Of South Carolina's major catfish species, the blue catfish seems to be the one that really chows down during the winter cold, and the really big blues are doing just that at Lake Monticello right now.

Guide Chris Simpson said the big blue bite is excellent at this deep lake.

"Fishing for really big blue catfish is not a numbers game, but right now we're catching several fish per day, maybe 10 on a decent day, with the average size being 15 to 25 pounds each," Simpson said. "That's just the average-size fish. We're catching a lot of catfish over 30 pounds and quite a few over 40 pounds. One day recently, we boated a 52- and a 60-pound blue catfish. That's outstanding big catfish action anywhere, anytime."

Simpson (864-992-2352) said both drift-fishing and anchoring are working, with the key component being fishing 50 to 70 feet deep on most days.

         

"The weather will change things a bit, and we'll fish toward the shallow range of that on cloudy days or deeper during clear post-frontal conditions," he said. "Best baits seem to have a daily pattern as well. I am using both gizzard shad and white perch, but I am offering the catfish a lot of choices in terms of bait size.

         

"On some days, a big gizzard shad head will produce big fish bites, while another day, the bite will come on a small chunk of cut white perch or shad," he said. "There is a daily pattern, so I'll start each trip using a variety of small baits and larger baits, including a few big slabs of bait. Once I get a pattern for the day, I focus on that. The bite at Monticello has been very strong this winter for big fish when you get the right bait in the right place."

 

Simpson said he is primarily focusing on points, humps and saddles.

"Big blues will orient to these types of areas more than anything else," he said. "When drift-fishing, I use the standard drift rig with an 8/0 hook, but because of the depth I am using up to two ounces of weight. For anchor fishing, I'm using a basic Carolina catfish rig with up to three ounces of weight."

         

Simpson uses Shakespeare's 7- and 8-foot medium-heavy action rods with baitcasting reels spooled with 30-pound Berkley Big Game line.

 

"Time of day seems to have little relevance in terms of planning a trip," Simpson said. "I'll usually get there early, but the best bite can be early, mid-day or mid-afternoon. But the quality of fish we're catching makes it worth the wait if they don't bite early."