Summer Catfishing with Brian Barton
By Phillip Gentry
North Alabama’s Wilson Lake is a well-known catfishing destination. Even in the heat of summer when fishing is generally slower than cooler times of the year, Wilson still produces good catches of catfish if you know where to look.
B’n’M catfish pro-staffer Brian Barton has been fishing the Tennessee River impoundments along the TN/AL/MS border for over 40 years as both a commercial catfisherman and as a recreational catfishing guide. Barton said when the water temperatures in Wheeler climb in the summer, he can break the catfishing patterns down into two distinct patterns and two distinct locations.
“There’s still a trophy, large catfish pattern going on down the lake, I’m talking fish in the 40 + pound range,” he said, “but if your goal is eating sized catfish in the 3 – 5-pound range, then we need to head up the lake and fish in the discharge area coming out of Wheeler Lake.”
B’n’M pro staffer relies on quality catfishing poles from B’n’M whether he’s catching trophy sized catfish or a cooler full of eaters.
Barton said the big difference is water depth. He looks for larger blue catfish to hold in the 40-foot range along the tops of river channels and ledges. That water is adjacent to 60- and 70-foot depths. That’s going to take place down the lake.
“I start out around the mouths of the sloughs and tributaries that feed into the main lake from halfway down the lake to the dam,” he said. “I’m slow trolling a bottom rig. Some people call it a float rig or a catfish drift rig, I think the original name was the Santee drift rig.”
Using four rods, Barton will pull two drift rigs on either side of the boat and hang two rods with a Carolina rig off the side. The Carolina rigs are positioned about 2 feet off the bottom, and he monitors the depth to make sure he doesn’t drag the rig into bottom structure.
“For trophy catfishing, I’m using 7 1/2-foot B’n’M Silver Cat Magnum rods with baitcasting reels, 80-pound Vicious braided line, and Daiichi Bleeding Bait circle hooks in size 7/0 – 10/0,” he said. “I’m pulling cut skipjack herring. I prefer to use only the head section with about 2 inches of the body attached.”
Barton’s summer catfishing rig employs a snagless weight and a crappie float to elevate his bait just off the bottom.
Using his iPilot trolling motor, Barton will drag the baits along the tops of the channel edges staying within 20 feet of the edges. The ideal speed is .3 to .6 mph. While targeting the tops of river channels and ledges in a lake the size of Wilson may seem daunting, Barton narrows down his search area using his sonar equipment.
“I don’t put lines in unless I see both fish and baitfish in these areas,” he said. “Even if I see fish but no bait, I’ll move on because those fish aren’t active, and you can waste a lot of time on inactive fish.”
On the other end of the scale, and the lake, Barton targets a 50/50 mix of channel catfish and small blue catfish by drifting with the current about ¼ mile below the Wheeler dam.
His set-up for this type of fishing is 4 – 6 B’n’M Silver Cat catfish poles and 10 – 12-pound monofilament line using a Kentucky rig with a 1 ounce weight on the bottom and two droppers with 3/0 – 5/0 Diiachi hooks up the line about a foot or two apart.
“All of this water, from the power line down to about Hog Island is maybe 12 feet deep with a relatively clean bottom,” he said. “The smaller cats congregate in the current.”
Barton has been fishing the Tennessee River lakes for over 40 years and said knowing seasonal patterns and movements of catfish on these lakes gives him a big advantage.
Barton’s bait of choice for this style of fishing is Catawba worms, which he orders frozen. If the worms aren’t unavailable, his next baits in order of preference are shad guts and then chicken livers. He stated he’s tried cut bait, but it doesn’t seem to work as good.
He may do 1, 2 or 3 drifts until he’s got a cooler full of nice, eating-sized catfish for his clients.
When asked about catching bigger fish in the flowing waters, which often drift the boat at .5 mph unless authorities are running water through the turbines, Barton’s theory was that bigger catfish don’t want to fight the current this time of year.
“Oh. We catch some really big cats up here in the spring, but the water is very clear and not very deep, so I think that puts them off and they don’t want to fight the current. The best time to be up here for trophy cats is in the spring when the water is high and very turbid.”
To book a fishing trip with Brian Barton on Lakes Wilson, Wheeler, or Pickwick, contact him at 256-412-0969 or visit his website at brianbartonoutdoors.com
Don’t give up on catfishing just because the weather is hot. Grab a B’n’M Pole and get in on the action. Check out our online catalog at bnmpoles.com
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