We fishermen often get obsessed with the marquee species. Largemouth bass, striped bass, and hybrids are all worthy opponents and admirable targets for our attentions. There are however, other fish of significance and they can be found all over Georgia. There are three major types of catfish that can be caught throughout the state in trophy proportions, in great numbers, and with relative ease. Channel cats, blue cats and flathead cats are prevalent all over our state and with a little preparation and effort you can put them in your frying pan or hang them on your wall.
Channel catfish reside in virtually all bodies of water across Georgia. Ponds, rivers, impoundments and creeks all hold excellent numbers of this tasty and feisty fish. Spring and summer are usually the best times to fill your stringer but they can be caught year round with the possible exception of time periods when water temperatures are extremely cold. They prefer slightly stained to murky water and need a habitat with at least a mild current flow in order to reproduce. They are bottom feeders and will engulf almost anything from worms, to chicken livers, to cut bait to mention a few. The current state record is 44 pounds, 12 ounces caught in the Altamaha River in 1972.
Flathead cats are caught mostly on live shiners, chubs and shad and prefer the cover of submerged cover such as logs and rock piles. Most of the guys who target flatheads go after them at night. They also prefer slightly stained water with a moderate current flow and areas with a hard bottom. The state record is in excess of 83 pounds caught in the Altamaha River in 2006 and the world record is a whopping 123 pounds.
Blue catfish are the largest of the three species and can be found in major rivers or impoundments that have large tributaries. Their diet consists of a wide variety of foods such as other fish, crayfish, and mollusks to name a few. They can be taken on live shiners, shad, cut bait and various stink baits. These fish prefer water slightly colder than their cousins and are most active in water temperatures of between 68 and 80 degrees. The state record is 75 pounds caught from a private pond in 2008 and the world record is currently 124 pounds.
Blues and channel cats (especially larger ones) are sometimes difficult to distinguish. Both have a deeply forked tail but the channel cat has small dark spots on the body and blues don’t have them. The other major difference in physical features is the anal fin. If that fin is rounded you probably have a channel cat.
The flathead has a completely different look with a broad flat head, backs and sides that are typically a light yellowish hue and a belly that is creamy white. They also have a white tipped tail that is not deeply forked.
If you are pond fishing for the frying pan size just about any kind of medium or medium light rig is suitable loaded up with nearly any kind of bait that has a smell. Various stink baits have been developed and can be bought in stores but worms and chicken livers are classics for catching channel cats in ponds. No cork needed here. Just a baited line with enough lead to get it to the bottom and you are in business.
If you are going after the big bruisers on rivers or reservoirs you need to gear up significantly. Thirty pound braided line is a good choice. Its smaller diameter means you can load plenty of it on your reel and because it doesn’t stretch you can set the hook as hard as you want to. That’s important in order to sink the hook into your prey’s tough mouth. Braided line is also sensitive enough to feel the slightest bite.
A lot of veteran fishermen use light saltwater reels. Many of these are equipped with clickers that alert you to a bite. It also allows the fish to take the bait and swim off without feeling a lot of pressure.
When fishing for the big boys it is usually advisable to use a heavy leader of about two feet along with a swivel equipped with a sliding sinker above it. The heavier leader is important because once the battle starts the fish may drag your line across abrasive rocks or stumps.
No matter where you live in Georgia you can always catch a stringer full of catfish for supper and there are an abundance of opportunities to land the biggest trophy of your life. Forget about bass for a few days and get after one of Georgia’s most prolific and best-tasting fish.
Articles and columns by Alvin Richardson about hunting, fishing and other outdoor sports will appear weekly in the Statesboro Herald. Richardson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here are a few of the top places to catch monster catfish Georgia has to offer:
1) Lake Blue Ridge in Fannin County near Blue Ridge, Georgia – 3290 acre reservoir
2) The Coosa River from Rome to Lake Weiss is one of the state’s top producers of all three species
3) Lake Oconee in Middle Georgia – a 20,000 acre impoundment
4) Lake Jackson, a 4,750 acre reservoir in Central Georgia
5) The Altamaha River in Southeast Georgia – 137 miles of un-impounded water where large flatheads are king
6) Walter F. George Reservoir in Southwest Georgia – a huge 45,000 acre reservoir near Columbus