Catch Catfish On Georgia PFAs
Public-lake catfish are plentiful, eager to bite, and they are delicious.
Georgia’s waters are home to great numbers of catfish, which are popular table fare. However, catfish fisheries still never seem to get their fair share of the limelight like the more glamorous bass, stripers, and crappie fisheries.
The good news for Georgia anglers is that nine Public Fishing Areas (PFAs) are dotted around our great state that offer great catfishing opportunities for the bank and boat angler alike. These areas are operated by the Wildlife Resources Division (WRD) of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and are open to any and every angler, and they offer some fantasic fishing, especially for catfish.
Virtually all Georgians are within a couple hours of one of the PFAs, and for the mere cost of a fishing license plus a Wildlife Management Area (WMA) stamp can enjoy these great fishing opportunities for an entire year. Or, if you want to try an area for just a day, a one-day fishing license opens the door for your chosen day.
Public Fishing Areas range from having just one lake on some of the areas to more than 60 lakes of varying sizes at Paradise PFA. The areas are perfect for anglers unable to walk long distances, as good fishing locations are just a short way from parking areas. Of course, if you want to trek to a remote “honeyhole,” you can get some exercise on developed angler trails available around many lakes. While PFAs offer some of the best bank fishing to be found on public waters in Georgia, boat anglers will find improved concrete ramps on all PFAs, so access to the entire lake is just a launch away.
Channel catfish are the most prevalent whiskered species, but bullhead catfish can be caught from some lakes. Public Fishing Areas offer all catfish anglers a quality experience, whether seeking a trophy-sized fish or a five-fish limit of good eating-sized catfish. The creel limit on channel catfish at PFAs is five fish per person, but there is no limit on bullhead catfish. Lakes are stocked when surplus catfish are available from state hatcheries, but most of the catfish populations are self-sustaining.
Kids Fishing Events (KFEs) are emphasized on each PFA. Most areas host events on National Hunting and Fishing Day (September 23 this year), so check the WRD website <www.gofishgeorgia.com> for details of the various events. Typically during a KFE, a densely stocked catfish pond is opened to children so they can learn just how much fun fishing can be. There are often other family-oriented activities happening in conjunction with the fishing.
Techniques for Catfish Fillets
The time-tested catfishing approach of casting out a bottom rig and kicking back and relaxing works, but there are also some unique methods that can help you catch a mess of catfish.
The standard catfishing rig is the Carolina-rig. To your main line, thread on an egg sinker, then a bead, and tie on a barrel swivel to reduce line twist. Below the swivel, attach a leader about a foot long, and then a hook. If you tie a leader of lesser test than the main line, when you get snagged on the bottom you may be able to break the leader before the main line, thus only losing the hook. Drop-shot rigs and floats can be employed in the event that the fish are suspended above the bottom.
In recent years, catfishing has developed a devoted following, resulting in tackle manufacturers producing specialized lines of catfish-oriented products. Everything from specialized rods to catfish grabbers to fancy prepared catfish baits to specialty catfishing hooks are available to the angler willing to pay the price.
Catfish have a notoriously good sense of smell, as is evident by their “whiskers,” which serve as food locators. Most baits key on their good sense of smell and produce a significant scent trail to attract the attention of “Mr. Whiskers.” Traditional catfish baits like chicken livers, nightcrawlers, Louisiana pink worms, cut fish, prepared stinkbaits, bloodbaits, shrimp, and hotdogs all get used on PFAs, but some folks cast some odd offerings as well.
Mullet gut wound around the hook is a mainstay of some anglers at Paradise and Dodge County PFAs. The intestine-winders claim that this is a most effective bait and is much easier to wash off your hands than sticky chicken liver or worms. Other catfish regulars claim that rooster livers are primo baits. They assert that they stay on the hook better than effeminate chicken livers. And then there are the soap-dunkers. These anglers claim that a hunk of soap (Ivory is the most often preferred brand) will attract catfish better than conventional baits. At least this bait can actually keep your hands clean!
If you have not gathered by now, catfish are not the most distinguishing eaters. Get a bait on the bottom in a good location, and there is a good chance a catfish will be tugging on your line.
Here’s a look at the Public Fishing Areas in Georgia and some specifics about what you’ll find if catfish are on your mind:
Rocky Mountain Recreation and Public Fishing Area
Owned by Oglethorpe Power and operated by WRD as a PFA, this area in northwest Georgia near Rome contains two lakes. Antioch (357 acres) and Heath (202 acres) lakes both offer good catfish populations. There is also a chance that you will catch a bullhead catfish on the area.
Bank anglers have success fishing the rip-rap near the main entrance. Boat anglers have caught many a limit by anchoring near the buoy line and casting toward the spillway on East Antioch Lake.
You are not required to have a WMA Stamp to fish the area. A $3 per day parking pass is required, and you must have a valid fishing license to fish. Phone: 706-802-5087)
Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center/Marben PFA
Located in central Georgia near Mansfield along the Newton/Jasper County line, this 6,400-acre area boasts 22 ponds from one to 95 acres in size. Sheppard Pond (18 acres), Fox Lake (95 acres), Bennett Lake (69 acres), and Lake Margery (49 acres) are the most popular lakes for channel catfish, but virtually all of the ponds at Marben PFA contain catfish.
Sheppard Pond is annually stocked with about 2,500 channel catfish, so it typically contains a strong population of catfish just waiting to be caught. The deep-water areas easily accessed from the pond dams are the usual hotspots for catfish.
Teal Pond (one acre) is open to children under 16 years of age during PFA operating hours. The lake is heavily stocked, and it is a catch-and-release pond. This is a great pond to introduce children to the excitement of fishing. Monthly KFEs are open to the public from March through September. Click on the Charlie Elliott calendar link on the WRD website for event dates and times. Check the entrance kiosk for a list of open and closed lakes — some lakes may close periodically. Phone: (770) 784-3059.
This PFA situated near Thomson in east-central Georgia contains 13 lakes from one to 30 acres each. A state fish hatchery is also located on the 570-acre tract. Lake 2W (nine acres) and Lake 3W (30 acres) are the noteworthy lakes for channel catfish. Do not be surprised to catch a brown bullhead, as they are found in all the area lakes.
Bank anglers can up their odds by fishing the deeper holes, especially the scoured out areas where the hatchery ponds drain into the PFA lakes. Boat anglers have an advantage in the larger lakes if they use a depthfinder to seek out the deeper waters of the inundated creek channel. In the larger lakes, these areas are too far from the bank to reach with a cast. Channel catfish are reared in the hatchery and stocked into the PFA ponds, so they are accustomed to eating floating fish food. Here’s a local tip — a good bait choice for recently stocked catfish is to thread several moist cat-food nuggets on a hook. Phone: (706) 595-1684.
Big Lazer Creek PFA
A 195-acre lake is the centerpiece of this PFA, located in west-central Georgia near Talbotton. Bank anglers have success fishing the steep bank near the picnic area.
For those in boats, concentrate your efforts around the island and near the dam for the best success.
Every now and then someone catches a trophy-sized channel catfish from this PFA, but most fish will be good eating size. Phone: (706) 845-4180.
The newest PFA in Georgia, with a grand opening in June, is located in central Georgia near Hawkinsville. The area sports a 106-acre main lake and a KFE pond (two acres), which is open during special events.
Being a new lake, the catfish are still small (most around 12 inches), but limits of catfish are possible.
During the first couple months of operation, the best bank fishing areas have been the stretch downstream of the boat ramp and the rip-rap associated with the dam. Bullhead catfish have been caught from the rip-rap, while mostly channel catfish have been caught near the ramp. As the existing fish grow and additional catfish are stocked, catfishing on this PFA will only improve. Phone: (478) 783-2557.
Dodge County PFA
Although this 444-acre area in central Georgia near Eastman only has one lake, it is a gem. The 104-acre Steve Bell Lake is teaming with channel catfish. Also, in recent years the bullhead population has increased to levels where you may catch a few. While the bullheads will be small, you can expect to occasionally lay back into a 10-lb. plus channel catfish at Dodge County PFA.
During fall and early winter, the fishing pier and the shoreline on either side of it are prime bank-fishing areas. This lake stratifies during summer and early fall, and there is little or no oxygen below about six feet deep. Thus, anglers have learned to fish the upper water column for all species, including catfish. Boat anglers “in the know” suspend catfish baits about four feet deep under floats and fish around the standing timber and dam to routinely catch quality catfish. The top baits for this approach are catalpa worms and nightcrawlers. Because the catfish often stay shallow in the fall, another unorthodox approach that has worked well is to fish along the outer edge of the shoreline alligatorweed. This is most easily accomplished from a boat.
The lake is stocked annually with around 7,500 channel catfish. Phone: (478) 374-6765.
Hugh M. Gillis PFA
This 640-acre area in central Georgia near Dublin contains a 109-acre main lake with a strong catfish population. One of the newer PFAs, the area has only been open to the public since August 2003. Bank fishing has been especially productive from the fishing pier and around the numerous shoreline feeders, which tend to concentrate catfish and bream. Boat anglers can reach hotspots in deeper water along the old creek channel and near the dam. The protected pocket just north of the dam is a good area for both boat and bank anglers. This pocket was a borrow pit that was flooded after dam construction. Two smaller KFE lakes are open to the public during special events. Phone: 478-296-6192)
Evans County PFA
Anglers have been catching catfish from this area — the first PFA operated by the WRD — for a third of a century. Located in southeast Georgia in the coastal plain near Claxton, the 372-acre area contains two lakes managed for fishing. Eight-acre Lake Longleaf supports a strong channel catfish population, as thousands of catfish are stocked each year for KFEs. After the events, the block net is removed, and the crowded fish disperse throughout the lake.
Aso, you have a chance at hooking a large channel catfish in the 84-acre Bidd Sands Lake. Smaller bullhead catfish are also present. Phone: (912) 739-1139.
A plethora of catfishing opportunities abound on this 1,250-acre tract in south-central Georgia, east of Tifton. More than 60 lakes ranging in size from less than an acre to 112 acres are available. The prime catfish lakes include Horseshoe 1 (2.4 acres), Tacklebuster (17 acres), and Paradise (50 acres). While those are often considered top choices, almost all of the lakes and ponds at Paradise contain catfish.
Lake Paradise has an interesting history as a catfish pond. Previous owner R.W. Patrick stocked the lake regularly, fed the fish, and allowed anglers to fish the lake for a small daily fee. Mr. Patrick shot his shotgun when the fishing could begin and then shot it again when everybody had to stop fishing for the day. No shotguns are fired today to begin and end fishing hours, but similar sounds can be heard when a trophy catfish stretches an angler’s line and breaks it. Mullet gut, reportedly available in seafood shops in Tifton, is a popular catfish bait on this PFA. Special-event KFE ponds are stocked and opened during events, such as the Outdoor Adventure Day scheduled for September 23. Phone: (229) 533-4792.
More details on license requirements and other PFA regulations are available online at <www.gofishgeorgia.com/content/displaycontent.asp?txtDocument=144>. Directions to each area are also available on the website.
Next time you are craving fried catfish fingers or just a relaxing getaway, give a nearby PFA a try. You will be impressed with the high-quality fisheries and family-friendly atmosphere. Catfish are too often overlooked, and these tasty fish are a great way to introduce kids to our wonderful outdoors.
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