STORIES NEWS Posted Feb 22, 2017 By: Keith 'Catfish' Sutton, WorldFishingNetwork.com Trophy Catfish Destination: Alabama's Tennessee River Lakes Among the Best With confirmed catches in the 100-pound class, Pickwick, Wilson and Wheeler produce some of the biggest catfish in the U.S. Want to catch a giant blue cat like this 102-pounder? Visit Wheeler, Wilson and Pickwick lakes in north Alabama. (Keith Sutton photo) When it comes to catfishing, good fortune has always followed me. I’ve had the opportunity to fish with the world’s best catfish anglers on blue-ribbon waters throughout the United States, and in Mexico, Canada, Venezuela and Brazil. As a result, I’ve caught lots of mighty nice channel cats, flatheads, blues and other species. Because of this experience, folks often ask me what I consider the top trophy catfish waters in America. To me, that’s like trying to name the country’s best restaurants. It’s darn near impossible, and lots of excellent establishments are bound to get left out. But when I’m compelled to reply, I tell folks my picks for the top big-cat waters would certainly include the lower Mississippi River, South Carolina’s Santee-Cooper lakes, Lake Texoma on the Texas/Oklahoma border, and three Tennessee River reservoirs—Pickwick, Wilson and Wheeler—in north Alabama. That last pick often surprises folks. “Why would you include these Tennessee River lakes with the likes of world-renowned hotspots like the Mississippi, Santee-Cooper and Texoma?” I’m asked. The answer is simple. Pickwick, Wilson and Wheeler produce some of the biggest catfish in the U.S. Consider Wheeler, for example. A former all-tackle world-record blue cat (111 pounds) was caught here in 1996, and Wheeler Lake produced several Alabama records, including a 104-pounder and a 94.5-pounder. No one could deny it ranks as one of the country’s top trophy blue-cat hotspots. And there are plenty of big channel cats and flatheads in Wheeler, too. Consider this as well. During a recent Cabela’s King Kat Classic on Pickwick and Wilson lakes at Sheffield, Alabama, competitors shattered some all-time records. Two-hundred forty-eight Classic anglers weighed in nearly 12,000 pounds in the two-day event. Ohio anglers Gregg Adkins and Scott Dole won the event with a record-breaking total of 12 fish weighing 504.75 pounds. They also had big fish of the event with a 76.85-pound blue. It’s little wonder Classic anglers nominated these waters as “Catfish Capital of the World.” The Sheffield/Muscle Shoals area ranks as one of the top areas in the nation not only for catfishing, but for beauty as well. And as Cabela’s King Kat CEO Darrell Van Vactor said, “When you think of southern hospitality, you think of Sheffield and the Shoals area.” My wife Theresa and I enjoyed a heaping helping of that hospitality while visiting the Muscle Shoals area last year. The staff at the Colbert County Tourism and Convention Bureau assisted us with everything we needed to plan visits to attractions such as Helen Keller’s childhood home, the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, Key Underwood’s Coondog Graveyard, the W.C. Handy Birthplace Museum, Tuscumbia’s scenic Spring Park with its waterfalls and fountains, and great local eateries such as Claunch Café, George’s Steakhouse and Frank’s Italian Restaurant. The highlight of our visit, however, was a morning of catfishing with Mike Mitchell of SouthernCats Guide Service. Mitchell has helped many clients catch their biggest fish ever, including Joe Ludtke who caught a 102-pound blue while fishing with Mike on Wheeler Lake in February 2010 (see photo at the top of this story). Theresa and I didn’t catch fish that size, but less than five minutes after we baited Mike’s rigs with skipjack cut-bait (we started out fishing on Wheeler Lake), a pole went down, and Theresa enjoyed a battle with her biggest fish ever, a beautiful 30-pound blue cat. Before Mike could net her fish, another rod took a nosedive, and I had my hands full with a 46-pounder. Theresa followed with a 26-pound blue. At mid-morning, we headed to the Wilson Dam tailwater at Sheffield where we caught two more fat blues—a 24-pounder for Theresa and a 26-pounder for me. We had to end our morning of fishing at 10:30, but it was one of the most fun catfishing experiences I’ve ever enjoyed, and one Theresa will never forget. Now you see why I include north Alabama’s Tennessee River lakes in my picks for the nation’s best catfishing waters. Don’t wait. Fish them yourself and see.