Catfish tournament pro Jay Gallop sharing his passion for catfishing with Kanon Moe at Jackson Lake Island along the Alabama River.
Sharing Catfishing Experience
by Jeff Samsel
Combine three professional catfish anglers and an elite catfishing destination, and you get the perfect setting for learning.
As we watched a 10-pound flathead catfish slide back into the fertile waters of Alabama’s Jackson Lake, professional catfish anglers Jay Gallop and Dustin Goodwin explained to Kanon Moe that releasing some of the fish we catch is key to sustaining good catfishing for the future and allowing 10-pounders like that one to potentially grow into 20 or 40 pounds or even larger.
Not long before, catfish pro Joey Pounders had given the 7-year-old aspiring angler a hands-on marine electronics lesson, showing Kanon how he uses electronic mapping and sonar together to track the boat’s location and see what fish and cover are beneath the water’s surface, dubbing the sonar as his “eyes beneath the water” and likening the searching and marking process to video games for adults.
For Kanon, it was a morning of learning from three highly experienced catfish anglers – and a morning that included the opportunity to battle a couple of flatheads. I was along for the ride, primarily to take photos, but also to listen and learn the pros’ approaches to sharing their passion for catfish and for fishing.
Pounders, Gallop, and Goodwin were obviously intentional about keeping Kanon involved, which is vital to sharing fishing with anglers of any age. Everyone wants to sense being part of the process, and many anglers end up feeling disengaged and lose interest if they find themselves doing nothing other than reeling in an occasional fish.
Pounders requested Kanon’s help creating a waypoint for a submerged tree – a spot that could warrant a return visit – while he was teaching about electronics. Goodwin sought help capturing bait from the big circular tank.
The second example reveals a more specific tip for engaging young anglers in many situations. Most kids love catching bait, whether that means grabbing minnows from a bucket, netting shad from a tank, digging worms from the backyard, or seining hellgrammites from a creek. Catching bait is simply fun, and later catching fish on bait you’ve helped attain brings added reward.
The pros also taught basic skills that would offer long-lasting value: how to hook bait, cast a spinning reel, fight a good-sized fish, and even net someone else’s fish to get it in the boat.
Although none of the pros had met Kanon before that morning, they treated him like an old friend and kept him in conversations, asking about interests, previous fishing experiences, his family, and more. I admittedly tend to be reserved with my words, and their level of interaction reminded me of the importance of intentionally shifting the focus on a young person you are taking fishing through open-ended questions. And I’m convinced that aspect is important even if it’s your own children or familiar neighbors.
The pros also seized the opportunity to share important lessons that went beyond finding catfish and making them bite. Along with teaching the principle of “Catch, Photograph and Release,” they demonstrated how to handle catfish in a way that is easy on the fish and safe for the angler. After all, few things could work against a sustained interest in catfishing quite like a fin jab in the hand!
Although approaching storms and other morning logistics were prohibitive to the full-scale fishing experience Pounders, Gallop and Goodwin would have liked to have provided, the trio of pros did an astounding job of sharing their fishing experience and creating a fun morning. I have little doubt they helped shape a future angler, and I know they provided me with valuable tips and reminders without really trying to do so.
Jackson Lake Island
Surrounded by a fish-filled Alabama River oxbow, with boating access from Jackson Lake to the main river at most water levels, Jackson Lake Island offers an outstanding destination for family fishing outings. A private park that is located in Elmore County, about 20 minutes north of Montgomery, Jackson Lake has a good boat ramp but is also a good destination for launching a canoe or kayak or even for shoreline fishing.
Jackson Lake provides good protection from the wind, less fishing pressure than the main river, and predictable fish holding locations, with standing timber and a classic oxbow configuration, and its fertile waters produce good catfishing opportunities.
The Alabama River, which forms at the junction of the Coosa and Tallapoosa rivers just upriver from Jackson Island, is an elite catfish destination, with endless bends and plentiful wood cover creating obvious places to set up and catch catfish. Its waters yield excellent opportunities to catch channel, blue, and flathead catfish, including heavyweight versions of the latter two especially.
The upper portion of the Alabama River, where Jackson Lake is located, includes a complex mix of oxbows, chutes, and main channel areas that provide excellent opportunities for a vast range of river conditions. Through the stretch, the river is plenty large to provide quality habitat for plenty of big cats, yet it is manageable in size for reasonable navigation and for finding fish and setting up to catch them.