Spawning for all the lake’s game fish is spread out between a water temperature beginning at around 58 degrees and ending at around 80 degrees. Even though both Lake Sinclair and Lake Oconee have flathead, blue and channel catfish, there are spawning variations even within the catfish family. However, catfish spawn at temperatures a little higher than other game fish.
The water temperature range for flathead catfish is 66 to 75 degrees and 70 to 84 degrees for blue and channel catfish. In reservoirs, the exact timing of the spawn will depend on the water temperature and it varies within a reservoir since parts of the reservoir will warm up before other parts of the reservoir.
The spawn will always begin at the reservoir’s headwaters, which tend to be shallower and receive warm inflow spring rains. Consequently, those waters will warm up faster than other parts of the reservoir or lake. Due to the varying water temperatures in the lake, anglers should be able to find cooperative catfish during the spawning period.
Catfish tend to spawn in a nest or bed located in some type of cavity, which could be natural areas between rocks, undercut banks and hollow logs. Anything that creates a secluded nesting site for catfish, including an old car tire, a barrel or a stump could create nesting opportunity for catfish. Nesting sites vary somewhat with each catfish species but in general they select a secluded site that offers protection for the nest and protection from any strong water current.
The male catfish plays the prominent role with all catfish species when spawning occurs. The male selects the nesting site, clears the nesting site of any debris and then attracts the female to the bed or nesting site. Once the female lays her eggs, which may number 3,000 to 4,000, she plays no further role.
The male catfish fertilizes the eggs, fans the bed to keep it clean and aerated, chases off any predators and awaits the eggs to hatch in six to 10 days. Once the eggs hatch, the male catfish guards and protects the small catfish fry until they leave the nesting area after a few days.
The newly hatched fry get their nourishment in their first few days of life from a large yolk sac, which is attached to their tiny body. Within a few days, they fully develop into a catfish fry and swim to the surface to get a gulp of air to fill their swim bladder and to look for their first food.
The spawn also creates better opportunities for anglers to catch catfish in the lake’s coves in relatively shallow water. Many of the catfish will come into protected coves to spawn and anglers can catch the large females at this time. This also creates opportunities to catch the catfish from many of the lakes’ docks.
Each spring, my grandchildren catch blue catfish weighing up to 20 pounds off my dock on Lake Sinclair during April and May after the crappie and largemouth bass have spawned. Don’t overlook this angling opportunity, especially if you have young children or grandchildren. You might feel more comfortable letting them fish from a dock rather than from a boat.
One way to catch the big catfish during the spring is with cut bait (shad or bream) or live bait (shad or bream). Catching live shad requires a little effort, but catching live bream around docks is fairly simple. You can use either the whole live bluegill for flatheads and blues or just the heads for all the catfish species. Once the spring spawn is over, a majority of the catfish head back to the main lake and deeper water where they will spend the summer.
The Georgia Wildlife Resources Division reports indicate excellent populations of catfish in both Lake Sinclair and Lake Oconee. In Lake Oconee and Lake Sinclair, the catfish populations have shifted toward blue catfish as they have surpassed channel catfish in numbers.
The numbers of blue catfish continue to increase and 10- to 20-pound blue catfish are common. Several over 50 pounds have been caught in Lake Oconee with one more than 69 pounds setting the lake record. Lake Sinclair’s record stands at 49 pounds. The blue catfish is native to the Mississippi River delta but has spread throughout the Eastern United States. The population of blue catfish has exploded in reservoirs throughout the south including local reservoirs.
The blue catfish has been deemed an invasive species in many states and some states are looking at control measures due to the impact the blue catfish is having on native species of catfish as well as other non-catfish species. As recent as seven years ago my grandchildren only caught channel catfish off my dock but lately blue catfish make up at least 80% of the catfish they catch.
The flathead catfish has not exploded in numbers in area reservoirs like the blue catfish but there is a slowly increasing number of flathead catfish in area reservoirs. Both Oconee and Sinclair are becoming known as trophy catfish lakes for both blue and flathead catfish. Next week, we will look at several techniques to catch catfish after they leave the shallows and return to the large creeks and to the main lake. Good fishing and see you next week.
Outdoors columnist Bobby Peoples can be reached at email@example.com.