LAKE OCONEE —
Most anglers that pursue catfish believe that the catfish only bite when the weather is warm. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, catfish will bunch up in large schools in deep water during late fall and winter and will bite just about the same baits as they did in the warmer months.
They become a little more lethargic in cold water but they still eat and will readily bite a chunk of cut shad or other baits. Once the water temperature drops into the middle 50s and lower, the catfish seek refuge in deep water. Ideal places are around creek/river channels, points that drop off into deeper water and dropoffs around humps.
They will feed on lethargic threadfin and gizzard shad that inhabit those deepwater areas and they are always looking for an easy meal. Cut baits of shad, bream, and shrimp are good choices for cold-water catfish. Gulp has a prepared catfish bait available that I understand works well. The Gulp bait is artificial shad guts and has a bad smell to the human nose but catfish seem to love it.
Lakes Oconee and Sinclair are now populated with blue, channel, and flathead catfish. The blues and flatheads were not officially stocked and are not native to either lake. Fishery biologists believe that the flatheads and blues were placed illegally in the lake by anglers.
The population of large flatheads has really taken off in Lake Oconee with numerous 30-pound plus flatheads being caught recently. The Georgia lake records that are maintained by the Georgia Outdoor News (GON) has seen the flathead lake record broken at least three times this year at Lake Oconee and the current record for the flathead catfish stands at 44 lb., 10 ozs.
Lake Oconee also saw a new record for blue catfish this summer when a 44 pounder was caught and the channel catfish record for Lake Oconee is 34 lb., 8 ozs. As the population of flatheads and blue catfish has expanded in Lake Oconee, the population of channel catfish has been reduced.
Lake Sinclair was significantly behind Lake Oconee in catfish records until recently. The only catfish listed in the GON lake records for Lake Sinclair is a 21 lb., 5 oz channel catfish caught back in 2007. No blue catfish have been submitted to be recognized for a lake record and not until this past week had an angler submitted a flathead catfish for consideration by the GON for a lake record.
On November 12, Buck Eubanks from Milledgeville hooked a large flathead catfish while using a jigging spoon and the huge flathead weighed 36 lbs., 11 ozs. when weighed on certified scales. No one was more surprised by the fish than was Buck who was not targeting catfish but trying to catch largemouth bass on his jigging spoon. The fish has been submitted to the GON for recognition as a Lake Sinclair lake record.
The blue catfish and flathead catfish in Lake Sinclair likely traveled through the Wallace Dam or were illegally placed in the lake by anglers. The longterm impact from the introduction of flathead and blue catfish is unknown at this time. Flatheads have been recorded in Lake Oconee for a few years but only recently have they shown up in Lake Sinclair studies conducted by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Resources Division.
It will be interesting to see how high these records go for catfish in both lakes. Many anglers are enjoying the good catfish action and are attempting to break the existing records. If you catch what might be a lake record catfish, you can submit an application to GON.
To be considered for a GON lake record, the fish must be caught on rod and reel; the fish must be weighed on Georgia Department of Agriculture certified scales with at least two witnesses; the witnesses to the weighing must be older than 18 and they cannot be members of the angler’s immediate family; and the fish must be identified by qualified Department of Natural Resources personnel.
Do not wait around until warmer weather returns to do some catfishing. Buck Eubanks’ new record flathead catfish was caught with the water temperature sitting at about 60 degrees and the fish was 25 feet deep when caught. The catfish will bite in colder weather and I am sure new record catfish are swimming around in Lakes Oconee and Sinclair.
I hope your family has a wonderful Thanksgiving. I thank the good Lord for the wonderful fish like the old whiskered catfish He created for us to enjoy and I will be thanking Him this Thanksgiving for all His wonderful blessings. I hope you might feel the same way. Good fishing and see you next week.
Outdoor columnist Bobby Peoples can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.