For some folks, there are few things better to eat than a mess of fried catfish, and August is the perfect time on Lake Russell to fill a cooler with enough frying-sized cats for several fish fries.
When summer arrives, guide Jerry Kotal of Elberton, Ga., switches gears to catfish because so many people want to stock up for family and community fish fries. And August, he said, is the month that seems to provide some of the best fishing of the year for Russell’s abundant population of channel catfish.
The hot temperature generated by the summer sun does not affect the bite at all, Kotal said, because the fish are coming out of the cooler water in deeper areas.
“A lot of folks think they don’t bite good during the heat of the day, but I catch them all day long — from sunup to sundown. I catch as many at high noon as at any other time. It’s just a matter of moving around to find them,” he said.
Finding catfish, he said, means working underwater structure — points, humps and channel ledges — in 20 to 30 feet of water.
“I get out there with a depth finder and hunt the drop-offs,” he said. “Then, I just go and fish. If I don’t have a bite in about 15 minutes, I’ll pick up and move. If the fish are there, they are going to bite as soon as you get your lines down most of the time.”
Kotal usually puts out a half-dozen rods with baits settling from the very bottom of the drop-off to the top to determine where fish are feeding.
“I use spinning rods with braided line and a 6- to 8-inch, 20-pound leader. If the leader is too long, it will wrap around the braided line. I like a ¾- to 1-ounce egg sinker rigged like a Carolina rig with a swivel.”
Cut blueback herring is the primary bait and catalpa worms if they are available.
“If the herring is a decent size, I’ll use a piece about an inch wide. I run the hook through one side and then double-hook it,” he said. “Catalpa worms are seasonal, and they are hard to come by, but I have about 30 to 40 trees I can get the worms from. I use the whole worm; just thread it on the hook, starting at the head and coming out the tail. A lot of old-timers say you have to turn the worms inside out to get the fish to bite, but that is just hearsay.”
Kotal (706-988-0860) also likes to catch a few tiny bream for bait in hopes of catching a big flathead catfish.
“I know the flatheads are in Russell because I have caught them when I was bass fishing,” he said, “but it’s really hit-and-miss with the bream, and you might catch catfish, a gar, even a bass. Just about anything will bite it.”
The primary target is channel catfish. A typical August day will produce 20 to 40 fish weighing from 60 to 100 pounds, he said.
“Here on Russell, there are no really big channel catfish, just good eating-size fish. Most folks I take would rather catch the 1- to 5-pound catfish than the bigger ones,” he said. “I like to fillet the 1- to 2-pound channel cats and fry them, and the smaller, 8- to 10-inch fish, I like to fry them whole.”