Jay Gallop with a hefty Alabama River flathead taken on live bait,
but much larger flatheads roam these waters as well.
Fantastic Flatheads on the Alabama River
by Terry Madewell
The Alabama River holds the Alabama state record for flathead catfish at 80 pounds and is full of flathead catfish of all size classes. It’s a prime flathead catfish destination.
Note to all serious catfish anglers… if you haven’t heard about the Alabama River as a ‘primetime’ flathead catfishing destination, you need to update your “to go to” list because it’s chock full of flatheads.
The Alabama River is a fascinating waterway meandering through the heart of the lower part of the state. The river is formed by the junction of the Tallapoosa and Coosa Rivers about six miles north of Montgomery near the town of Wetumpka.
The prime fishing begins right at the genesis of the river in Elmore County where good access to the river, accommodations, and dining opportunities exist.
Focusing on flatheads on this waterway is an excellent plan because the current state record flathead of 80 pounds was taken from the Alabama River. But anglers fishing the river frequently have learned that this river is full of flatheads of all sizes.
The tournament fishing team of Joey Pounders, Jay Gallop, and Dustin Goodwin all hail from Mississippi but have been fishing the Alabama River for years.
Pounders said the number one reason the flatheads thrive in the Alabama River is abundant habitat and forage.
“Like every fish or game species, having the right habitat and plenty to eat are key factors and the Alabama River has prime habitat and forage all along the way,” he said. “Flatheads love woody structure so tree blowdowns from the shoreline, logjams, and any combination of cover types create potentially good habitat. Certain areas will have large rocks and boulders which is also prime flathead habitat
“One of the biggest problems for many anglers is that so much incredible looking habitat exists that it’s difficult to just visually judge a spot that looks good and find fish on it,” Pounders said. “Certainly, if you don’t have a graph and you fish enough places, you’ll find flatheads. But to be effective, such as when fishing a tournament, we rely on electronics to help us quickly narrow the searching and fish-finding process.”
Jay Gallop said one key to finding flatheads is to find this wood or rocky cover in conjunction with other flathead attractors such as depth changes.
“Flatheads certainly relate to depth changes all along the river and these can include naturally occurring deep holes, often found on the outside bends of the river,” Gallop said. “Also, areas may be scoured out by current to form deeper spots as well as junctions with tributary creeks.”
He said it’s not as simple as finding the deepest water. A drop from 20 feet to 40 feet of water, but with no wood or rock cover, is not as attractive to flatheads as a target that dropped to only 30 feet but had wood and/or rock littered in the hole.
“Finding a combination of attractants in the same area gives us more confidence,” he said. “Then we’ll scan the area with the graph and look for individual fish targets we believe to be flatheads. When we find woody or rocky cover, depth changes, and fish marked on the graph we’re going to check it out.”
Checking it out means setting up and fishing. They employ two methods, based on the amount of existing current.
Dustin Goodwin said if ample current exists, they’ll likely anchor in the river, near the cover, where they can cast to the specific targets they’ve marked.
“Once anchored, we cast to specific targets around the woody cover and in the deeper holes,” he said. “If we mark even one fish in a certain area, we’re going put a bait close to that fish. Plus, fish are going to move around so we’ll cast multiple baits to all the targets we think are potentially productive. For best results, it’s certainly not a random, hit or miss, process. We target the spot first, then target where we marked individual fish.”
Pounders said that flatheads are easily spooked and on the Alabama River the lack of a strong, consistent current is a factor in their setup strategy.
“When we have a lack of a strong current flow, it’s hard to properly set up in the river without making too much noise and commotion,” Pounders said. “Flatheads spook easily so our signature setup is to define our targets with the graph and check the shoreline to locate the best place to pull the boat onto the bank. We secure the bow to a log, root, or any object that holds the boat in position. Then we cast baits to our targets from a stable position where we can effectively fish the area, but remain stealthy while we saturate the area with our bait.”
Bait is a key to their consistent success on the Alabama River, according to Gallop.
“We prefer live bait just about anywhere we fish, advised Gallop. “When fishing the Alabama River and targeting flatheads, it makes a huge difference. The river has an assortment of bait choices for live offerings including some panfish species, but for us, live gizzard shad is our go-to choice. We catch our bait fresh daily and the size of the bait matters.”
Gallop said the 5- to 7-inch shad are productive, but to target big flatheads they prefer bait in the 7- to 10-inch size class.
“Bigger shad are more lively and more likely to tempt a big flathead out of their cover,” he said. “Plus, a 5- to 10-pound flathead can eat a 10-inch shad anyway. A flathead is built to eat big baits and bigger shad attracts larger flatheads.”
Goodwin said their live bait rig consists of a 3-way swivel with an 80-pound test braided line from the reel to one swivel link. They use 60-pound test monofilament on a 2-foot leader with a 6/0 to 8/0 circle hook on another of the swivel links. The third link is the sinker line, usually 25-pound test, and is about 4 feet long.
“Fishing for flatheads around heavy cover means we’ll have rigs snagged,” informed Goodwin. “The 25-pound test sinker line enables us to break that line and save most of our rig. The sinker weight varies from 2 to 5 ounces depending on the amount of current and depth fished. We’ll hook the shad behind the dorsal fin so the bait can move freely, hopefully, to attract big flatheads. And we use tackle heavy enough to bully big flatties out of that cover.”
Pounders said patience is important but not to the extreme. They’ll stay as long as fish are biting, but if the bite is slow, they’ll go flathead hunting.
“Even if a spot looks great on the graph, if we don’t have fish action in 20 to 25 minutes, it’s time to move,” Pounders said. “That’s about when we’d need to put fresh bait on anyway and if those live shad haven’t attracted anything in that time, I’m ready to fish another location. On the Alabama River, we have an abundance of potential hotspots to find active catfish.”
Adding an exclamation point to this fabulous flathead fishery, Pounders said the river also offers excellent fishing for blue catfish.
“This river is teeming with flatheads, but it also has a good population of blue catfish and we frequently catch blues when targeting flatheads,” he said. “Blues roam the river and occasionally funnel thru flathead habitat, and a live gizzard shad is a prime offering for blue catfish too.”
When researching for a trip to enjoy this fabulous flathead fishery contact the Elmore County Economic Development Authority for detailed information on excellent accommodations, restaurants, and other information. Visit their website at https://elmoreeda.com/ or call Cary Cox or Lisa Van Wagner at 334-514-5843 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.