Summer is a great time to head in search of catfish, so it is good that this Alabama catfish forecast has so many locations where cats are prevalent and plentiful.
In a state overflowing with rivers and lakes, Alabama anglers can find almost unlimited places to catch big catfish from the sprawling Lake Guntersville to the smallest farm ponds and park lakes.
World renowned as a trophy catfish paradise, the Tennessee River produces monster blues and big flatheads, including some cats exceeding 100 pounds. On any cast anywhere in the system, an angler could hook up with the fish of a lifetime.
“The Tennessee River consistently produces good numbers and trophy-size catfish, especially blue catfish,” advised Phil Ekema, Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division biologist. “For trophy catfish, the Tennessee River system is always very strong, particularly Wheeler and Guntersville, but Wilson and Pickwick lakes are also very good.”
The largest lake in the state, Lake Guntersville stretches 75 miles along the Tennessee River and covers 69,100 acres. The second largest lake in Alabama, Wheeler spreads across 67,100 acres near Decatur and already produced two former state record blue cats each weighing more than 100 pounds. The Elk River flows into Wheeler Lake from the north. Farther downstream, Pickwick Lake runs 53 miles from the Wilson Dam in Florence to Pickwick Dam at Counce, Tenn.
“Lake Guntersville has had some good recruitment of blue catfish and this should translate into good fishing for blues in three to five years,” Ekema explained. “I think the catfishing on the river is actually getting better since we put in the trophy size limit where people can only keep one catfish 34 inches long or longer per day. Now, those fish have a better chance to live longer and grow bigger.”
Situated between the Wheeler and Pickwick impoundments, the smallest lake in the area often gets overshadowed by its giant neighbors. Among the oldest lakes in the state, Wilson Lake opened in 1924 and covers 15,930 acres from Wheeler Dam 18 miles downstream to Wilson Dam.
“The main reason Wilson is so good for trophy catfish is because it’s underutilized,” said Brian Barton (www.brianbartonoutdoors.com) guide out of Muscle Shoals. “Wheeler is a much larger impoundment and gets much more publicity. Wilson has good numbers and big fish.”
Wilson Lake contains a variety of cover for catfish. The lake drops to more than 100 feet deep in places. Shoal Creek and Bluewater Creek feed into the system from the north near Killen. Town Creek and McKiernan enters the lake from the south. Rocky ledges, drop-offs, humps, flooded timber and some old manmade objects still on the bottom of the lake create ideal cover for big catfish.
“Wilson has an uncanny amount of standing timber,” Barton advised. “Some of it sits in 40 to 50 feet of water, some in as much as 75 feet of water. All of that structure provides big catfish with a great refuge and places to hunt forage species like shad.”
In the summer, slowly drag baits by drifting over ledges and humps on the north side near Hog Island, Cox Island or Turtle Point. The old river channel passes through this part of the lake. In the late spring and summer, catfish often spawn on flats in 20 to 30 feet of water adjacent to deeper water.
“Wilson Lake can produce many channel cats and some big flatheads,” Barton said. “If I was targeting flatheads in the summer, I’d fish with live bream or big, live gizzard shad at night. The best flathead fishing on Wilson Lake is right at the foot of Wheeler Dam or on those steep straight wall bluffs. Flatheads like those bluffs and holes.”
Several other rivers can offer excellent catfish action, as evidenced by the state record flathead caught on the Alabama River. Beginning near Rome, Ga., the Coosa River runs 280 miles until it merges with the Tallapoosa at Wetumpka to form the Alabama River. Along the way, the Coosa flows through several lakes that typically receive less pressure on catfish since most anglers concentrate on bass and crappie.
“All of the Coosa River reservoirs contain trophy-size catfish,” said Mike Holley, AWFFD biologist. “Weiss and Logan Martin routinely produce blue catfish over 40 pounds. It’s common for anglers to catch flatheads in the 30- to 40-pound range on the Coosa River system, but fishing pressure for them is not very high. The Logan Martin tailrace at Neely Henry Dam produces a lot of catfish, particularly in May and June.”
Click the video link above to get great catfishing tips for your future trip.
From the confluence of the Coosa and Tallapoosa rivers just north of Montgomery, the Alabama River flows 318 miles southward until it joins the Tombigbee River near Mount Vernon to form the Mobile River. The Cahaba River flows into the Alabama south of Selma. On its way southward, the Alabama River creates the 17,200-acre William Dannelly Reservoir, better known as Millers Ferry Reservoir near Camden and Claiborne Lake, a 5,930-acre impoundment near Monroeville. All of those waters can produce excellent action.
“The lower portions of the Alabama and Tombigbee rivers can produce many channel, blue and flathead catfish, as well as several tasty bullhead species,” said Dave Armstrong, AWFFD biologist. “The rivers can produce some blue cats exceeding 45 to 50 pounds.”
The Tensaw River forks off from the Mobile and flows through Baldwin County until it hits Mobile Bay. Between the Mobile and Tensaw rivers, myriad streams crisscross the Mobile-Tensaw Delta, a 250,000-acre wetland loaded with catfish just north of Mobile Bay.
“The Tensaw River is one of best catfish rivers in America,” proclaimed Glenn Flowers of Cat Hunters Trophy Catfishing Guide Service (www.cathunters.net). “The Mobile-Tensaw Delta system has a phenomenal amount of blue cats. The entire system is a very fertile resource with lots of baitfish, mussels, shad and bluegills for catfish to eat.”
When targeting flatheads, look for woody cover around steep banks and deep holes. The outside of a bend in a river channel typically holds the deepest water as rushing currents scour holes. Frequently, logs, branches and other objects fall into these holes, creating additional cover to attract flatheads. Besides the Tensaw River, try the area around Fisher Island, Middle River or Bottle Creek.
Tombigbee River originates in Itawamba County, Miss., and flows down through Mississippi before veering eastward to its junction with the Alabama. The Black Warrior River hits the Tombigbee near Demopolis. Holt Reservoir, a 3,296-acre impoundment on the Black Warrior River just north of Tuscaloosa, produced the state record blue catfish, a 120.25-pounder.
“Anglers have a great chance to catch trophy catfish anywhere in the Warrior and Tombigbee river systems,” said Chris McKee, AWFFD fisheries biologist. “For blues and channels, I’d target shallow flats 3 to 10 feet deep adjacent to deep water.”
From Pickwick Lake to Demopolis, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers turned the river into the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, a commercial artery connecting the Alabama River to the Tennessee River. The waterway creates 10 lakes with a surface area of about 44,000 acres.
Although most of the Tenn-Tom runs through Mississippi, some of the best catfishing occurs in Alabama. The Tom Bevill Dam creates the 8,300-acre Aliceville Lake on the Alabama-Mississippi line. Farther downstream, the Heflin Dam creates the 6,400-acre Gainesville Lake.
“In May and June, the tailraces below Demopolis, Aliceville and Gainesville reservoirs will be the place to be as the catfish move upstream to spawn and congregate below the dams,” McKee claimed. “However, these areas hold really good catfish numbers all year long. For flatheads look for large laydowns in areas where the river channel hits the bank.”
When looking for flatheads on the lower Tenn-Tom, many anglers look for steep, hard clay banks. These sheer banks drop quickly into deep water. If anglers can find woody structure like a fallen tree adjacent to such a steep bank, that greatly increases the cover available for big flatheads.
“Typically, a blue rock wall has a straight drop,” explained Joey Pounders, professional catfish angler. “The Aliceville Lake area has a lot of that type of structure. Those blue rock walls have holes, crevices and ledges that have been cut out by years of water movements. Cats get in and near those holes and ledges. We also look for trees in the water around those blue rock walls.”
Flatheads prefer live bait, typically other fish. The predators hunker down in thick cover waiting to devour anything that passes too close to it. Drop down a live shad or other baitfish next to a sheer wall or a fallen tree. To keep bait a foot or two off the bottom, slip the leader of a Carolina rig through a wine bottle cork, which looks more natural than a colorful plastic bobber. Add just enough buoyancy to lift the bait above bottom debris, but not enough to overpower the sinker.
In eastern Alabama, anglers can find good blue cat action on the Chattahoochee River. The Chattahoochee originates in northern Georgia and forms part of the Alabama-Georgia border before flowing into Lake Seminole. Some of the best fishing on the Chattahoochee River occurs in 45,181-acre Lake Eufaula, also called Walter F. George Reservoir.
For freezer-filling action on catfish, Alabama anglers don’t even need boats. The state regularly stocks channel catfish into many of its managed 23 public fishing lakes to give anglers additional opportunities to catch fish. The lakes range in size from 13 acres to nearly 2,000. Some better public areas for catfish include lakes in Bibb, Dallas, Fayette, Geneva, Lamar, Madison, Marion and Walker counties.
Just about every freshwater system in Alabama holds good catfish numbers and some monsters. With all the pressure focused on bass and other species, catfish anglers can usually fish the best spots with little competition and possibly catch something that rivals fish caught out in the Gulf of Mexico.