May 29, 2012
You can catch plenty of catfish in June in south Alabama. But, you have to first find those fish.
The key is that once the weather starts warming up cats are looking for baitfish in areas of moving water. Those areas with current generally are cooler than standing water.
Based on that fact, the most productive place to find catfish in the shortest time is below dams in the tailraces.
For the best information on where to find catfish in south Alabama, we talked to two state biologists, David Armstrong of Spanish Fort, District V supervisor for the southwestern part of the state; and Ken Weathers of Enterprise, the District IV fisheries supervisor for southeast Alabama.
More hot spots for cats in the dam areas mentioned by Weathers include the water around downed trees, logs and underwater stumps. Weathers recommended that when you fish these wooden trash piles, make sure you are using the type of tackle that can handle pulling big cats out of the cover. Use 30- to 50-pound-test line and a 7- to 8-foot rod with the backbone of a pool cue to put enough force on the hook and the line to move these big catfish out of the structure.
Most of these larger cats are blues or flatheads.
"Flatheads and blue catfish aren't native to south Alabama rivers," Ken Weathers reported, but then added. "Even on the small Choctawhatchee River, we're starting to see flathead catfish show-up. In the Geneva area, we've brought up some flatheads that weigh from 30 to 40 pounds."
The flatheads and the blue catfish are predators and like live bait. Weathers believes that if you want to catch the biggest blues and flatheads in southeastern Alabama, you can't beat golden river shiners. Those are the same baitfish that anglers use in Florida and south Georgia lakes to catch big bass Unfortunately, they're often difficult to locate at tackle stores.
To learn more about catching catfish in southeast Alabama, call Ken Weathers at (334) 347-9467, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Walter F. George Tailwater
One of the better places that Weathers pointed to for catfishing in June was the Chattahoochee River, below Walter F. George Dam at Lake Eufaula.
The river here holds blue, channel and flathead cats. The new Georgia state-record blue cat of 80 pounds, 4 ounces recently was caught below the dam. Anglers often catch channel cats here, but the dominant species is blue catfish.
"You can catch some really big blue cats there too," Weathers noted. "Since this tailrace area marks the boundary of Alabama and Georgia, you can fish with either state's fishing license.
"Use live bait — particularly for flatheads. As long as you're fishing with a hook and line, you can use live sunfish for catfish bait."
He went on to say that many people catch the bream to use for bait just below the rift at Walter F. George Dam. Just make sure you don't have more than 50 sunfish, since that's legal possession limit for each angler.
As an alternative, you can use big shiners for the blues and flathead. Or for the channel catfish try a gob of earthworms.
Not all the action is below the dam a Eufaula. Don't overlook Lake Eufaula itself for some fine fishing for catfish. During June, the cats often come up out of the river and creek channels to feed on the flats.
"A large, wide flat located between Cheneyhatchee Creek and Barbour Creek is very effective," Weathers said. "You usually won't catch a lot of big catfish on the flats in this region, but you can catch a large number of channel cats by fishing just hook and line. When you're fishing the flats, worms, shrimp or cut baits, like shad seem to be the choices for catfish.
George W. Andrews Lake
Weathers also reported a fact that local anglers already know. Downstream on the Chattahoochee in the area below Andrews Dam near Columbia in Houston County is another hotspot. It has good fishing for catfish all summer long.
"This little catfish hotspot doesn't receive much publicity or fishing pressure," Weathers explained. "While most fishermen like to fish the lake above this dam, my experience has been that you tend to catch the bigger cats in the tailrace area."
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has made a section of water in the tailrace off limits to anglers for safety reasons. Still there is access for fishing in that tailrace area where you can catch numbers of catfish.
There is also a boat ramp on the Georgia side of the river right below the dam.
David Armstrong's top pick of the best catfishing spot on his side of the state is the Tombigbee River near McIntosh.
"The access area is off Highway 43 at McIntosh Bluff Landing, 2 miles east on Olin Company Road, where you see a boat ramp sign," Armstrong explained.
There's some really good catfishing above and below the ramp. The main species caught here are channels and blues, but don't be surprised if you catch a few flatheads.
Armstrong suggested you look for flatheads in the bends of the river and in large underwater brush piles, stumps and logs. You catch the most catfish, according to Armstrong, by fishing the riprap just above the boat launch.
Your best baits for big catfish, as in other sections of Alabama's waters, are live baits such as shad, sunfish or big shiners. For numbers of channel cats, however, use baits like cut shad, cut sunfish, shrimp, worms and chicken livers.
Now, let's look at the bad news.
The Alabama Department of Public Health has issued a fish consumption advisory warning on eating any catfish caught from 2 miles upstream and 3 miles downstream of the boat ramp. Fish from this area may be contaminated and can pose a serious health risk if consumed.
In this area it's a catch-and-release fishery.
Public Fishing Lake
This relatively shallow lake near Beatrice is part of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Division of Wildlife and Fisheries state public fishing lakes system. It has an abundance of bank access, which means you can fish almost half of the lake from the shore. The lake also has numbers of earthen piers running out to deeper water.
"Anglers catch more catfish at Monroe County Lake than at most other county lakes," David Armstrong said. "I believe that catfish reproduce in this lake much better than they do in other state lakes. The catch here will be exclusively channel cats."
He added that the best baits are chicken livers, worms and cut shad.
The state public fishing lakes in the past have been highly productive places to catch good numbers of medium-sized catfish, primarily because the lakes were so heavily stocked. The DWFF in recent years, however, has reduced the number of catfish present in all state lakes.
"We've found that the large numbers of catfish were having a detrimental effect on the bream populations in the state lakes," Armstrong explained. "At one time, we were really overstocking the lakes with catfish. The state lakes tend to have more bream fishermen than catfish or bass fishermen.
"However, at Monroe County Lake, we haven't reduced the number of catfish we've stocked as much as we have in other state lakes."
"That's because most of the people who fish there eat the fish they catch."
Recently the DWFF funded a two-year study by Auburn University to look at the effects that catfish were having on bream populations in the state lakes program. State biologists also conducted another two-year program looking at the same question.
That's where the initial finding that too many fish were being stocked came from.
"The research also indicated that those heavy stockings of catfish were detrimentally impacting the bream populations," Armstrong said.
So, what exactly was going on in these lakes?
"For example, our standard stocking rate for catfish once was about 50 cats per acre. In Monroe County Lake, we were stocking 70 to 80 cats per acre," the biologist noted. "We learned that if we reduced the stocking rate to 15 to 20 cats per acre in most lakes, plenty of cats still were in the lakes for fishermen to catch and eat."
But the added benefit of this lighter stocking was that the cats not caught had good reproduction rates. More importantly, the size of the catfish in the lake went up as well.
State lakes have been in the past one of the primary places to find high concentrations of catfish for most anglers. The numbers of catfish have diminished somewhat in tailraces, river systems and the rivers around the state, but anglers may produce more catfish per hours spent fishing in Monroe County Public Fishing Lake than at the other state lakes.
Alabama is one of the most catfish rich states in the nation, whether you fish big waters, little waters, tailraces, ponds or rivers. Those catfish are fun to catch, and even more fun to eat. Additionally, they are plenty of places to join the fun in South Alabama in June.