Georgia is blessed with a wide variety of waters containing countless varieties of fish. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Resources Division lists 32 lakes and 19 rivers that contain 40 different species of fish. One of the most popular, found in all those waters, is catfish.
Anglers can try to catch a state record cat or just go for some of the best tasting fish for the fryer. Those wanting a record, have better think big. The record blue cat, caught last October in the Altamaha River, weighed an incredible 97 pounds. That river also produced two 83-pound flatheads that are tied for the record.
Channel and white cats don't get that big, but the record channel cat is 44 pounds, 12 ounces, also from the Altamaha River. The record white cat caught in the Savannah River weighed 8 pounds, 10 ounces. The yellow bullhead record weighed 4 pounds, 15 ounces and came from the Ogeechee River, while the brown bullhead record at 5 pounds, 8 ounces came from a pond.
According to the GWRD, cats are doing well in some waters, staying consistent and improving in size and numbers of fish. The Altamaha River continues to produce big fish even with a lot of pressure. Lake Oconee has a growing population of blue cats with stable populations of flathead and channel cats. Lake Thurmond, still known as Clarks Hill, has a growing population of big flatheads and blue cats.
Smaller lakes also produce consistent fishing. Goat Rock on the Chattahoochee River north of Columbus is an excellent choice for channel cats up to 10 pounds, with good numbers in the 1- to 5-pound range. Hamburg Lake near Sandersville is stocked with channel cats, so fishing is consistently good for 1- to 5-pound fish. High Falls near Jackson continues to produce good numbers of 13- to 14-inch channel cats and smaller numbers of big flatheads.
Smaller rivers are also good. The Lower Etowah downstream of the Allatoona Dam consistently produces good numbers of blue, channel and flathead cats. The Suwannee River downstream of the Okefenokee Swamp produces good bullhead fishing. And in South Georgia, the Ochlockonee River is good for channel and white catfish, as well as bullheads.
No discussion of Georgia catfishing is complete without including the Altamaha River. According to GWRD it is one of the premier catfish rivers in the Southeast, producing five state record catfish. Although it doesn't qualify for a record, a 100-pound flathead was landed there on a limb line.
Running from the confluence of the Ocmulgee and Oconee Rivers near Lumber City and emptying into the Atlantic Ocean at Darien, there are many miles of excellent waters for catfish. Jessup offers a good central location along the river with boat ramps nearby.
Jessup hosted a catfish tournament for several years that attracted fishermen from other states. That is an indication of the fame of the river. Even without a tournament, anglers from many states visit the river each year in hopes of catching a monster blue, channel or flathead cat.
The big fish live in deep water and hang out under overhanging banks on outside bends of the river during the day. At night they move out to feed. A good plan is to camp on a sandbar on the inside bend of the river and fish the channel from the edge of the sandbar to the opposite bank.
The best bait for all three species, particularly for a big one, is a big bream. A hand-size bluegill fished in deep water will attract bites from bigger fish. The record 97-pound blue cat was caught on a small channel cat so don't hesitate to use one for bait.
Heavy tackle is required to control a monster cat that tries to run into wood tangles. Hook the live bream on a 5/0 to 8/0 circle hook about 2 feet above a 1-ounce or heavier sinker, cast it into the channel and prop the rod in a holder, making sure it is secure.
While waiting on a big bite folks can catch smaller eating size cats on lighter tackle. Fish chicken liver on a 2/0 hook above a sinker heavy enough to hold in the current for channel cats. Smaller bluegill and cutbait are both good when fished on the same set-up.
Lake Hartwell is the upper lake on the Savannah River and is usually not thought of as a good catfish lake, but it has growing populations of channel, flathead and blue cats. They are not native to the lake, but were stocked by fishermen and are quickly filling a niche that formally had only white cats and some bullheads.
Trophy blue cats over 40 pounds are caught often, with many more in the 20- to 40-pound range. Local angler Bill Plumley says the Seneca and Tugaloo rivers are both good. Look for schools of baitfish on channels and flats. After finding them, anchor and fish live or cut blueback herring under the schools of bait.
Also try drifting channel edges with herring or shad in 10 to 25 feet of water. Start early in the morning in the backs of creeks or on the upper river channels and work toward the main lake as the sun gets brighter. Cats will move along these channels, heading for deeper water during the day.
Click the video link above to get great catfishing tips for your future trip.
Many points and humps have brush piles put out by anglers and catfish like to hang around them, especially flatheads. Drop a live blueback herring down to the base of the brush piles and ease it around for all three species.
Use heavy tackle since big cats are always possible. Locally, a 7-foot medium heavy rod with a big baitcast reel spooled with 20 to 30-pound line is the choice. Rig a one-ounce sinker above a swivel, tie a 5/0 to 8/0 hook on a three-foot leader and bait up with herring or shad. A small float is often attached to the leader half way between the sinker and hook to keep the bait up off the bottom.
A few years ago, the catfish population at Lake Oconee exploded. Bass fishermen were often surprised to catch big cats on bass lures.
Captain Chad Smith guides for cats on Oconee, the only guide concentrating on catfish. His clients have landed many quality fish. Cat fishing is so good on Oconee that Chad offers a "no fish, no pay" guarantee on trips. He and his clients land fish up to 40 pounds and some up to 60. His personal best is a huge 74.23-pound blue cat.
Current runs both ways in Oconee from the generation and pump back at the dam. Cats move up on long points and humps to feed when current is moving. Anchor boats up current of a flat or hump, staying in deep water in the channel, and cast baits up onto the flat. Try different depths all the way out to the channel.
A good bait for big cats is a live bream or gizzard shad, and all size cats will hit threadfin shad. Rig baits Carolina style with a sinker heavy enough to hold it on the bottom and use a hook size based on bait size.
Lake Oliver is not well known but it produces good numbers of eating-size channel cats. The lake is on the Chattahoochee River just north of Columbus and the GWRD says channel cats in the 16- to 24-inch range are in good supply and in good condition.
Stink baits and cut bream, mullet and shad are good baits to catch a lot of fish. The cats congregate along the old river channel and in deeper holes where ditches enter the lake. Fish baits on the bottom on a Carolina rig with a half-ounce sinker above a swivel hook on a 2/0 circle hook.
PARADISE PUBLIC FISHING AREA
Public Fishing Areas are great destinations for families since they have facilities to make a day's fishing easier and more enjoyable. Paradise PFA, near Tifton, has restrooms, a fish cleaning station, picnic area, paved boat ramps, camping, a fishing pier and boat dock. Some facilities are handicapped accessible.
The area includes 68 different lakes containing 525 acres of water. Channel cats are stocked in most ponds, easily providing five-fish limits.
Use a spinning outfit with 10-pound line. A couple of split shot above a 1/0 hook baited with chicken liver or earthworms are a good bet. Live minnows are allowed as bait at Paradise and channel cats readily eat live or dead shiners fished on the bottom.
Find a comfortable spot on the bank and cast baits out, let settle to the bottom and wait on a bite. Kids can play while they fish and not get bored, very important when getting kids started fishing.
Folks can also launch a small boat and find deeper holes where schools of channel cats hold. Look for old creek and ditch channels, anchor over the channel and fish baits along the edge of the channel.
Anglers aren't likely to catch a record fish here, but for a relaxing, peaceful day, a PFA is a great choice.
These places offer a variety of kinds of waters to fish but they are all good for cats. Decide what you want to catch and plan a trip to the one closest to you. Or plan a trip to all of them to sample the great variety we have in our state.