Game & Fish contributor Keith Sutton is affectionately nicknamed “Catfish” for the informative articles he’s written about catfish fishing, especially giant catfish, which always draws a lot of attention to out website. Click here for more G&F articles by Sutton
As more and more anglers discover the excitement of battling our country’s biggest freshwater sportfish, fishing for monster catfish continues growing in popularity nationwide.
Fortunately, we have no lack of blue-ribbon whiskerfish waters in which to pursue these drag-burning behemoths.
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Rivers and lakes throughout the United States offer opportunities for catching blue cats and flatheads the size of young calves, and abundant channel cats that often weigh 20 pounds or more.
If you’re looking for place to try for a big one yourself, consider the seven hotspots described in the paragraphs that follow—waters that rank high on the list of America’s best lakes and rivers for trophy catfish.
Lake Arthur, Pennsylvania
Waters in northeastern states usually don’t draw much attention from catfish fans. But Lake Arthur in Pennsylvania is an exception. Located north of Pittsburgh in Moraine State Park, this 3,225-acre reservoir produces tons of trophy channel cats each year, including numerous fish in the 10- to 20-pound range. During one recent year, anglers fishing here entered 59 channel cats over 10 pounds in the state’s Master Angler Program. More await visiting anglers. Information: Moraine State Park.
Lake Conway, Arkansas
Few lakes produce as many pole-bending flatheads as Arkansas’ Lake Conway. This 6,700-acre Arkansas Game & Fish Commission impoundment just west of Little Rock is heavily timbered throughout and rich in shad and sunfish, making it ideal for producing pot-bellied 30- to 80-pounders. Serious local cat men believe that 100-pounders swim here, but one that size would be hard to extract from the lake’s dense timber. Hotspots include the Adams Lake, Greens Lake, Gold Lake, Goose Pond and Holt’s Lake areas. Information: Arkansas Game & Fish Commission.
Mississippi River, Illinois to Louisiana
From Alton, Illinois in the north to its confluence with the Gulf of Mexico in Louisiana, the Mississippi River offers action-packed fishing for giant cats equal to that found anywhere on this continent. Anglers can shoot for a trophy-cat trifecta here, targeting blues that could exceed 120 pounds, abundant flatheads that run 30 to 80, and channel cats that often exceed 10. Among the massive whiskerfish landed in the Father of Waters are a 116-3/4-pound world-record blue at West Memphis, Arkansas; a 124-pound world-record blue at Alton, Illinois; a 114-pound Louisiana record blue near Lake Providence and a 77.7-pound Tennessee state-record flathead landed downstream from Memphis. Information: Experience the Mississippi River.
Pomona Lake, Kansas
Catfishermen catch scores of giant flatheads in Kansas’ Pomona Lake each year, monsters ranging from 40 to 80 pounds. Pomona produced two state records—an 87.5-pounder in 1990 and a 90-pound record taken in 1993. One local angler has taken 25 flatheads here on trotlines or limblines, all of which exceeded the minimum qualifying weight (50 pounds) for earning a Kansas Master Angler Award. Despite its productivity, this 4,000-acre lake 25 miles south of Topeka remains relatively unknown outside a circle of local cat fans. Information: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Red River, North Dakota
You won’t find a better trophy channel-cat hotspot than that portion of the Red River of the North flowing through North Dakota. Whoppers abound in the stretch from Fargo, North Dakota to the U.S./Canadian border and beyond. Hookups with 10- to 25-pounders are common, and much larger channel cats surface occasionally. A June/July hotspot for numbers is the dam at Drayton, where cats stop during upstream migrations. Locals say the best fishing for the river’s 30-pound-plus giants is in September. Information: North Dakota Game and Fish Department.
Santee-Cooper Lakes, South Carolina
On April 1 this year, Paula Haney of Anderson, SC reeled in a 113.8-pound state-record blue cat on Lake Moultrie, one of the Palmetto State’s famed Santee-Cooper lakes. Moultrie and its sister lake, Marion, have been churning out monster blues since the species was first stocked more than 50 years ago , including a 136-pound trotline-caught fish in 2012, and a 109-1/4-pound former world-record in 1991. Monster flatheads swim here, too—some exceeding 70 pounds. Channel cats exceeding 15 pounds are fairly common, and the world-record 58-pounder was pulled from Moultrie in 1964, leading to speculation there may still be monsters waiting to be caught. Information: Santee Cooper Country.
Wheeler Lake, Alabama
In recent years, Wheeler Lake, a 67,100-acre Tennessee River impoundment in north-central Alabama, has been the country’s hottest blue-cat lake, producing several fish around 100 pounds and scores exceeding 70. Fishing is good year-round, but winter fishing excels, as evidenced by the clients of guide Mike Mitchell who caught a 98-pounder in January 2008 and a whopping 102-pounder in February 2010. A former all-tackle world-record blue (111 pounds) also was caught in Wheeler, but in summer—July 1996. The lake also produced a 95-pounder in March 2011 and 101-pounder in November 2009. Any trip here could produce the fish of a lifetime. Information: Outdoor Alabama.