It is difficult to address winter fishing when the temperature is in the middle 70’s. But I began a series of articles discussing catching various fish species during the winter months because I was expecting some cold weather to arrive. I was fishing this past week in a short sleeve shirt and fishing in shallow water. Don’t know if it is global warming or not but I still hope we get some cold weather.
This week I will look at catching the “old whiskers” fish. Winter has been slow in coming this year and the water temperature still hangs in the upper 50s. It is anybody’s guess when and if we really get any cold weather that will push us into the winter fishing season.
Many catfish anglers believe that 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 below, 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 works pretty well. The Gulp bait is artificial shad guts and has a bad smell to the human nose but catfish seem to love it.
Generally, anglers just need to fish slower and have more patience as the bites may come somewhat slower than in the warmer weather. Lakes Oconee and Sinclair are now populated with blue, channel, and flathead catfish and all can be caught in the winter.
Winter catfish can be caught while anchored or can be caught slow drifting the baits around deep water hotspots. Using the Santee Cooper catfish rig that I discussed in earlier articles for drifting cut baits around likely deep water hangouts is a great technique in cold water. A slow drift is best in the cold water.
Back on November 12, 2011, Buck Eubanks from Milledgeville caught a large flathead catfish while using a jigging spoon and the huge flathead weighed 36 lbs., 11 ozs. and that fish remains the lake record flathead catfish on Lake Sinclair. The water temperature was 60 degrees when Eubanks caught the big flathead. I have caught several catfish using the jigging spoon but other baits are normally better during cold weather.
Many anglers are enjoying recent good catfish action on Lake Sinclair and Lake Oconee and many are attempting to break the existing catfish records on both lakes. Big potential record catfish do bite in cold water. If you catch what might be a lake record catfish, you can submit an application to GON.
The current lake catfish records maintained by the Georgia Outdoor News (GON) show the Lake Oconee blue catfish record is 69 lbs., 7 ozs. the flathead catfish record is 49 lbs., 1.28 ozs. and the channel catfish record stands at 34 lbs., 8 ozs.
The current GON lake records for Lake Sinclair show the record blue catfish record is 48 lbs., 9 ozs., the flathead catfish record is 36 lbs., 11.2 ozs. and the channel catfish record stands at 21 lbs., 5 ozs.
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. The catfish will definitely bite in cold weather and I am sure new record catfish are swimming around in Lakes Oconee and Sinclair just waiting for a chunk of shad to pass by their nose. Good fishing and see you next week.
Outdoor columnist Bobby Peoples can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.