Originally created 05/27/98

Flathead's popular among some anglers



BRUNSWICK, Ga. -- A big, ugly fish is gaining support among anglers that could muck up state efforts to bring it under control.

The flathead catfish, excoriated a few years ago because it was devouring other species in Southeast Georgia, has gained new fans. Fishermen enjoy catching whoppers that tip the scales at more than 40 pounds.

But others want the flathead gone because it has virtually wiped out the prized redbreast sunfish from the Altamaha River. Biologists suspect the flathead was dumped into the Ocmulgee River near Macon in the 1970s; that is where and when anglers began catching strange-looking catfish.

The fish spread down the Ocmulgee, the length of the Altamaha, and up the Oconee River to the Lake Sinclair Dam at Milledgeville, feasting on smaller catfish and redbreast.

The thoughts from two fishing parties at Altamaha Park last week show how much opinions differ.

"I think they ought to shock every ... one of them and get them out of here," said Randy King, a Brunswick man rigging poles to go after redbreast.

Alan Herndon, his fishing partner, agreed.

"I'd like to see them all gone," he said.

Just downstream, Coffee County resident Melvin Johns and his 10-year-old son, Lee, were cleaning a pile of catfish, including two big flatheads.

"I'd like to see them left. I like to catch them and eat them," Mr. Johns said.

Although they have flathead closer to home in the Ocmulgee, Mr. Johns said they aren't as big or as plentiful.

That may be because of the efforts of the state Department of Natural Resources.

Rob Weller, a DNR biologist who works almost exclusively on flathead, said the state has made some progress in controlling the fish.

"We think we've whacked them back about 80 percent in our removal area," Dr. Weller said.

Fish controlThe Department of Natural Resources is controlling flathead catfish with electrofishing (also called shocking) in which an electric charge is sent from a battery into the water, stunning the fish. They float to the top, where DNR rangers gather them with nets. The frequency of the electrical charge is adjusted in a way that makes only specific types of fish susceptible; in this case, the flathead.