Lakes Oconee and Sinclair have excellent populations of catfish and can provide anglers with excellent opportunities during the summer months. The key to successful catfishing is to understand where most catfish spend their summer months on those two reservoirs.
If you are looking to catch small catfish in the 4-10 inch size, those can be easily caught off just about any dock with any number of baits from nightcrawlers to commercially prepared catfish baits. Those small catfish can provide good action along with bluegills for young children and grandchildren and will also provide an excellent meal.
However, if you want to tangle with some of the much larger catfish, you will have to change tactics. During the month of May, the catfish are spawning and during that time, even large catfish will frequent the coves and can be caught from lake docks. Once the spawn is over, the large catfish leave the coves for the main lake where they will stay during the hot summer months.
The larger catfish will move to creek/river channels, ledges, points, and humps and can be found in water from 15-35 foot or even deeper. Many of the big catfish I have caught over the years came while fishing in a largemouth bass tournament during the summer months. The catfish frequent the same areas where largemouth bass hangout during the summer.
Those locations provide plenty of food from the large shad schools that also frequent those locations. The catfish will visit shallow water areas during nighttime or low light conditions to feed but generally, if you want to tangle with summer catfish, you need to concentrate on deeper water areas. Catfish are opportunistic feeders and sometimes the rules do not apply.
During the cicada invasion back in May, I witnessed catfish surface feeding on those cicadas. They will also heavily feed on mayflies when they are prevelent on the lake. However, most of the catfish I have witnessed feeding on mayflies and cicadas were of the smaller variety. The bigger catfish find deeper water more attractive.
This past week my grandson Logan Cross visited PaPa for some fishing. We primarily were going after largemouth bass but spent one afternoon catching small bream and catfish from the dock. I decided to keep a few of the small bream and take Logan catfishing the following day.
We got an aerated bucket from the boathouse and Logan managed to catch about ten bream for our catfishing trip. He got a thrill catching the bream and watching them swim around in the bucket. He was inquisitive about how we would use the bream to catch catfish.
When I explained to him we would only use only the heads of the bream, Logan looked at me and said, “PaPa do you mean you are going to cut their heads off?” I thought for a second our catfishing trip might be in jeopardy by the look on his face but he did not pursue the point any further.
The next morning at daylight, we loaded the boat with our catfishing gear and headed to a deep lake point on Lake Sinclair that is known to hold big catfish. I put out two rods baited with bream heads and we waited.
We had been in the spot some thirty minutes when one of the rods began to bend with the weight of a fish. My plan was to set the hook and let Logan reel in the fish. However, the fish that I could tell was a good size fish went straight to a deep brushpile and became intangled in the brush.
I had to break the line, retie, and bait another bream head. Another thirty minutes passed and no more bites. Logan was getting restless with the lack of action and when he said, “PaPa, I’m bored”, I knew it was time to try for some largemouth bass and some faster action.
Many anglers who regularly fish for big catfish will concentrate their efforts from 2-3 hours before daylight until 3-4 hours after daylight. That seems to be the prime time for catching big catfish but anytime of the day might produce some good catfish action. For catching the larger catfish, bream heads, live bream, live or cut pieces of shad, and shrimp are excellent baits.
Lake Oconee has a good population of channel catfish but the trend now is toward a greater population of flathead and blue catfish in the lake and some of the catfish caught recently have weighed in excess of thirty-five pounds. Lake Sinclair has an excellent population of channel catfish with some exceeding twenty pounds. Lake Sinclair also has blue catfish and an emerging population of flatheads.
If you are looking for some summer fishing action, I would suggest trying for some of the big catfish that populate Lake Sinclair and Lake Oconee. You can go catfishing and be back home before the summer day’s heat arrives. Good fishing and see you next week.
Outdoor columnist Bobby Peoples can be contacted via e-mail at