Most anglers who target catfish will agree that the catfish is one ornery creature. Despised by many except when served fried on a plate with hushpuppies, the catfish is an excellent sporting fish and lakes Sinclair and Oconee have an excellent population of several catfish species.

However, those populations and the various catfish species in the lakes have been changing over the last few years due to what is apparent illegal stocking by anglers who think they know how to improve the fishery. Fisheries across the U.S. are being invaded by all types of foreign invasive fish and plants. That in itself is enough for state fisheries to worry about without some unscrupulous angler creating problems by introducing various fish into area lakes.

The Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Resources Division (WRD) checks the populations and density of all fish including catfish in Lake Sinclair and Lake Oconee on an annual basis. Through electro-shocking and gillnet surveys the DNR/WRD determines how well each species of fish in the lakes are doing. They also determine what species of fish are in the lakes and they have determined new species of fish have entered the both lakes.

They have found species that were never intended for either Lake Sinclair or Lake Oconee. They can only surmise that anglers have taken it upon themselves to put fish into the lakes. In some Georgia lakes, these illegal stockings by anglers have proven devastating to native populations like smallmouth bass when spotted bass were introduced into certain lakes.

Unconfirmed catches of spotted bass have been reported in Lake Sinclair and Lake Oconee along with unconfirmed reports of blueback herring in Lake Oconee. The end result of either of those species being confirmed could over time change the dynamics of the fish populations in both lakes and not necessarily for the good of the lakes.

Just about every year we hear of anglers catching some exotic species from area lakes. Those catches result from aquarium owners dumping fish that have gotten too big for their aquarium. Those tropical fish cannot survive or reproduce in the colder waters of lakes Oconee and Sinclair so they are not of much concern. However, in places like Florida and other warm water climates, those introductions can have devastating results.

That brings us to the subject of the catfish populations in lakes Oconee and Sinclair and how they are undergoing change. From the most recent survey conducted in the fall of 2008, the DNR/WRD determined that Lake Sinclair’s catfish population is expanding and healthy. Those studies also keep an eye out for the intrusion of non-native species into the lake. Just a few years ago the only catfish types in Lake Sinclair were channel, white and bullheads.

Recently greater numbers of blue catfish have been showing up in the annual surveys on Lake Sinclair. Blue catfish first showed up in DNR Sinclair samples in 2004 and have increased significantly since that time. Blue catfish have the potential to reach sizes in excess of 50 pounds.

DNR believes that anglers illegally placed blue catfish in Lake Oconee and since their introduction there, they have spread downstream through the Wallace Dam into Lake Sinclair. Just recently, biologist with the DNR saw three flathead catfish while electro-fishing in Beaverdam Creek. The largest flathead catfish was about 15 pounds with the other two weighing about 4 pounds each.

That was the first time that flatheads had been officially documented in Lake Sinclair. Lake Oconee has a sizable population of flathead catfish so likely the flatheads in Lake Sinclair came through the Wallace Dam. Flatheads were never intended for either lake and the impact in future years is unknown even though they have devastated redbreast populations in some Georgia Rivers.

The flatheads were thought to have been illegally introduced into Lake Oconee and like the blue catfish they have spread downstream. Strictly from an angle’s perspective, the blue and flathead catfish should offer excellent opportunities for anglers to catch a trophy fish in both lakes. Let us just hope it does not happen to the detriment of other types of fish currently in the lake.

The most common type of catfish in Lake Sinclair is the channel catfish. Lake Sinclair has potential trophy sized channel catfish in the 20 to 30 pound range and that now includes blues and flatheads in addition to channel catfish.

In Lake Oconee, the catfish population is shifting from channel catfish to blues and flatheads and both species could easily exceed 20 pounds. In fact several flatheads weighing over thirty pounds have already been caught in Lake Oconee in recent years.

Catfish in both Lakes Oconee and Sinclair will bite throughout the year but early spring through summer is the best time to fish for catfish. Cane poles and small reels and rods will suffice when fishing for the small catfish but if your going to tangle with a 30 pound flathead you better have some stout equipment. Good fishing and see you next week.



Outdoor columnist Bobby Peoples can be reached via e-mail at brpeoples@windstream.net.

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