Best Georgia Tailraces For Catfish
The cool, rushing water boiling out from under a dam concentrates catfish below many Georgia lakes. Hereʼs a look at some of the better tailraces for catching catfish.
Want to get your string stretched this summer? Fight the type of fish that makes the biceps bulge as you begin to wonder who is really in charge of this head-to-head battle between angler and fish? If so, then catfishing below Georgiaʼs dams may be for you, especially if you like to do battle with both feet planted firmly on the ground.
Georgiaʼs many reservoirs offer lots of opportunities for tailrace fishing below their dams. Not only are these places typically great fishing, they often offer improved access with fishing piers, ample parking, and other amenities. Whether you have a boat or not makes no difference. Dam fishing is good just about any way you approach it.
The water below a dam is always a good place to fish because fish find the current and turbulent water to their liking. Water temperatures are often cooler, and tailrace fish usually donʼt suffer from a case of dog-days lockjaw like their still-water brethren do once the summer heat comes calling. Too, dams are the end of the road for fish on the move. Instead of turning around and going back the way they came, many just decide to make the area their new home.
Although dams attract many different fish species, catfish immediately come to mind when thinking of the fishing opportunities these man-made fish attractors have to offer. Every angler has probably heard local legends about the types of fish that call these places home. The story usually goes something like this.
“I heard they had to send a diver down to inspect the dam up on Lake Monster Cat last week. The diver was down for just five minutes, and came back up with his eyes as big as saucers. They said he was down there in the pitch black, and sensed something next to him. When he finally could see it, it was a catfish bigger than he was! The guy refused to go back down. Said you couldnit pay him enough money to get down there up-close and personal with fish like that!”
These stories, or some variation, seem to exist just about everywhere there is a large dam. And although they undoubtedly contain more than a fair amount of embellishment, there is a kernel of truth to them. Big catfish are indeed caught below dams. While they might not be big enough to swallow a grown man in one terrible gulp as the legends would suggest, they are big enough to strain you and your tackle. If there is a better way to spend a muggy September evening than listening to the roar of the water, feeling the occasional breeze push cool spray in your face, and waiting for that bite of a lifetime, I canʼt think what it would be.
Your gear need not be complicated. No boat is required, and the tackle is simple. A heavy-duty spinning or baitcasting outfit spooled up with 20-lb. monofilament or braided line, a few strong 3/0 bait hooks, and a pocketful of heavy slip-sinkers are all that is needed. A simple fishfinder rig consisting of a slip-sinker ahead of a swivel followed by a foot of leader and then the hook is the ticket. This rig is easy to cast and lets a fish take the bait without feeling the resistance of the weight.
The size of the weight will depend on the current. In slack conditions, a 1/2-oz. sinker will be fine. Strong current may call for two ounces or more of lead to keep your bait firmly anchored to the bottom.
When it comes to bait, it is hard to beat cut shad. Just about all catfish will find a piece of cut bait appealing. Old catfish standbys like chicken livers, nightcrawlers, and dead shrimp will attract a lot of strikes too, but it is sometimes difficult to get the little fish to leave your bait alone long enough for the big ones to get a whiff of it and mosey over to have a taste. Shad are probably good bait in a tailrace since one of the reasons predators like to hang out below dams is to pick off injured baitfish that have been swept through the dam and into the tailrace below. A piece of cut shad resembles nothing more than a shad that ventured in a little too close to the upstream side of a dam and took an unplanned rough-and-tumble roller coaster ride through the dam to the tailrace below.
Once you find a spot where shad congregate, a few good throws with a castnet should give you all the bait you need. If shad are hard to come by, small bream can be used for bait. Bream cannot be legally taken in a castnet, but a few minutes work with a bream pole, a tiny hook, and a pinch of worm around the rocks and rip-rap that are commonly found below dams will put bait in your bucket.
For cut bait, cut the fish in half starting just ahead of the dorsal fin and ending up by the vent. That way all the good stinky guts are left with the bait to help attract catfish, which primarily feed by scent and taste. Hook the piece of bait through the eyes, and you are ready to go. If you want to try live bait, use a small shad or bream hooked through the nostrils. Big flatheads and blue cats are especially fond of live bait. The number of strikes might be lower using live bait, but your trophy potential is definitely improved.
Georgiaʼs abundance of rivers and reservoirs offer a tailrace angler plenty of opportunities. There are a few standouts though that should be almost a sure thing for tailrace catfishing.
COOSA RIVER LOCK AND DAM
Starting in the northwest corner of the state, Mayoʼs Bar Lock and Dam on the Coosa River is a good choice. This dam doesnʼt actually impound the Coosa River. Rather, it is just a remnant of the steamboat era when the structure allowed commercial steamboat traffic all the way up the Coosa to Rome. The catfish donʼt know the difference though.
Enough of the old dam remains to concentrate the fish. Most anglers prefer to fish from the old lock structure itself. If you choose to do the same, keep in mind how you plan on landing a big fish since you will be standing well above the waterʼs surface. A basket on the end of a rope is the easiest method. Of course, fishing from the bank below the lock and dam doesn’t pose this dilemma. From there though, reaching the turbulent water right at the face of the old dam will be nearly impossible.
The Coosa River offers good variety with blues, channel cats, and flatheads all possible, in that order. Floyd County operates the area as Lock and Dam Park and anglers will find camping, bait, and supplies all available on the site. The Lock and Dam is on Blacks Bluff Road a few miles west of U.S. Hwy 411 south of Rome in Floyd County.
Moving south, the Flint River below Lake Chehaw in Albany offers good catfishing, according to Rob Weller, senior Fisheries biologist in DNRʼs Albany Regional office.
“As part of the relicensing agreement for the hydropower dam, Georgia Power improved the angling facilities below the dam,” said Rob. “On the west side of the river, anglers will find an improved fishing pier, a boat ramp, plenty of parking, and restroom facilities.”
According to Rob, both channel cats and flatheads are found here in good numbers with the potential for some big fish. “Most anglers seem to prefer shad for bait,” Rob said.
This tailrace provides good fishing and with the new and improved facilities, anglers will have no trouble finding a place to set up shop and soak some bait. Anglers will find Lake Chehaw virtually within the Albany city limits near the U.S. Hwy 19/82 bypass on the north side of town.
Heading back north up the Flint River leads to Robʼs No. 1 catfish tailrace in southwest Georgia, the Flint River below Blackshear Dam. “They just wear out the channel cats below Blackshear Dam,” Rob said. “Some flatheads are caught there, too. The improved facilities are on the east bank including a boat ramp and a catwalk. If I had to pick somewhere to go catfishing in this part of the state, below Blackshear Dam would be my number one best bet. They are really catching some fish up there.”
Again, shad are popular bait, but since channel cats are tops on the list, this would be a good place to break out the chicken liver and load the cooler with some eatinʼ-sized channel cats headed for the corn meal and hot grease. The Blackshear tailrace can be reached from Georgia Hwy 300 southwest of Cordele.
Heading into the heart of central Georgia, Steve Schleiger, a senior Fisheries biologist at DNRʼs Fort Valley Regional office, recommends the Lake Sinclair tailrace near Milledgeville as the best bet for tailrace catfishing in middle Georgia.
“Channel catfish make up most of the catch,” said Steve. “But you may get a few flatheads. We have heard some reports of blue catfish being caught, too. We know blue catfish are in Oconee, but we havenʼt documented them in Sinclair yet. Since they are present farther upstream in Oconee though, it wouldnʼt be surprising if a few are starting to show up around Sinclair.”
Anglers will find good access at Sinclair dam. On the west side of the river, there is a catwalk with railings to make for a safe and enjoyable trip.
The lakes listed above are just a sampling of what is available. A few others you may want to consider are below Clarks Hill dam on the Savannah River, and also below Lake Jackson on the Ocmulgee River. Both offer good potential. Clarks Hill has a lot of flathead catfish making it a good pick if you are after big fish, while the catch below Lake Jackson will mostly be channel cats.
Donʼt overlook the smaller community lakes either for tailrace catfishing. While these tailraces wonʼt be nearly as big as what you will find below the major reservoirs, the same principles apply and they should hold plenty of fish. The water isnʼt as big, so donʼt expect the area to hold as many fish, but there wonʼt be nearly the fishing pressure either. The facilities, if any are present at all, wonʼt be nearly as nice. The lack of amenities can be a blessing in disguise. Usually, the harder it is to get to the water, the better the fishing. Channel cats will make up the majority of the catch in these downsized tailraces. Anywhere blues and flatheads are found, you can expect to find at least a few below a dam, no matter how small it is.
In many ways, catfishing in a tailrace is a lot like saltwater reef fishing, except you donʼt have to travel very far to get in on it, and you donʼt need an expensive boat and pocketful of gas money to get out to the good areas. You can be soaking bait enjoying nearly constant action from respectable, if smaller-sized fish, and just when you become complacent about the whole deal, something large comes along that will test your tackle to its limit and then some.
When fishing below a dam, safety should be paramount. The water can come up unexpectedly and unbelievably fast, and the currents are strong. Although most major tailraces have improved facilities for anglers, some areas can be rough going and slippery. Watch your step to avoid a nasty fall.
Tailraces attract fish since they can find everything they need there —comfortable water and plenty of bait to eat. They also attract anglers, but that is part of the fun, getting to see what everyone else is catching. If catfish are on the menu this summer, head to one of Georgiaʼs tailrace catfish holes.
The places listed above are just a start, there are many others tailraces with flatheads, channel cats and blues from which to choose. Chances are, within a reasonable drive of your home is a dam, and below the dam live plenty of catfish just waiting to be caught.
Editorʼs Note: Kevin Dallmier, a Georgia WRD Fisheries biologist at Summerville, is the author of Fishing Georgia, a FalconGuide Book.
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