There are uglier fish (gar come to mind) and some that are more fun to catch, but summertime means fishing for catfish in Georgia! Whiskers and all.
The Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Division offers these insights into catching the tasty critter known as catfish.
Have you really and truly lived a good southern life if you haven’t spent a whole day fishing and then fried up a “mess” of catfish for dinner? Catfishing provides great opportunities for new and experienced anglers.
“Georgia provides plenty of opportunities for folks to toss out a line for catfish,” says Matt Thomas, WRD Fisheries Management Chief. “Catching catfish requires relatively simple gear and is a great way to introduce someone new to fishing, especially kids, so grab your gear and make plans to get out and go fish!”
Georgia’s public waterways are home to several species of catfish, including channel, white, blue, flathead and bullheads (consisting of several similar species – yellow, brown, snail, spotted and flat). While you may not catch them often, the larger species, like flathead catfish, can sometimes reach monster weights in excess of 100 pounds – and that’s no tall fish tale!
As summertime gets closer to its peak, WRD highlights some warm weather hot spots and offers tips on techniques and equipment for anglers of all skill levels:
- Lake Nottely – near Blairsville, contains good populations of channel catfish (averaging one pound or less) and fewer, but larger flathead catfish (weighing up to 40 pounds).
- Lake Lanier – supports lots of small channel catfish (1-2 lb) lake wide and fewer flathead catfish (10-40 lb), which can be found up the Chattahoochee and Chestatee arms of the lake.
- Carters Lake-Home to good numbers of keeper-size channel catfish. Blue and flathead catfish are present in lower numbers, but can exceed 20 pounds. Rocky areas in the Coosawattee River arm of the lake are best.
- Lake Oconee, near Madison – Supports high numbers of channel, blue, flathead, white and bullhead species of catfish.
- Lake Sinclair, near Milledgeville – supports healthy blue and channel catfish populations, as well as occasional white, snail, flathead, and bullhead species.
- Flint River – Great location for catching 5-30 lb flathead catfish or 2-5 lb channel catfish.
- Ocmulgee River – Flatheads and channel catfish are the most abundant catfish species in the river. Channel catfish can be located near downed trees close to river bends with flowing water.
- Chattahoochee River above West Point Lake – in the last few years, the number and size of flathead catfish caught above West Point has increased significantly.
- Goat Rock Lake – this lake consistently produces good numbers of harvestable-size channel cats.
- Central Georgia’s public fishing areas (Big Lazer PFA, Flat Creek PFA, Marben PFA and McDuffie PFA) – some of the best locations for channel catfish on these areas are located at the dams of the lakes, near deeper water. A medium weight rod with either a spincasting or spinning reel recommended.
- Andrews Lock and Dam (Chattahoochee River) – Best location in southwest Georgia for catching a flathead or blue catfish exceeding 20 pounds.
- Lower Chattahoochee River near GA Hwy. 91 southwest of Donalsonville – Recent surveys conducted during summer months indicate that channel, blue and flathead catfish can be found here in abundance.
- Lake Seminole, near Donalsonville – Good catches of channel catfish available throughout the summer.
- Lake Blackshear, near Cordele – Excellent channel catfish spot. Best places are the main lake and below Warwick Dam.
- Lake Walter F. George, near Columbus – Excellent fishing for channel catfish in the main lake and in the upper end (above Florence Marina) for both channel and blue catfish.
- Altamaha River – Great location for several species of catfish, including flathead, channel and an expanding population of blue catfish. The Altamaha boasts three state record catfish: an 83 pound flathead, a 44 lb, 12 oz channel cat and a 93 pound blue catfish. In June 2017, a 101-pound flathead was caught on a limb line on the lower river. All that to say, there are some giant catfish in this river!
- Satilla River – Excellent fishing available for channel catfish, white catfish and several species of bullheads. Some of the best white catfishing in the state is on the lower Satilla, near Woodbine and in White Oak Creek. A piece of shrimp on the bottom near a runout on an outgoing tide is a sure bet! The non-native flathead catfish has expanded over the last two decades into most of the middle and lower river areas and are a regular catch.
- Southeast Georgia public fishing areas (including Evans County PFA, Paradise PFA, Hugh M. Gillis PFA and Dodge County PFA) – Some of southeast Georgia’s best locations for channel catfish. Anglers also can find bullhead catfish at some of these PFAs, including Paradise and Dodge.
- St. Marys River – Healthy populations of channel and white catfish are available. Put a piece of shrimp or a worm on the river bottom and hold on!
· Ogeechee River – Excellent fishing for channel catfish and several species of bullheads throughout the river with higher numbers of white catfish closer to the estuary.
· Savannah River – This river has a high density of channel catfish and bullheads throughout the system. White catfish are very abundant near the estuary. Flathead catfish have also populated the Savannah and harvest of this invasive species is encouraged.
As a rule, the species and size of catfish dictate the fishing line and bait used:
· If targeting channel and white catfish, fisheries biologists recommend eight to 14-pound test line and medium-sized hooks (size 2 to 1/0) under a bobber or fished on the bottom. Best baits for channel, bullheads and white catfish are worms, liver, live minnows, shrimp, cut bait and stink bait.
· For anglers trying to land a large blue or flathead catfish, heavy tackle is a must – large spinning or casting tackle with at least 20 to 50-pound test braid or monofilament line, large hooks (3/0 to 8/0), and heavy weights (1-5 oz) to keep bait on the bottom. Flatheads are ambush predators that prey heavily upon fish, so live or freshly killed fish used as bait will increase your chances. Similarly, freshly caught gizzard shad increases your chances of reeling in a giant blue catfish.
Other methods for catching catfish include trotlines, limblines, and jug-lines. More info on the regulations relative to these methods can be found in the 2019 Georgia Sportfishing Regulations Book (https://www.eregulations.com/georgia/fishing/).
In general, anglers should target rocky shorelines, rip-rap areas, points and outside bends of rivers or the submerged river channel. Catfish will stay in deep areas or “holes” during the day before roaming the shallows at night for food. When fishing rivers during the day, anglers should look to deep holes containing rocky or woody cover. During dawn, dusk and at night, anglers should concentrate on shallow sandbars, flats, and shoals near the deep holes fished during the day. Catfish, especially flatheads, love holding near downed trees, so look for these on outside bends.
Though most species of catfish are active throughout the day, the best summer fishing is at dusk and during the night. Catfish can be caught year-round, with the best bite typically from early spring through the peak of summer. Be prepared to fish multiple areas and if you don’t get a bite within 30 minutes, try another are until you find some fish. Our Public Fishing Areas (https://georgiawildlife.com/allpfas) are great places to target catfish, especially now as they are open 24 hours a day through Sept. 30.
Need a license before you go? Visit www.GoOutdoorsGeorgia.com to purchase a license online or to view a list of retail license vendors, or buy a license by phone at 1-800-366-2661.
For more information on fishing in Georgia, visit the https://georgiawildlife.com/fishing/angler-resources.