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OUTDOORS FEATURE: Autumn catfish make for good fall angling

Though smaller catfish abound in Southwest Georgia waters in the fall, the big ones are prowling as well. Specimens like this 30-lb. blue catfish can’t be expected every trip, but, when catfishing, one never knows what might show up at the end of a line. (Bob Kornegay/Special to The Herald)

Though smaller catfish abound in Southwest Georgia waters in the fall, the big ones are prowling as well. Specimens like this 30-lb. blue catfish can’t be expected every trip, but, when catfishing, one never knows what might show up at the end of a line. (Bob Kornegay/Special to The Herald)

As fall sets in, the thoughts of most outdoorsmen turn to hunting season. However, though thoughts of hunting are only natural right now, sportsmen will be remiss in neglecting fall fishing altogether. Admittedly, autumn does not enjoy the reputation of spring and summer where angling is concerned, but the season is a prime time for many Southern freshwater species. Anglers who don’t set aside at least a little time for fishing this fall are missing a good bet.

Take catfishing for instance. Fishing for catfish on area lakes and rivers is a largely neglected activity during October and November. For those who still enjoy catching, not to mention consuming, these unglamorous-but-tasty blue-collar fishes, the autumn months can be very productive.

Like most other freshwater fish varieties, catfish in south Georgia bite voraciously during the spring and early summer, tapering off when the late-summer heat makes them more lethargic. In the fall, blue cats and channel cats (the region’s most abundant species) undergo a flurry of feeding activity that often rivals their more traditional springtime voracity. Some fisheries biologists believe catfish, like the familiar warm-blooded woodland creatures, are instinctively gorging themselves in preparation for the long, lean winter months ahead.

That theory may or may not have merit, but whatever the real reason for this increased willingness to bite, the catfish’s cooperative nature can be a great fall sporting bonus. Add to it the steadily increasing pleasant daytime temperatures and the storied palatability of the fish itself and one has all the reasons he needs to make the effort to take a few catfishing journeys during the autumn months.

Fishermen need to follow a few simple, basic ground rules when going after catfish this fall. Just because the fish are biting does not necessarily mean the fishing is quite as simple as merely finding a catfish-harboring body of water and dropping in a baited hook. There are still right and wrong ways to catch, and not catch, catfish.

If a fall fisherman seeks cats in the larger reservoirs like Lakes Seminole, Walter F. George, or Blackshear, his fishing technique should vary little from his favorite spring and summer methods. Optimal fishing times are still, as usual, early morning and late afternoon.

Look for feeding catfish during post-dawn and pre-twilight hours on sandy, firm-bottom points and “flats” areas located well away from the river channels. It is to these and similar places the pan-size blue and channel cats venture to gorge themselves on the natural forage that accumulates in such locations. Much like human diners who habitually frequent the same restaurants or coffee houses every day, fall catfish regularly and dependably seem to wind up in the same places virtually every morning and afternoon.

When one of these likely catfish-feeding areas is located, the angler can spot-fish until he finds a sizable concentration of cats. Afterward, it is a simple matter of just anchoring the boat, casting out, and enjoying a few hours of relaxing fishing time.

Rig up with the simple, traditional “fish finder” bottom rig. This set-up, with which most catfishermen are quite familiar, consists of a 12-to 18-inch leader tied onto a barrel swivel below a 1/2- to 3/8-ounce slip sinker. Tie on a stout number-4 all the way up to 1/0 hook and bait up with cut bait, live shad, or large earthworms.

When fishing for catfish in moving waters, fishermen may also want to look for sandy points and bars, much like those in reservoirs. In the rivers and creeks, too, the cats consider these places prime feeding areas. Of course, in streams, such structure will normally be smaller, as opposed to the vast sandy-bottom expanses such as those found on the larger lakes.

Successfully catching catfish from a point or sandbar in the presence of current flow requires a somewhat different technique. One should anchor upstream from the feeding area, cast directly onto or beyond the bar or point, and slowly pull the bait into position along the sandy bottom. The fish-finder rig works well here also, but a heavier weight may be required to keep the bait steady and stationary in the current. Vary weights according to the strength of the current.

If river bars and points for some reason fail to produce fish, try to locate an area where the river makes a bend and forms an eddy adjacent to a high, steep bank. Blue and channel catfish often move up and down along bank walls in the fall of the year feeding on shad and other natural forage. Drop-fish these locations using a heavy weight for vertical stability in the flowing water. Here, based on the natural forage, live shad is probably the best bait choice.

Bank fishermen need not feel left out when it comes to fall catfishing. Tailrace areas below dams are excellent sites to consistently catch fair to large numbers of these plentiful sportfish. No boat, no problem.

Again, if one is in the market for some fine and fun autumn sport, not to mention a mess of fried catfish that have not been force-fed in Uncle Joe’s farm pond, he should strongly consider giving fall catfishing a try this year. For good old down-to-earth fishing without a lot of fuss and bother, it can be mighty hard to beat.