July is a great month to pursue old Mister Whiskers in Georgia. If you call the central part of the state home, these fishing holes should be convenient for the action!
By Ronnie Garrison
Why in the world would anybody fish for slimy, bottom-feeding catfish that have spines that can hurt you? Maybe because they are in all Georgia waters, are delicious when cooked, and offer the possibility of catching a 100-pound fish. And they will hit just about any bait you want to use.
Georgia has a variety of catfish in its waters: channel, blue, flathead and white cats, as well as bullheads. In Middle Georgia you can catch catfish in just about any body of water bigger than a mud puddle. Our lakes, ponds and rivers are full of them, and many places where the public has easy access offer good fishing for cats.
Catfish can be found from the shallows of small ponds to the deepest holes in our big lakes. They are regularly caught on rod and reel and cane poles, as well as on trotlines, jugs and limb lines. Bait choices range from earthworms to Ivory soap, and everything in between. And they are hard to beat when fried, chopped up in a chowder, or ground up in a stew.
A pan-sized channel cat is great eating, but the thrill of landing a 40-pound flathead is hard to match in fresh water. The current Georgia flathead sportfish record is held by a 67-pound, 8-ounce monster taken from the Altamaha River, but bigger ones have been caught on trotlines and set hooks. A 62-pound blue cat from Clarks Hill Lake holds that record, and the biggest channel cat was a 44- pound, 12-ounce fish from the Altamaha River.
Where can you go in Middle Georgia to catch some of these good-eating, hard-fighting cats? You can pretty much choose where to fish based on what you want to catch. Some lakes and rivers have better populations of flatheads, while public fishing areas are stocked with channel cats only, and other big lakes have all kinds of cats in them.
Photo by Ron Sinfelt
WEST POINT LAKE
West Point Lake, lying on the Georgia/Alabama line, is a good choice for blues and channel cats. Georgia Wildlife Resources Division (WRD) fisheries biologist Brent Hess said there are good numbers of both species in the lake in the 16- to 24-inch eating size. There are also a few flatheads in the lake, mainly up the Chattahoochee River.
For flatheads, you need to head up the Chattahoochee River arm to the State Route 219 bridge and fish around rocks. The WRD has a sampling station near that bridge, and it is the only one where they find flatheads each year. Fish from the riprap or find rocky outcroppings along the shore and you should have a shot at a few flatheads.
The riprap on all West Point bridges is good for catfish and you can get bank access to most of it. Blues and channel cats hang around the rocks, feeding on shad and anything else they can find. If you have a boat, tie up beside a bridge piling and fish on the bottom, and you should catch some cats. Smaller fish hang around the shallower pilings, but for a monster try the deeper water around pilings near the old river channel.
You can also locate good catfish hotspots with a depthfinder. Ride the lake and look for places where the river and creek channels make a bend. Anchor and drop your bait down to the bottom on the outside of the bend, where the big fish hang out.
A live bream or shad is hard to beat for flatheads, but blues and channel cats love them, too. Earthworms, chicken liver, cut shad and commercial stink baits are all good and work well around the riprap. Fish them with a light sinker or even unweighted to avoid hanging up on every cast.
There is no state size or creel limit on channel, blue or flathead cats, so you can keep all you want at West Point.
The state recommends that you not eat more than one meal a week of channel cats over 12 inches long. This is due to possible contamination from the lingering effects of PCBs in the lake. Be aware that this is a very cautious recommendation.
PUBLIC FISHING AREA
For a complete change of pace, try catfishing at Big Lazer Creek Public Fishing Area (PFA), south of Thomaston. Channel cats are stocked in the 195-acre lake, located within the Big Lazer Creek Wildlife Management Area, at the rate of 2,000 fish per year. Good numbers of these cats hold over and grow to a size that can stretch your line.
There is excellent access for bank-fishing at Big Lazer, with a fishing pier and access to a lot of the shore. Brent Hess also works with this lake and said the area near the drainpipe at the dam is a good place to find channel cats in the summer. Fish with liver or earthworms for a limit of frying-sized cats there.
For bigger cats, launch your boat on one of two concrete boat ramps available and use a depthfinder to follow the old creek channel. There is a lot of wood cover in this lake, so you need fairly heavy line to get a 10-pound-plus channel cat to the boat.
Drop your bait right down to the bottom on the lip of the old channel and be ready to set the hook and reel fast as soon as the cat takes your bait.
Worms, liver and cut bait are all good on the channel. You are not allowed to use live minnows at the PFA, and there is a five-fish limit on channel cats. You need a Wildlife Management Stamp as well as your fishing license here (or you can buy a one-day fishing license in lieu of the WMA stamp), and you cannot fish before sunrise or after sunset.
The town of Talbotton is on U.S. Highway 80 about halfway between Columbus and Macon. To get to Big Lazer Creek PFA from Talbotton, go east on U.S. 80 for four miles, then turn left on Po Biddy Road and go 6.4 miles. Turn left on Bunkham Road and watch for the PFA entrance on your left.
For river fishing in Middle Georgia, the Ocmulgee River is hard to beat. From the river's start in Jackson Lake to where it joins with the Oconee River north of Hazlehurst to form the Altamaha River, catfish abound in all areas. Area fisheries biologist Steve Schleiger said they regularly take 30- to 40-pound flatheads from the river in their sampling, and he has seen 50-pound-plus cats as well. The biggest recorded was a 59-pound, 2-ounce fish caught in 2002.
The flatheads like brush on the outside bends of the river. These spots tend to offer the deeper water that big cats like. Look for flatheads, blue cats and channel cats anywhere the water drops off and current brings food to the fish holding in an eddy or calmer water. Anchor your boat above t
he hole and drift your bait into over the drop. Big live baitfish are the best bet for big catfish. Try bream or shad that you catch from the river, or big shiners you buy. Cut bait also works well. Any oily fish like a shad is good for cut bait, and you can even buy mullet at the grocery store to make cut bait.
There are several boat ramps on the river and some bank fishing available around them. If you use the boat ramp immediately below the dam at Lake Jackson, be careful going downstream. The shoals near the State Route 16 bridge can be dangerous to you and your prop. Most of the river is lined by private property, so float-fishing is the usual way to go. There are, however, a few access points along the east shore in the Oconee National Forest from SR 16 downstream to just north of the town of Juliette.
There are no restrictions on eating channel cats, but flatheads taken from the river below Macon should be restricted to one meal per month, due to the possible presence of mercury and PCBs. State regulations apply on the Ocmulgee, so there are no creel or size limits on catfish taken from the river.
Steve Schleiger also keeps an eye on Lake Tobesofkee for the WRD. Situated just outside of Macon, the lake is one of the most underutilized catfish spots in the area. The reservoir has a good channel cat and bullhead population, and there are some large fish in the lake. Tobesofkee also has some of the best bank access of any lake around.
Check out the upper area of the lake, called the "Fingers" section. You can fish from the bank all around this area, as well as in the parks and on the bridge riprap on the lower end of the lake. From a boat, follow the old Tobesofkee Creek channel on the upper lake and fish outside bends of it. On the lower lake, try fishing around bridge pilings and points that run out to drop off into the old channel.
As Schleiger started listing baits that are good on Tobesofkee, I realized he had listed just about everything I have ever heard of that would catch catfish. Shrimp are good baits that are often overlooked. Just a small piece of shrimp can catch a bullhead or channel cat. Live and cut bait are good, as are the commercial blood baits and liver. The biologist also pointed out that catfish are omnivores, meaning they eat anything they can find. He believes the old adage that bigger baits catch bigger fish; so if it is a grown cat you want to tangle with, use a big live bream or shad, or a big piece of cut bait.
Lake Tobesofkee is just west of I-475 in Macon. Take the SR 74 exit and travel west. Turn left onto Mosley-Dickson Road. There are several public access areas on your left and you cross a couple of bridges over the lake.
To reach the Fingers area, stay on SR 74 until you cross Tobesofkee Creek, then turn left on Bonner Gilbert Road. There is a boat ramp on this road, too.
State regulations apply on Tobesofkee, so you can keep as many cats as you catch. There is no restriction on eating them, so fill up your freezer. You do need a state fishing license, and some of the parks charge rather steep entrance and boat launch fees.
|GUIDELINES FOR EATING FISH|
These guidelines are not intended to discourage people from eating fish, but anglers should use them as a guide for choosing which fish to eat from Georgia waters.
Georgia Department of Natural Resources
To access the complete guidelines for fish consumption, visit the Web site www.gadnr.org on the Internet. Select Fishing from the drop-down menu, then Fish Consumption Information.
PUBLIC FISHING AREA
Another excellent PFA, this one on the east side of the state near Thomson, offers stocked channel cats in its ponds. There are currently four ponds open for fishing and four more under renovation. The ponds range from 1 acre to 30 acres and bank fishing is good. All four also have boat ramps.
Greg Abercrombie works at McDuffie PFA and likes to catch catfish there, as well. He promotes pond 2W as their "catfish" pond because it offers the best fishing for them. But there are cats in all the ponds. Most of the cats here are in the 1- to 4- pound range - just right for eating.
Cats are stocked every year, but there are big brood cats and holdover fish in the ponds, too. You are not allowed to use live minnows, but cut bait, earthworms, liver and commercial stink baits are good. Access is excellent around all four of the open ponds, which are small enough to fish effectively from the bank.
According to Abercrombie, during the summer the best fishing is from opening time at sunrise until the sun gets hot, then again late in the afternoon just before the area closes at sunset. The deeper water along the dam on all four ponds is best this time of year, and if you fish from a boat you probably should get in the middle of the pond where it is deepest.
You can keep five channel cats a day here, and you need a fishing license as well as a Management Area Stamp. Or you can get a one-day license at the check-in station. There are no restrictions on eating fish from these lakes. Camping is available onsite.
From Thomson, go east on U.S. Highway 278 for 5.6 miles, then turn right on Ellington Airline Road for 2.8 miles. Next turn right on Fish Hatchery Road and go .8 mile to the check-in station. At this location there is a map showing all the lakes, and other current information is available there.
CLARKS HILL LAKE
The biggest reservoir in Georgia, Clarks Hill contains 72,000 acres that are full of catfish of all sizes. The state-record blue cat was caught here, and the lake-record flathead, a 63-pounder, was caught in 1998. Clarks Hill has also produced a 25-pound, 2-ounce channel cat. This is a lake for lunker catfishing!
There is a good bit of bank access at boat ramps, parks and bridges, but the best way to fish Clarks Hill is to launch a boat and find an island or secluded bank to fish.
Though Greg Abercrombie works at McDuffie PFA, he also runs commercial catfish lines at Clarks Hill in his spare time. On a good night in July, he expects to land an amazing 300 to 400 pounds of catfish when he puts out 500 to 600 hooks. Most of these cats are in the 3- to 4-pound range, so that is a bunch of catfish!
Most people fish too deep for catfish at night, Greg said. He runs his lines parallel to the bank in just 3 to 4 feet of water, and he uses giant mealworms as his bait. During the day the cats are deeper, and don't feed as well, so he recommended after-hours catfishing.
Find a good clean bank where you can tie your boat up and cast out into fairly shallow water. It is fun to put out a trotline or some bank hooks and then fish nearby with rod and reel. Use mealworms or just about any other bait.
For trophy fish, go deeper and use bigger baits. Flatheads prefer live bream, and big blues or channel cats love them, too. Fish around bridge pilings and on the outside bends of the old creek and river channels for the big blues. For flatheads, run up the rivers and fish deeper holes. The Little River on the Georgia side (there is another tributary of the same name on the South Carolina side of the impoundment) above the SR 43 bridge is good, as is the Broad Creek area up the Savannah River.
All of these places will produce lots of catfish this summer. Pick the one nearest you or one you want to check out, choose any bait you like to use, and get on the water. Not only will you have fun, you may also get some of the best-eating fish in our state.
Discover even more in our monthly magazine,
and have it delivered to your door!
Subscribe to Georgia Sportsman