Trophy Catfish Destination: Alabama's Tennessee River Lakes Among the Best

With confirmed catches in the 100-pound class, Pickwick, Wilson and Wheeler produce some of the biggest catfish in the U.S.

When it comes to catfishing, good fortune has always followedme. I’ve had the opportunity to fish with the world’s best catfish anglers onblue-ribbon waters throughout the United States, and in Mexico, Canada,Venezuela and Brazil. As a result, I’ve caught lots of mighty nice channelcats, flatheads, blues and other species.


Because of this experience, folks often ask me what Iconsider the top trophy catfish waters in America. To me, that’s like trying toname the country’s best restaurants. It’s darn near impossible, and lots ofexcellent establishments are bound to get left out. But when I’m compelled toreply, I tell folks my picks for the top big-cat waters would certainly includethe lower Mississippi River, South Carolina’s Santee-Cooper lakes, Lake Texomaon the Texas/Oklahoma border, and three Tennessee River reservoirs—Pickwick,Wilson and Wheeler—in north Alabama.

That last pick often surprises folks. “Why would you includethese Tennessee River lakes with the likes of world-renowned hotspots like theMississippi, Santee-Cooper and Texoma?” I’m asked.

The answer is simple. Pickwick, Wilson and Wheeler producesome of the biggest catfish in the U.S. Consider Wheeler, for example. A formerall-tackle world-record blue cat (111 pounds) was caught here in 1996, andWheeler Lake produced several Alabama records, including a 104-pounder and a94.5-pounder. No one could deny it ranks as one of the country’s top trophy blue-cathotspots. And there are plenty of big channel cats and flatheads in Wheeler,too.


Consider this as well. During a recent Cabela’s King KatClassic on Pickwick and Wilson lakes at Sheffield, Alabama, competitorsshattered some all-time records. Two-hundred forty-eight Classic anglersweighed in nearly 12,000 pounds in the two-day event. Ohio anglers Gregg Adkinsand Scott Dole won the event with a record-breaking total of 12 fish weighing504.75 pounds. They also had big fish of the event with a 76.85-pound blue. It’slittle wonder Classic anglers nominated these waters as “Catfish Capital of theWorld.”

The Sheffield/Muscle Shoals area ranks as one of the topareas in the nation not only for catfishing, but for beauty as well. And asCabela’s King Kat CEO Darrell Van Vactor said, “When you think of southern hospitality,you think of Sheffield and the Shoals area.”

My wife Theresa and I enjoyed a heaping helping of thathospitality while visiting the Muscle Shoals area last year. The staff at the Colbert County Tourism and Convention Bureau assisted us with everything we needed to planvisits to attractions such as Helen Keller’s childhood home, the Alabama MusicHall of Fame, Key Underwood’s Coondog Graveyard, the W.C. Handy BirthplaceMuseum, Tuscumbia’s scenic Spring Park with its waterfalls and fountains, andgreat local eateries such as Claunch Café, George’s Steakhouse and Frank’sItalian Restaurant.


The highlight of our visit, however, was a morning ofcatfishing with Mike Mitchell of SouthernCats Guide Service. Mitchell has helped manyclients catch their biggest fish ever, including Joe Ludtke who caught a 102-poundblue while fishing with Mike on Wheeler Lake in February 2010 (see photo at thetop of this story).

Theresa and I didn’t catch fish that size, but less than fiveminutes after we baited Mike’s rigs with skipjack cut-bait (we started outfishing on Wheeler Lake), a pole went down, and Theresa enjoyed a battle withher biggest fish ever, a beautiful 30-pound blue cat. Before Mike could net herfish, another rod took a nosedive, and I had my hands full with a 46-pounder.Theresa followed with a 26-pound blue.

At mid-morning, we headed to the Wilson Dam tailwater atSheffield where we caught two more fat blues—a 24-pounder for Theresa and a26-pounder for me. We had to end our morning of fishing at 10:30, but it wasone of the most fun catfishing experiences I’ve ever enjoyed, and one Theresawill never forget.

Now you see why I include north Alabama’s TennesseeRiver lakes in my picks for the nation’s best catfishing waters. Don’t wait.Fish them yourself and see.

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