In my series of articles about the movement of lake species after they spawn, this week I am looking at the catfish species that populates both Lake Oconee and Lake Sinclair. I will also look at techniques for catching these gamefish that are the largest fish in the two lakes.
For catfish, especially blues and flatheads, deep water after the spawn is where you will usually find those two catfish species. However, channel and even small blue catfish can be found shallow around docks and in coves throughout the year. Channel ledges, deep holes and just about anywhere large flatheads and blues can find an easy meal is a good place to find their home.
Flatheads, and especially blues, will frequent shallower water during dark and low light conditions to feed. Some of the best fishing for large catfish will come in the early hours of the day say two hours before sunrise and two hours after sunrise. Lots of food is available at those hours, but I have no other scientific information as to why they bite better at those times. Maybe more anglers fish at those hours.
When it comes to catching flathead, blue and channel catfish using rod and reel, the techniques for catching them are quite similar but with some differences. Any number of different baits will catch these three species of catfish after the spawn but each species has its primary bait. Flatheads and blues prefer live bait like shad and bluegill and cut baits. Channel catfish prefer cut baits, live worms and commercially prepared bait.
If you are simply looking to catch a few small channel cats to eat or want to provide young children a jerk on the end of their line, a box of live worms will catch the little squealers that you can skin and fry. My grandchildren initially used worms to catch small catfish that I then had to carefully remove without getting stuck with those razor-sharp fins. A four-inch channel cat can wound you really bad.
However, when I showed them the size catfish that could be caught off the dock during the spawn or in deeper water after the spawn using small live bluegill or shad or a piece of cut bait from a shad or bluegill, they now go to work catching bluegill from around the dock so they can catch the larger catfish or they encourage me to get out the casting net and try to catch some shad.
The rig used for fishing off a lake dock or in deeper water to catch large catfish is the same. It consists of a Carolina rig setup similar to the rig used for catching largemouth bass. It uses some of the same components but there are some differences. Use a little larger swivel and a weight 1 ounce or larger. I use a leader from one to four feet.
The major differences are in the line and hook used. I generally use nothing less than a 25-pound test or greater monofilament line off the dock and even larger line when fishing in the main lake. To avoid losing the entire rig when hang-ups occur, I use a slightly smaller leader line than the main line.
Battling a 10- to 30-pound catfish off a dock or a 50-pounder in deeper water requires very strong line. They invariably will find something to run and tangle you whether you are fishing from a dock or in open water so you need a strong line to horse them out. I have found that using the more expensive fluorocarbon or braided lines are not necessary for catching big catfish.
Teaching children or even adults to set the hook on a big catfish is not easy and that is why I only use circle hooks. With circle hooks, the catfish will pick up the bait and when it moves away with the bait, the catfish itself will set the hook. Besides, in almost all cases the hook will be embedded in the side of the mouth where it can be easily removed.
The same setup used to catch catfish from lake docks will also work from a boat when anchored out. In all cases, I would suggest you have a large strong net available. A 20-pound or larger catfish will not fit in a net meant for landing trout.
You also need to forget using a Zebco 33-type reel when fishing for catfish. I use a heavy reel like an Ambassadeur 3C or equivalent that has large line capacity and a good drag. I team the reel up with a good quality seven-foot heavy action rod for all my catfishing.
There are other ways to catch catfish if fishing from a boat. One technique uses a controlled drift by allowing the boat to be pushed along slowly with the wind or by using your trolling motor or even gas motor. Noodling for catfish is also a popular technique but will require another article to discuss it fully.
There is no limit to the number of catfish you can catch and possess. Blue catfish are now the dominant species in both lakes but some really large flatheads are being caught in Lake Oconee. Blue catfish at or above 50 pounds are now common in both lakes.
The current lake record for blue catfish in Lake Oconee stands at 69 pounds, 7 ounces and the Lake Sinclair record blue catfish stands at 51 pounds, 11 ounces. The current record flathead in Lake Oconee stands at 51 pounds, 12 ounces, and that flathead was recently caught in May of this year.
I have run out of space for this article so if you have questions about these techniques for catching catfish from Lake Sinclair and Lake Oconee just drop me an email and I will try to answer your questions.
Good fishing and see you next week.