. This tailrace may offer one of the best catfishing hotspots in the state."

LOWER MOBILE DELTA

Often overlooked as a catfishing hotspot, the lower Mobile River Delta covers a broad area and receives quite a bit of fishing pressure. However, unlike state lakes and tailrace areas, the fishermen here rarely congregate in one spot. Delta fishermen have such a wide choice of places to launch and fish that you really cannot pinpoint just one particular place for catfish. They are virtually everywhere.

Still, David Armstrong points to Bayou Sara, Catfish Bayou and Dead Lake as areas off the Mobile River that provide some of the best locations in which to find cats in the Delta.

"These regions produce mostly channel catfish, but you catch a few blue catfish where there's current and also an occasional flathead cat," Armstrong comments.

Stink and cut baits seem to produce the most and the biggest cats in this section of the Delta. Look for ledges, dropoffs, holes and any types of bottom breaks or cover where cats can hold.

Delta catfishermen traditionally have remained more hush-mouthed about their hotspots than tailrace and state lake fishermen. That is probably because the best places are not as easy to find as the more easily defined destinations. Rarely will you see a Delta fisherman pull his boat out at a boat ramp, show off his catfish catch, and tell anyone where he caught them. Which, of course, just means that finding your own honeyhole may ensure that you have it all to yourself as well!

OUR HIDDEN CATFISH HOTSPOT

More than likely, you have never heard of the Sucarnoochee River. Unless you live near it, why would you have? This small river is really more of a stream in most places, does not flow close to any heavily populated area, and has few spots where you can put in a boat. It flows into the Tombigbee River southeast of Bellamy in Sumter County, far downstream from its beginnings in Kemper County, Miss. You need a detailed map to even find the river. But for a dedicated catfish fan, it is worth the effort.

Toxey Haas, president of Mossy Oak Camouflage in West Point, Miss., does not spend all his time thinking about how to make sportsmen invisible to bucks and gobblers. He also spends time on the water trying to fool a few whiskerfish.

"I fish the Sucarnoochee River near Livingston every year," he admits. "This small stream has plenty of big cats on it and receives very little fishing pressure. I can fish there from daylight until dark and never see another catfisherman."

Fortunately, I too am familiar with the Sucarnoochee, because it flows on that edge of the town of Livingston where I attended college. This small stream has numbers of potholes, ledges, dropoffs and pockets that hold cats. It has a steady current flowing through it and quite a few minnows and bluegills on which the cats can feed.

FINDING THE WATER
When looking for the smaller streams that hold catfish in the Cotton State, a good resource is Alabama Canoe Rides and Float Trips, by John Foshee. Available at most bookstores and outfitters shops, the book provides put-in and take-out places and gives a detailed map of many such streams in the state. It also contains details about the type of water you will find and the fishing you can expect.

Another good resource to look at is the DeLorme Alabama Atlas and Gazetteer. It is available in bookstores or from retail chain merchants and shows county roads and even dirt trails leading to many streams. If you have trouble finding the atlas, call DeLorme at (207) 846-7000 or visit their Web site, at

www.delorme.com

A canoe or a flat-bottomed johnboat provides the best way to fish this small river. If you plan a trip down it, study maps carefully to find public access points, usually below bridges that cross the river.

Catfish on the Sucarnoochee prefer live minnows or cut shad, and a portable depthfinder with a suction-cup transducer attached to a 2x4 on the side of your canoe or boat will give you an accurate reading of the bottom as you paddle or motor down the Sucarnoochee. Look for bottom breaks, holes, stumps, logs or boulders along the river, and plan to fish behind them.

The catfish in this little river, as in many smaller streams throughout the state, will hold behind the current breaks of these types of structures.

The Sucarnoochee River offers a prime example of South Alabama's most overlooked catfishing hotspots -- the many little creeks and small rivers throughout the state that have plenty of catfish in them. You mainly catch channel cats in these types of places, but bullheads are common too. A gob of night crawlers or dead and live minnows pay the most catfish dividends. If you fish these small streams just after a summer rain, you can often locate the catfish concentrated in the little run-off feeder creeks and ditches coming into these small waters.

If you like an adventure as well as a great catfishing opportunity, then plan to fish the Sucarnoochee River and any of the other small waterways scattered throughout the state. I call this type of angling blue-line fishing. When you look on a highway map, you see small blue lines crossing under roads and highways throughout the southern half of the state. These blue lines indicate small streams and creeks that get very little, if any, fishing pressure and usually hold good numbers of channel cats and an occasional flathead.

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