Satilla River Flathead Catfish Project
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The Satilla River historically has been one of the premier sunfish angling destinations in Georgia, with redbreast sunfish being one of the most sought after species.
Flathead catfish are native to the Mississippi, Mobile and Rio Grande river drainages. Their range likely expanded when efforts to provide a new fishing opportunity led anglers to illegally introduce them to new river systems, including the Altamaha and the Satilla.
Flatheads were first discovered in the middle portion of the Satilla River in 1996. These fish likely were moved from the Altamaha to the Satilla. How do we know? At the time they were found in the Satilla, WRD biologists also were fin-clipping and marking fish in the Altamaha. Some of these fin-clipped, marked fish were then found in the Satilla.
Since that time, flathead catfish have expanded downstream to the freshwater-saltwater wedge and have been collected upstream of the US Hwy. 301 Bridge. The bulk of the flathead population is below US Hwy. 82, with a dense population occurring in the lower, tidal portion of the river from 3-R Fish Camp down to Woodbine.
Observed declines in the abundance of redbreast sunfish, channel catfish and bullhead catfish began in the early 2000s. While such factors as fishing effort and water levels can have an effect on these native fish abundances, the direct predation by flathead catfish has had devastating effects on these species.
Furthermore, on June 9, 2010, a partially digested (but well intact) juvenile Atlantic sturgeon was recovered from the stomach of a flathead catfish from the Satilla. This is the first confirmed field observation of flathead catfish predation on a sturgeon of any species.