OUTDOORS: Where and how for Southwest Georgia trophy cats

All year, catfish are regularly taken in a variety of sizes and numbers.

Southwest Georgia waters harbor catfish of all sizes. Channel, blue, and flathead cats often grow to mammoth size. Blue catfish such as this are prized trophies for any angler. (Special Photo)

Southwest Georgia waters harbor catfish of all sizes. Channel, blue, and flathead cats often grow to mammoth size. Blue catfish such as this are prized trophies for any angler. (Special Photo)

Among the sportfish species inhabiting southwest Georgia waters, the catfish is a particularly prized angler’s target. Few fishermen here don’t know the catfish. All year, catfish are regularly taken in a variety of sizes and numbers. In fact, it’s entirely proper to use the old “dime a dozen” cliché when discussing our area’s often-dense catfish populations.

Catfishing here is as old as the region itself. The earliest Native Americans and subsequent settlers used the fish as a vital protein source. Commercial fishing also had its heyday. Recreational anglers, as well, have always caught catfish with regularity. “Mr. Whiskers” indeed figures heavily in Southwest Georgia’s fishing lore and tradition.

Naturally, most catfish taken from area waterways are small; many anglers consider a fish of five pounds large by their standards. Ten-pound cats, for most, are rare and highly prized.

Southwest Georgia catfishing, however, can sometimes be a veritable “clash of the titans.” True whiskered behemoths inhabit our waters, though the previous dime-a-dozen reference can’t always be used where they’re concerned. A bona-fide trophy catfish, here as elsewhere, is special. No easy-to-skin, easy-to-fry panfish is he.

Although ten catfish species have at least minimal ranges in southwest Georgia, only three merit true trophy cat status. These are the blue, the channel, and the flathead catfish; the “big boys” of the sport.

There are two tried-and-true destinations in our region that stand out as genuine trophy catfish haunts. One of these is the tailwaters below the George W. Andrews Dam on the Chattahoochee River, about 15 miles west of Blakely in Early County. It was here, in 2006, that Brinson’s James Tyus hooked and landed a gargantuan blue catfish, a 67-pound, 8-ounce, 48-inch-long giant that subsequently became Georgia’s at-the-time state record. A few years before, this same area gave up a 58-pound flathead; no record, but nonetheless a trophy cat in any fisherman’s book. As well, scores of 20-plus-pound channel catfish have also been pulled from the Andrews tailwaters over the past three decades, with several larger ones showing up as a bonus. To say this productive stretch of the Chattahoochee is an up-and-coming multi-species trophy catfish hotspot just might be an understatement. For blue and channel cats, it does seem the logical target area.

While the lower Chattahoochee, the Andrews section in particular, does produce the occasional giant flathead, it is not a traditional flathead hotspot. Instead, it is the southern reaches of the Flint River that remain the prime southwest Georgia destination for this species. In particular, the portions of the Flint between the Lake Blackshear Dam and Albany and from Albany downriver to Newton have produced big flatheads for area anglers for many years. These stretches contain plenty of deep holes long known to harbor numerous large flatheads, especially July through August. If this big, ugly, hard-fighting “Appaloosa” cat is your chosen prey, the lower Flint is definitely the place to seek him.

When targeting big catfish of any species, think big as well where tackle and bait are concerned. Heavy freshwater gear is a minimum requirement, and even medium-heavy saltwater tackle isn’t out of the question. Use no line lighter than 20-pound-test, and consider switching from monofilament to braided line, which can be more sensitive to a catfish’s nibbling bite, as well as being much tougher.

Bait-wise, palm-to-hand-sized bream, big shiners, shad, and even large goldfish are prime live-bait offerings for big cats. All species readily eat a good-sized live fish and live bait is almost a necessity for the predatory flatheads. Cut mullet and cut shad are good additions to the list of large blue and channel catfish baits.

Where technique is concerned, two methods are tried-and-true favorites: standard bottom fishing and drift-fishing.

For successful bottom fishing, anchor above deep holes containing structure such as stumps and snags. Hook size should be 3/0 to 7/0 and the sinker 1 to 4 ounces or larger. Sinker weight and size are determined by the size of the bait and the current flow. Use enough weight to keep the bait on the bottom.

The best bottom-fishing rigs are fish finder (Carolina-rig) styles or drop-rigs with the hook tied onto the line above a pyramid or bell sinker. Hooks can be placed anywhere from a few inches to several feet from the weight, with 18 inches to 2 feet being about average. Don’t be afraid to move the bait every few minutes, especially when fishing a very large hole.

Drift-fishing is favored by some anglers because it allows them to cover more water quickly and fish multiple lines at different depths at the same time. It’s a favorite night-fishing method. Moving with the current while maneuvering the boat near underwater structure can increase the likelihood of finding actively feeding fish at any given time. Hang-ups occur frequently using this technique, but many feel that’s a small price to pay for upping the chances of hooking a trophy catfish.

Whatever your chosen method, whatever bait you choose, and whatever species you opt to pursue, you really do have a legitimate shot at catching a truly big catfish in southwest Georgia. It’s very simple, really: just a matter of going where they are, finding them, and dropping a big meal right in front of their faces.

And of course, strategy and technique notwithstanding, holding tightly to your rod and reel is sound advice as well.