Catch Georgia’s Giant Flathead Catfish
These catfish grow huge. Here’s how to catch flatheads at Lake Oconee, the Flint River at Seminole and the Altamaha River.
Craig James | June 3, 2017
Pylodictis olivaris is the scientific name for a flathead catfish. In layman’s terms, it’s best described as a cold-blooded killer. These fish grow to enormous sizes, with the state record currently sitting at a tie with two behemoths on record weighing in at an impressive 83 pounds each. Throw in the fact that even larger fish have been caught on trot lines and bush hooks, and it’s easy to see a flathead catfish is a worthy opponent for any sportsman.
The months of June and July are without a doubt the very best times for flathead fishing, especially when it comes to trophy-sized fish. Great flathead fishing can be found throughout the state, and for a chance at a real trophy, there are three locations that you need to try this month.
The Altamaha River is a great place to start since both fish that tied for the state record were caught in this south Georgia river. Ricky Davis, his cousin Gary Davis and Charles Gilliard chase these river monsters religiously, often several days a week all summer long. I wanted to know the best way to target super-sized flatheads during June.
“Limb lines are the way to go, especially if you’re new to fishing the Altamaha,” said Ricky. “It’s a fun way to fish, and a lot of times, it’s not hard to catch several coolers full of flatheads in a weekend.”
Ricky, Gary and Charles all admit that the flathead fishing is good up and down the Altamaha, but the stretch from Penholloway Creek to Altamaha Regional Park has been the best for them, especially so far this summer. The best access to Penholloway is through Paradise Park, located just a couple of miles off Highway 341. It offers great access to the Altamaha for a fee of only $3 a day.
Ricky, Gary and Charles like to get to the river about three hours before dark and set as many lines as possible.
“If you’re not sweating, you need to be. If you want to catch a lot of fish, you need to hang a bunch of lines,” Gary said.
The trio will typically make a run out of Penholloway and begin setting lines every 50 to 100 yards, keying on outside bends with deep water and a sturdy limb to attach their line. You want to find a limb that’s strong, yet flexible. If it’s too stiff, it will make it easier for a catfish to pull free. It’s rather simple fishing, as the rig consists of 80-lb. test braided line, an 8/0 circle hook and enough weight (usually 4 to 8 ounces) to keep the rig on the bottom. To keep the bait about a foot off the bottom, a swivel is used with a 12-inch leader.
A hand-sized bream is the best bait when time allows to catch them, but large shiners bought from a tackle shop work great, also.
“Just be sure to use a good aerator to keep your bait lively. A flathead will very rarely take a bait that isn’t moving,” Ricky said.
After the limb lines are set, they try to check them at least twice a night, and always first thing in the morning.
“Whatever you do, when you get a big one, use steady pressure to try and get the fish in the boat. If you lose your cool and get excited, it’s really easy to lose a big fish. And make sure you have a big net on the ready.”
For those who don’t have a weekend or a night to get away, day fishing in the Altamaha is also productive. A heavy-action rod spooled with at least 30-lb. test line is sufficient for tangling with these giants. Focus your efforts along bluff walls in deep water, around lots of cover.
The next stop on our list is none other than Lake Oconee. This area has gained recognition as a flathead destination in recent years due to the amount of quality fish coming out of it month after month. Just last year, Sam Collis caught a 49-lb., 1.28-oz. monster, laying claim to the lake record.
Jug fishing and rod-and-reel are popular ways to fish Oconee. Local anglers prefer to catch shad early in the day to use as bait for these extra large Appaloosa catfish. Keep in mind that shad are a lot harder to catch with a cast net during midday. Flatheads practically roam the entire lake and can be caught on steep drop-offs in deep water near bridges and in deep holes in creeks. When you find a promising area, give it a good 45 minutes, and if there’s no action, move on to another spot. A hungry cat will normally take the bait rather quickly.
If you want to try your hand at jug fishing on Oconee, there are no restrictions or requirements other than possessing a Georgia fishing license. Any large jug will work. Just be sure to keep them out of areas with heavy boat traffic. For this reason, backs of creeks and other out-of-the-way places are perfect for this type of fishing. Be sure to check them regularly and remove them at the end of your trip.
Flint River/Lake Seminole
Last, but certainly not least, our wildcard destination is none other than the Flint River near Lake Seminole. Unless you’re a local angler who fishes the river, this probably comes as a surprise because typically the Flint is not known for giant Appaloosas. Local guide and FLW pro bass angler Clint Brown was more than happy to take me out on the water just a few weeks before press time, and the action was starting to really heat up.
When I met him at Wingate’s ramp, he was all smiles and said, “First things first. We need to get some bait.”
After a short ride, we pulled up to some submerged grass and began flinging crickets to several large bream beds. On almost every cast, we were rewarded with a hand-sized bluegill. Clint explained that he likes to use bluegill with some good orange coloring on their bellies, stating the big flathead catfish really love that color on the fish.
After catching 20 or so nice bluegill, he fired up his 250 hp Yamaha, and we motored to the mouth of the Flint River. Upon reaching the Flint, Clint slowed the boat to a turtle’s pace and kept his eyes locked on his electronics.
“When you come into the Flint, you’re looking for two things on the graph, deep water and rock piles on the bottom. You find that, and you have found the flatheads,” Clint said.
After locating some potential flathead holding boulders, Clint dropped his anchor and let the current swing us into position. Reaching into his rod locker, he pulled out two of his flathead fishing rods. Clint uses a 7-11 Halo bass rod with a high-speed Lews reel spooled with 65-lb. Goat Rope braid. He uses a Carolina rig with a 1 1/4-oz. Flat Out Tungsten egg weight, a bead, a swivel and completes the rig with a 6/0 Mustad Denny Brauer Grip Pin Max Flippin’ Hook fished on a 12-inch leader. Clint said that Backwoods Outdoors in Albany is his one-stop shop for all of his fishing gear.
Clint then hooked a frisky bluegill through the lips and gently tossed him behind the boat. He then lowered a duplicate rig and fished both live baits on the bottom.
“You don’t need to put out more than two rigs for flatheads at a time. Between wind and current, you will have a mess in a hurry with a bunch of lines out,” said Clint.
Before he could finish telling me about his 56-lb. personal best Flint flathead, one of the rods began to bend slowly down. Clint picked it up quickly and began to thumb the spool and give the fish some line. After about 15 seconds, he drove the hook home, and the fight was on! Several nerve-racking minutes later, we netted the 40-lb. plus fish. A few more hours yielded two more nice catfish.
“This is the thing about the Flint, you aren’t always going to get a lot of small bites, but when you do get bit, it’s liable to be a big one,” Clint said.
He went on to say that he averages about two to three fish in a morning or evening. During the midday, he likes to catch bream for bait and smaller catfish, which are great for eating. Clint rigs up a medium-action rod with 2-lb. test and soaks a nightcrawler on the bottom. The nice channel catfish he catches go great with flathead nuggets and cheese grits.
If you bring your boat down to the Flint, Clint recommended also using the Faceville ramp and targeting bluff walls with deep water for a good bite. You want to try to fish as close to structure as you can, without getting hung up in the structure.
“Give them about an hour in each location, and it shouldn’t take them long to find your bait,” said Clint. “If you don’t have any luck, move down, and try another spot.”
When you do catch a good flathead, it’s a good idea to mark that spot on your fish finder, as it will usually harbor more fish on future trips.
If you don’t want to go at it alone, or if you just flat out want to have a great time, Clint does half day and whole day trips for catfish, bass or bream. If you would like to try your hand at a few different species, Clint will customize your trip to your specifications to make for a great day on the water. To get in touch with Clint, you can give him a call on his cell at (850) 491-9199 to book a trip.
If you make a trip down to the Flint River at Seminole, you can find several nice hotels in Bainbridge. If you’re looking for a luxury stay, try Southwind Plantation near the lake. Southwind offers several activities for sportsmen, including quail hunting during hunting season.
So regardless of where you decide to chase a big, mean flathead catfish this month, June is definitely the time to do it. Whether you set a new record or just wind up with a bent rod, you will be glad you did.
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