Pavey: Anglers find abundance of catfish at Thurmond Lake

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When he’s not out chasing criminals, Tignall, Ga., Police Chief Mike Arrington pursues a different type of quarry: huge Thurmond Lake catfish.

Mike Arrington (from left), Lee Moss, Billy McKellar and Charlie Anderson have had plenty of success bringing home flatheads and blues at Thurmond Lake.  SPECIAL
SPECIAL
Mike Arrington (from left), Lee Moss, Billy McKellar and Charlie Anderson have had plenty of success bringing home flatheads and blues at Thurmond Lake.

“I fish all the time, usually at night,” he said. “We’re mostly jugging right now, and getting a lot of bigger fish.”

Thurmond’s meandering shoreline, rocky points and shallow coves offer varied structure favored by flatheads and blues that are abundant in the 70,000-acre reservoir. Arrington, who holds a freshwater commercial fishing license, enjoys his nocturnal pastime and sometimes brings home several hundred pounds of catfish during a single night of fishing.

“When we go out we usually take five people and run about 200 floats,” he said.

Favored baits include herring, shiners or cut bait.The best spots are usually five to seven feet deep, with baited hooks dangling near the bottom, he said, adding that it is important to check lines frequently.

“When you finish running all the lines, you usually just start over,” he said.

As a commercial angler, Arrington can have more than the 50 hooks allowed for recreational fishermen. His fish are cleaned and filleted, and then sold.

Thurmond’s flatheads can grow to 50 pounds or more – and will eat almost anything, including resident gamefish.

“Last week, cleaned one that had a one and a half pound channel catfish in its belly,” he said.

LOCK CLOSING FOR GOOD: Ever since it was built in 1937, New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam has been popular with anglers who cast for shad and other species from the lock wall on the dam’s downstream side.

This Thursday, however, the Army Corps of Engineers will close the area, because of a new assessment that concluded the concrete and wood structure has deteriorated to potentially unsafe conditions.

“We determined we needed to take appropriate safety precautions to prevent potential injury or loss of life to people using the lock and dam for recreation,” corps Dam Safety Program Manager Beth Williams said.

The deterioration affects the riverbed beneath the downstream end of the riverside lock wall, where erosion has exposed supporting timbers and “scouring” has increased the risk of possible collapse.

Visitors will still be allowed access to the landside of the lock for fishing, but the lock will no longer be opened and closed for boat passage or to allow spawning fish to move upstream in the spring and early summer.

The lock’s poor condition is no secret. A corps study completed in 1999 concluded the lock and dam were not only in poor condition, but were obsolete and no longer fulfilled its original purpose, which was to serve commercial navigation.

The corps planned to demolish the structure, but the cities of Augusta and North Augusta protested, saying its removal could impact the pool of water used for industry and municipal drinking water. A request to Congress for funds to renovate the dam was never funded, leaving it in limbo.

A more recent plan to build a $30 million fish passage structure at New Savannah Bluff, however, would allow migrating fish to move upstream without the locks.

That project was included in the mitigation package for the proposed dredging of Savannah Harbor’s shipping lanes.

Corps spokesman Billy Birdwell said the fish passage project remains in the planning stage, but will not include funds for renovating the locks.

S.C. DEER HARVEST: South Carolina released its annual deer harvest summary last week, concluding that hunters killed 225,806 whitetails in 2013, representing a 4 percent increase from the previous year.

Unfortunately, however, the figures indicate 124,482 bucks were killed, compared to just 101,324 does, according to the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.

South Carolina’s continuing trend of killing more bucks than does each year eliminates most of the young bucks from the herd before they are able to grow to maturity. The state’s long seasons and nonexistent bag limits have also contributed to a declining deer herd.

Georgia, by comparison, has shorter seasons and a two-buck limit that includes quality buck restrictions on at least one of those two bucks. According to the Quality Deer Management Association’s 2014 annual report, Georgia’s buck-to-doe ratio continues to improve, with Peach State hunters harvesting 2 antlerless deer for each antlered buck in 2012, the most recent year covered in their national analysis.

SRS TURKEY HUNT: Savannah River Site and the U.S. Forest Service hosted the 11th National Wild Turkey Federation Wheelin’ Sportsmen Ultimate Turkey Hunt last weekend, when 29 disabled hunters brought home 22 turkeys.

The popular outing attracts hunters from across the country who are paired with usually local guides. SRS is otherwise closed to turkey hunting.

Other sponsoring organizations included The University of Georgia Savannah River Ecology Laboratory, Cabela’s, Aiken Sertoma Club, Savannah River Nuclear Solutions, Wackenhut and Savannah River Remediation.


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