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More Than One Way To Skin Blackshear Catfish

You pick! Baskets, trot lines, noodles or rod-and-reel.

John Trussell | June 3, 2015

How many ways can you catch a catfish? There’s a bunch of ways to get them in the boat, and with very liberal limits on channels and flatheads (ok, how about no limit), you can get all you want. With a population that is very prolific in all Georgia lakes, rivers and reservoirs, your chances of catching cats is pretty good. To top it off, without a doubt, they are one of the best-tasting fish in the water. A lot of my fishing is catch and release, but when I’m catfishing, it’s usually catch and eat!

Recently I had the chance to catfish with Jimmy Clements, one of the best catfish anglers on Lake Blackshear. Jimmy, who is 81 years old, is sharp as a tack and has lived with his wife Francis at the mouth of Cedar Creek for 51 years. He was the maintenance supervisor for the local Gold Kist peanut processing plant for many years, and he knows how to fix and repair just about anything.

His house and the rock wall in his front yard was built with his own hands. It was submerged with 7 1/2 feet of water in the flood of 1994 but still stands strong.

Even fishing with Jimmy is an experience of making things work. After we launched his vintage 1963 boat that still does not leak, the motor was finicky and would not stay cranked, but he tinkered with it and got it running. Later, we got into another boat, and it would not crank at all.

“John, would you move the battery connectors around some, so we can get a good connection?” he asked me one time.

Later, when the motor was sputtering, it was, “John, would you pump up that gas bulb back there real strong?”

“Yes-sir,” I said as we bonded as fishermen always trying to keep the fishing equipment running. Working together, we had a great day on the water.

Jimmy loves to pull in catfish on a rod and reel, but he also has a commercial fishing license. He runs a few trot lines near his home, so catching catfish has been part of his outdoor life for many years. He has several regular customers for his catfish. Jimmy and his regular fishing partner Bill Gilem supply fish to church and social groups.

Our first order of the day was to check the trot lines. One attached to his dock ran out about 75 yards and was baited with live bream but had not been out long enough to attract any fish, although we did pull a few cats off of another line.

Jimmy baits his trot lines with small live bream for large flathead cats and uses pinks or nightcrawlers for channel cats. He uses a standard nylon trot line with 3 feet of drop line and a 2/0 hook on the end, but no weight is needed.

The end of the line that he needs to easily locate is tied to a log or tree, while the other end is anchored to the bottom with a large cinder block.

Trot lines are used all over Georgia, and you only need a commercial license if you run more than 50 hooks. Trot lines and limb lines are an effective and fun way to fish, but just follow all WRD fishing regulations, and remove all lines not being used and avoid location with a lot of boat traffic. Before we tried hook-and-line fishing, we checked Jimmy’s catfish baskets.

He had out six fish baskets, but those supply him and his customers all the catfish he needs. He located the anchor line, which he had tied off to a log and followed it several yards to the basket. We pulled up the basket and the splashing cats gave us a shower of lake water. The first basket had about 15 cats in it from 1 to 4 pounds, a pretty good haul. But we were just getting started.

The run to the other baskets was just as productive, and soon we had 150 pounds of cats in the boat. Jimmy said the baskets had been out about two days, and he had them baited with raw peanuts. It’s a cheap bait, locally obtained, and he places them in a loosely knitted bag that he places within the basket to lure the cats in. The funnel mouth of the trap lets the fish in, but they can’t escape.

Once Jimmy returns home with the fish, he keeps some in a large pen in the lake and some in a freshwater spring head until he’s ready to dress them for sell.

To clean a catfish, he places them on a board with a large nail sticking up on one end to hold the fish. The cat’s lower gill plate is placed on the nail and this holds the cat’s head while Jimmy skins it. He has cleaned thousands of cats and finds the process effective and downright therapeutic.

Running catfish baskets is something that Jimmy really enjoys, and it allows him to earn a few bucks in the outdoors to pay for bait and gas. With a commercial fishing license only costing $12, more Georgians should check into this activity, if interested, as the baskets can be used in any major reservoir around the state. Each basket must have the owner’s name and address on it. They can’t be used in flowing streams. Check the WRD regs for full details.

Jimmy also likes to fish for cats with a rod and reel when the water is hot from July through September. He likes to slowly drift for the cats in the many flats on either side of the main river channel. He says the primary food for cats during this time is mussels, and when the water gets warm, some of the mussels die off and pop open, and the cats go on a feeding spree. The scientific name for this invasive species is Corbicula Fluminea, but they are commonly called Asian clams, and there are millions of them in the lake.

Jimmy likes to fish across from the mouth of Cedar Creek, near the west bank of the lake. He just watches his depthfinder and looks for water in the 6- to 10-foot range. Jimmy will then set out three or four spincast rods and reels with 8-lb. line baited with night crawlers or pinks.

The idea is to just keep the bait moving very slowly across the bottom, so he just drifts with the wind, not using the trolling motor. We tried this method in May and caught a few small catfish, but the fishing will improve as summer warms up.

Jimmy suggests anglers look for the flat areas near the breaklines where the water shallows up from deeper areas, as cats will move along these changes in bottom topography. The mouths of creeks are staging areas for feeding activity, and the Atlantic Mapping Company map of Blackshear shows some good areas. Of course you can catch catfish just about anywhere, but here are some specific spots known to hold catfish.

1) On the south end of the lake, try the mouth of Collins Branch, near the fish-attractor buoy.

2) Where Hwy 300 crosses Swift Creek, there is a fish attractor on the west side of the bridge near where the water funnels under the bridge and the old creek channel. Anchor down, and fish on the bottom with chicken livers or pinks.

3) Just north of the dam, fish the north end of Goat Island, and you’ll be near a fish attractor and the old river channel.

4) Right in front of the dam, there is a submerged island that is only 13 feet deep and surrounded by deeper water.

5) Moving up the lake, try the mouth of Pecan Slough. In this area, Bruce Griffiss, of Douglas, likes to put out his homemade catfish noddle rigs, an improved version of jug fishing.

He takes a 3/4-inch PVC pipe, 24 inches long and inserts it into a foam pool noodle that is 18 inches long. Before the pipe is capped, he inserts a 3-inch piece of rebar into the pipe. The weight will move to the bottom of the pipe when a fish hits it, and it will stand up in the water. The pipe is capped and a circle bolt is attached to one end to hold the line.

He uses a 5-foot trot line, a 2/0 hook and 1/4-oz. egg sinker. He baits with pinks or Zote soap, available at Walmart. For more information on these noodles, contact Bruce at
[email protected]

While Jimmy is waiting for the noodles to get hit, he anchors down and bottom fishes.

6) Just south of the 280 bridge, try the rocks around the railroad trestle, especially on the north side around the fish attractor.

7) Try the mouth of Valhalla Branch.

8) Don’t overlook the good fishing behind the dam on the catwalk while you enjoy the free camping in Killebrew Park.

According to WRD Fisheries Biologist John Kilpatrick, fishing for channel cats in Lake Blackshear is excellent, and the flathead fishing is fair, with several in the 20-lb. class turning up in recent sampling. So far there are no blue catfish in the lake. John says the strong point for cats in the lake is the presence of lots of 1-lb. channel cats that make great meals.

He says some local anglers improve their fishing luck by sweetening a spot by sinking catfish food or dog food put into a loose burlap sack and stacked out in a prime location in the lake. Within a few hours, the attractant starts to lure catfish into the area and will increase fishing success.

John says catfish can be found all over the lake, but the abundant stumps and bottom structure above the Hwy 280 bridge might be a prime area.

For great accommodations, try the Lake Blackshear Resort at (800) 459-1230 or Georgia Veterans State Park at (229) 276-2371.

It’s time to skin a cat!

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