Lake Oconee Rice Fed Catfish
A bag of uncooked rice, some deep water, and a can of hybrid red worms is a recipe for fast fishing this summer.
I met Jay Johnston, of Jackson, and his 3-year-old daughter Ashley at Lake Oconee’s Lawrence Shoals boat ramp at 7 a.m. on July 18. Jay’s boat was already sitting in the water, waiting on me to arrive. I could see the dam when I packed my gear inside his 16-foot jon boat. With the assistance of a Go-Devil motor, we took a two-minute boat ride directly east to a long point just above the buoy line in front of Wallace Dam.
We were after a cooler full of catfish on that already muggy morning in mid July. Jay handed me a cup of worms, I baited a hook and dropped it 20 feet to the lake floor. It was only 10 seconds after I engaged my reel that I had a hungry cat gnawing at my worm. After about the third tap, I set the hook, reeled several dozen times and slung a 6-inch channel cat inside the boat. One minute later, Jay and Ashley, with one fish apiece, helped push the count to three, and the race was on.
By 9:50 a.m. our tally was up to 58 small catfish ranging in size from 4- to 12-inches long — not too bad for a half morning on the water.
O.K., I must confess, we had a slight advantage over just going out there, picking a point and going fishing. The 20-foot point we were fishing had been baited 48 hours earlier with 15 pounds of uncooked rice.
“I remember baiting catfish in the Oconee River with daddy when they were building the dam,” said Jay. “I’ve done it through the years with uncles and cousins, I’ve just always done it.”
Now Jay is passing on the tradition by taking Ashley fishing for baited-up cats. Although Ashley loves to fish, she really doesn’t have much of a choice.
Jay is a school teacher at Mary Persons High School in Forsyth, and he’s spending his summer vacation babysitting. Hats off to Jay — could you think of a better activity to help entertain Ashley during the day than go catfishing?
“Catfishing a baited rice spot is the kind of fishing that keeps kids entertained, because it’s usually just one bite after another,” said Jay. “The key is making sure there’s enough bait there to hold the fish for when you come back. If I know I’m fishing two days after baiting, I’ll use 15 pounds. If I’m going back three days later to fish, I’ll go ahead and dump 20 pounds out. Rice has always worked for me, because you can spread it out pretty good. You want to spread it in an area the size of a big living room.
“When I baited our spot, I anchored the boat where I wanted the bait to be and then went all the way around the boat pouring some out. Then I broadcast the rest of the rice as far as I could throw around the boat. When you go back, you’ll usually have someone with you, so you need a big area to fish.”
Jay fishes both Lake Oconee and Sinclair, along with stretches of the Oconee River. Wherever he baits, he targets areas 15- to 20-feet deep.
When Jay goes back to fish, the first thing he’ll do is throw out two anchors, one in the front and the other in the back. It’ll be important to get the boat stable because if Georgia Power Co. is moving water, you’ll be off the baited area in seconds.
Next, Jay will rig up a “suped-up” red wiggler, called a hybrid red worm. These worms are still red wigglers, they’re just bigger than those stringy-looking worms you bream fished with as a kid. Plus, when using the reds, you’ll find that more of them come in a cup. Even with all the action we had before 10:00 a.m., we used less than two cups of worms.
“I’ll fish the reds on a No. 2 Eagle Claw gold aberdeen hook on an 8-inch leader with a 3/8-oz. weight,” said Jay. “I never fish with anything lighter than 12-lb. line, I’m usually using 14-lb. Trilene XT line.”
Rod and reel size doesn’t seem to matter. Anything from the 6-1/2-foot medium-heavy action rod equipped with an Abu Garcia 6500 like I was using, all the way down to the Zebco 33 like Ashley had will catch cats.
When we fished across from Lawrence Shoals, we’d let our small Carolina rigs fall to the bottom, then reel up one crank and tight-line the bait. This works as long as you don’t have a bunch of bottom debris to compete with. The second place the three of us fished was a place with a rocky, jagged bottom. In this case, tight-lining wasn’t an option, unless we wanted to retie every other cast.
Just below the dam in the headwaters of Lake Sinclair is one of Jay’s favorite catfishing holes. Jay has been fishing this rock-infested area for years using a slip-cork rig, a rig designed for anglers to fish as deep as they want. Once you throw out a slip-cork, the cork rides up your line until it hits a small piece of line that you tie above the cork, depending on how deep you want to fish. Jay said when using the slip cork, try using limp line, like Trilene XL. Anything heavier is capable of getting kinked up, and it won’t slide through the cork as well.
Below the dam, Jay targets depressions in the 12- to 16-foot range. Jay actually baited one of his favorite depressions, but a boat was sitting right on it when we arrived. We were left to fish the outskirts, and we only boated four cats. It’s amazing how that rice makes a difference. The two guys fishing Jay’s baitpile were having no problem getting bit.
“There are several depressions up there on the buoy line,” said Jay. “Coming from the right, look on the fifth and seventh buoys. Both of them have good depressions.”
Another good place to fish, one that Jay didn’t bait, is the first rock wall on the left when you motor south of the DNR boat ramp off Hwy 16. This rock wall is easy to spot. It rises 12 feet out of the water. Just out from the base of the rock, it’s 25-feet deep. We picked up another seven fish, making a grand total of 70 fish.
“On a scale of one to 10, we probably had a six or a seven day, because we didn’t have any big fish,” said Jay. “We usually have some pretty good ones mixed in. The majority of the time they’re going to be in the 8- to 12-inch range, but then normally you’ll have some up to three pounds.”
Jay assured me that it didn’t matter what area of the lake or river you baited and fished, as long as the depth was between 15- and 20-feet deep.
After fishing with Jay, I baited a 17-foot Lake Oconee drop north of the Hwy 44 bridge. The only thing I did different was I baited it with five or six pounds for three days straight. On the third day, the hybrid red worms went in the water.
Every time I retrieved the end of my line, I either had a small, speckled channel cat or an empty No. 2 gold hook.
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