Guide Daron Doolittle said that December is a prime time to take a big catfish on Lake Monticello, and the big blues are busting big baits right now.
"Lake Monticello is chock full of big blue catfish," Doolittle said. "There's really few times of the year when catching a big blue catfish isn't realistic. But blues like cold weather, and right now the bite is on at Monticello, and it should stay really good for the next several weeks."
Doolittle (803-405-1374) said he is fishing two very distinct patterns based on whether the day is cloudy or bright.
"Catfish, like most fish, are light sensitive," Doolittle said. "So a real key to hooking these big fish is to be in the right depth of water on the day you're fishing. I know from experience that where I caught fish yesterday, for example – perhaps on a clear, bright day – will probably not work on a cloudy day today. The fish will move a lot in terms of depth on a daily basis at Lake Monticello. Instead of beginning my search for fish at about 40 feet and going deeper on a bright December day, I'll start and look for baitfish and big blues at much shallower depths. Sometimes the fish will be surprisingly shallow, even in December."
Doolittle said on some warm, cloudy December afternoons, the fish will actually get shallow enough that he can drift big chunks of whole or cut shad with no weight on them in shallow water.
“I’ll see the schools of bait on the surface, and you can bet the catfish will be there under them," he said. "Ease though that area with bait on free-lines, and you'll likely get your string stretched. Do keep quiet when fishing in shallow water, especially in colder weather."
On bright days, Doolittle, who operates 34 Bait & Tackle in Newberry, will anchor on points or humps in 40 feet of water or deeper, depending on the forage pattern. Also, he may drift across the points, humps and flats.
His catfish rig is a bit unique in that he uses two circle hooks, one as the main hook, the other as a trailing stinger-type hook. He'll use his double-hook rig for whole or big chunks of shad and employs up to a 2-ounce slinky weight to keep the bait on the bottom in deep water.
"I use 8/0 hooks through the head of the shad, and the stinger hook is a 5/0; both are Gamakatsu circle hooks," Doolittle said. "When they are aggressive, I catch them on the 8/0 hook; when they are less aggressive, I'll hook many on the smaller circle hook. The 2-hook rig pays off with more big fish. I also use 50-pound main line for these big fish. The size and power of these huge fish is amazing, and that's what I recommend for anyone as a minimum-size line.
"When I'm drift-fishing, I try to keep the boat moving in the 0.5 to 0.8 miles per hour range," he said. "For some, that seem slow, but I like to give a big fish time to look my bait over. Plus, when I find fish and bait bunched up, I'll anchor, and that's when I'll actually hook more big fish than any other time. I will anchor when I see a big concentration of forage and fish together, otherwise I'll drift. But we'll catch huge catfish both ways."