Eufaula’s Postspawn Blue Catfish Fire Up In June

As blue catfish come off the beds, Team Atkins will be up the river drifting and dragging.

Greg McCain | May 31, 2021

Lake Eufaula ranks as a popular fishing destination with a reputation that draws anglers from near and far.

Known foremost for its bass fishing, Eufaula offers multi-species potential with crappie being another staple from the lake. Perhaps to an equal but much less publicized degree, locals target the abundant catfish on the lake, and a rainy April morning found me fishing for Lake Eufaula blues with Brandy and Jody Atkins, who compete on local and national circuits as a B’n’M pro staff tournament team.

Brandy Atkins fished for bass until she met Jody. Now the husband-wife duo pair as a competitive team on national catfish circuits.

Lake Eufaula is a 43,000-acre Chattahoochee River impoundment and serves as the border for Georgia and Alabama.

We launched the Atkins’ big center-console boat at the Hatchechubbee Creek boat ramp near their home in the southern part of Russell County, Ala.. The ramp is located on the river section of Lake Eufaula about 15 miles north of the city of Eufaula just off Alabama Highway 165.

The early morning hours brought thunderstorms and a deluge through the region, but the clouds were only producing a periodic drizzle by late morning. A few hints of blue could be seen in the sky as we started the trip.

“We’re going to do a little drifting and dragging,” Jody had told me in advance of the trip.

We idled upriver, discussing the fishing and the river setting. We passed under the Highway 39 bridge, which connects Alabama with Stewart County, Ga., and then went under the abandoned but picturesque Georgia and Alabama Railroad Bridge (also known as the Omaha-Cottonton Railroad Bridge). We eventually paralleled part of the WestRock paper mill complex, where Brandy and Jody are both employed.

“It’s time that the catfish have moved back up the river,” Jody said. “With the water down (for dam repairs), they seemed to stay downriver for a longer period this year. They should be back up this way by now.”

The catfish appeared to be waiting for baits to be dropped. Brandy and Jody didn’t have their full complement of rods baited and set before the first fish hit. The fish pulled free on the first couple of bites, but the initial “drift” produced a steady stream of blues in the 5- to 15-lb. range over the next couple of hours.

Brandy catches a good Eufaula blue catfish on a recent trip with the author.

Rarely did we go more than five minutes without a fish on, and doubles were common during the first few hours of fishing. The overcast skies and occasional drizzle appeared to be the perfect combination to produce a hot catfish bite.

Brandy and Jody executed flawlessly, demonstrating repeatedly the teamwork that makes them a successful tournament tandem. Brandy handled the bait, fresh-caught skipjack, and rigging tackle for the most part while Jody watched the electronics and plotted a course upriver.

“I have always fished, but I was actually more of a bass fisherman,” Brandy said. “Jody and I started dating, and he said, ‘Hey, let me take you catfishing.’ I’m thinking normal catfishing, sitting on the bank and catching 1- to 2-pounders. Little did I know how big these catfish get.

“As we started teaming up and doing tournaments together, I said, ‘If I’m going to do this, I’m going to learn how to do it all. You’re going to show me how to rig rods, how to drive the boat, how to cut bait. I want to do everything that you do. That way we’re a team.’

“Since then, we’ve been together and fishing ever since, six years now. I absolutely love it, whether the fish is 5 pounds or 50 pounds.”

We caught catfish regularly with the drifting and dragging presentations.

Drifting involves fishing vertically with baits suspended just off the bottom. On the business end, Team Atkins uses a Carolina rig with just enough weight to keep the bait down—usually 1 oz. per 10 feet of water depth—on a slow drift. The weight is placed on the main line above a swivel to which a mono leader is attached. A circle hook from 5/0 up to about 8/0 is attached to the leader. Jody said a 5/0 or 6/0 is usually sufficient for catfish on Eufaula.

The Atkins use B’n’M Pole catfish rods, usually Silver Cat Mangums for both drifting and dragging. Because they also saltwater fish off the Florida coast a good bit, the Atkins pair the rods with Penn reels and spool with either 80-lb. PowerPro Slick braid or with 40-lb. mono. They place the rigs in Driftmaster rodholders, which line the sides and back of the boat.

The dragging technique requires more detail but can be equally effective as drifting. The Atkins use a three-way rig with a dragging weight on the bottom dropper with a 5-foot leader running off the other side of the swivel. A circle hook—the Atkins favor Gamakatsu models—is tied to the end of the leader with a float about a foot up the line. The float keeps the bait from dragging the bottom.

The biggest difference between the two presentations is the addition of planer boards for dragging. The Atkins use up to four dragging setups at times but only employed two on the trip. The planer boards allow fishermen to cover a wider path with their drift and also serve as a visual indicator of bites.

Spinning tackle—rods up to 10 feet from B’n’M and reels from Penn—replaces the baitcasting gear used for drifting.

“I like the drifting and dragging,” Brandy said. “We usually start now, sometime in April, and do it until about October or November.”

Brandy further explained the process. Because a normal day on Eufaula features little or no current, using the trolling motor to “drift” is a necessity.

“We have very little current here, so we have to make our own current,” Brandy said. “We use the trolling motor and either drift upriver or downriver, depending on whether we have any current.

“You can cover more ground that way, put bait in front of more fish that way. You have the potential to catch more fish because you are covering more ground.”

Jody explained why the dragging technique can be so effective on Eufaula and also on other fisheries.

“We’ll try to drag over larger flats about 10-, 12-, or 15-foot deep,” he said, “drag those planers boards across them. The catfish lay in ditches in the flats, and the cork keeps the bait off the bottom. The fish will come up out of those ditches and slam a bait.”

Jody said the drifting presentation adds some unforeseen elements that make catfishing exciting.

“It’s basically suspend fishing with Carolina rigs,” he said. “One of the great things about it is that you can see baits on the depthfinder as you drift and at times can see fish tracking the bait.

“One of the things that a lot of people don’t know, but catfish will often track a bait underneath and come up and hit up from below, knocking slack in your line. That’s fun to watch (on the electronics).”

Regardless of the presentation, the Atkins normally bait with cut skipjack. Jody noted the head is usually the best part of the skipjack with the two cuts just behind the head also producing well. The tail is much less desirable. Other anglers use various types of shad, shad guts or legally caught bream, as well.

“We cut our baits to a certain size, not very big because the fish here are not as big as in other places,” Brandy said.

When fishing close to home, the Atkins rely on skipjack caught from the river as their go-to bait for catfish.

The action continued on the trip until Brandy asked if we were ready to eat. In advance, Jody had suggested that they would bring lunch along and that we would eat on the boat. Little did I know that lunch would involve a steak dinner with all the trimmings.

We took a break from fishing, moved into a little cove off the main river, and Brandy fired up a small gas grill. A few minutes later, the steak dinner was ready. She grilled corn on the cob first and then seared the steaks for a few minutes.

“She’s the best person I’ve ever known on the grill,” Jody said. “Everybody raves about her steaks.”

The steaks were excellent, but once we dropped lines back in the water roughly an hour later, the catfishing was not. The storm system had moved out of the region, and the post-front conditions really slowed the catfish bite.

Brandy catches a good Eufaula blue catfish on a recent trip with the author.

While the first part of the trip yielded at least 25 to 30 fish, we caught fewer than five after lunch.

“It just shows how much a front moving through can affect the fishing,” Jody said.

We drifted all the way back to the railroad bridge before ending the trip. Brandy did manage to boat the biggest blue of the day on the final drift with a fish that weighed close to 20 pounds.

“The fish we saw today are fairly good examples of what you will catch on Eufaula,” Jody said. “They are not huge compared to some other places that we fish, but we caught some decent fish today.”

On average, Eufaula gives up an abundance of blues up to about 20 pounds, with top-end fish usually weighing in the 50-lb. range or slightly bigger. Brandy caught her personal best last year with a fish that size. She also reminded Jody that her big fish from Eufaula was bigger than his.

“The big fish that I caught was a surprise,” she said. “We were close to one of the spots that we like to fish and were drifting slow. The rod started moving out, more like I had a gar or something like a turtle. The fish never pulled that hard and was coming in nice and easy. I saw a big ole head and a big ole tail, and I started screaming, ‘Get the net! Get the net.’ My biggest one here prior to that was 38.”

Every trip on Eufaula also offers the opportunity to catch flatheads, which invaded the Chattahoochee River about 20 years ago. We caught none of the invasive flatheads on the trip, but they have become established in the Chattahoochee and other southeast Alabama river systems in that time frame, offering a new element to the catfish population.

For June fishing, the end of the month should offer some of the best catfishing of the year. The bite in early June on Eufaula can be tough in some years depending on the timing of the spawn. With warmer spring temps, the spawn may be over in May. In other years with more moderate temperatures, the spawn can linger well into June.

Jody acknowledged the fishing proves difficult to the point that he and Brandy don’t fish as much during the period when catfish are on beds.

“They usually spawn from mid May through mid June,” he said. “They are going to spawn depending on water temperature. After the spawn is over, we start catching big males that are beat up, gnarly. The catfish bite will really pick up after they start to drop back down into the deeper holes.

“It really starts to pick up a few weeks after the spawn is over and stays good on the river through October or November. Then the fish migrate down to the main lake through the coldest months. We catch them down there pretty well at that time of year.”

Eufaula may not be the first lake that comes to mind for catfishing. Don’t ignore catfish in favor of the bass and the crappie on the lake. Eufaula features an abundance of blues, and some of the hottest catfishing of the year cranks up at some point in June.

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