Several years ago, the “noodling” fad hit the country, largely because grabbing catfish from their lairs barehanded was ready-made for the reality TV crowd.

Fortunately, another kind of “noodling” has become popular across South Carolina, and with this type of noodling, no one has to get in the water.

Like grabbling, using dips baits for channel catfish is not a new tactic, but it seems to have hit a peak in popularity over the past several summers, owing in part to success stories broadcast across the Internet and social media. This is particularly true of Chris Simpson of Fightin Da’ Blues guide service in Greenwood, who has a well-earned reputation for catching trophy blue catfish but also targets plenty of channel cats. Noodling is Simpson’s ace in the hole for channel cats on any lake in the state.

“Most lakes like Greenwood, Monticello, Wateree and Wylie, when you use stinkbait, you’re going to catch a boatload of half-pound to 2-pound channel catfish,” said Simpson (864-992-2352). “One exception is Lake Murray; there are so many channels in the 8- to 12-pound range, you catch a lot that size. But wherever you go, dip bait is the way to go in the summer; channel cats are on the prowl, and it’s real easy for them to smell this stuff.”

Simpson said the best way to target channel cats with dip baits is to find an area of open water where deep meets shallow. If the wind, waves or current are pushing from shallow to deep, place the baits accordingly to lure in the cats.

“Basically, I just anchor on humps and points, usually from five to 20 feet deep,” he said. “The purpose of the noodle is just to hold the stinkbait, the dip bait. I rig a thumb-size piece of noodle on a Carolina rig, then drop the noodle in the bait bucket and spread it on with a spoon. That way you don’t have to touch the bait and get it all over you.”

Noodling for channel cats is not limited to just bodies of still water such as lakes, reservoirs and ponds. As a leading member of the catfishing community, Simpson regularly corresponds with anglers who report having great success with using dip baits and noodles anywhere they fish.

“I don’t fish rivers a whole lot,because my boat won’t hardly fit in most of the Upstate rivers. But I do know people who do use the pool noodles and dip baits in both big rivers and small creeks all across the state,” said Simpson. “The primary difference with using this tactic in moving water is you will have to reel it in and check your bait a little bit more often, because the current will wash the bait off. You’ll also do better to throw the bait upcurrent from where you think the catfish are and let the scent wash down to them.”

On waters known to hold small fish, light tackle will level the playing field for catfish up to five pounds, making for a great fight and good eating. Other locations may warrant sticking with bigger tackle.

“At times it might seem like overkill, but I usually use my regular 25-pound class tackle when fishing with the dip baits.  You’ll have to sometimes muscle them out of brush, stuff like that,” Simpson said. “You can’t rule out the fact that you might catch a big channel catfish or even a big blue. I actually caught the biggest blue I’ve ever caught on stinkbait last year: 31 pounds.  It’s pretty rare, but every now and then, you may get a 20-pound -plus blue on it.”

The middle of May through June is what Simpson considers “prime time” for noodling, especially during daylight hours. He finds that later into the summer, the more the bite will shift to early and late and often gets better after the sun goes down.

“As it gets on into late June, when it starts to get real hot, nighttime fishing is usually a lot better than the daytime fishing,” Simpson said. “I’m still going to target the same areas, but maybe target a little bit deeper water — not so many fish will be in five feet when the water is 85 degrees. The best nighttime bite is going to be from right about dark to about midnight, then everything kind of dozes off. Then the same again toward daylight — an hour or so before daylight and then into the daylight is when the best bite occurs.”

Using dip baits isn’t just a Midlands phenomenon; even deeper, clear lakes like Hartwell and Keowee produce numbers of channel cats for anglers willing to brave the smell. Bill Plumley, who guides on Hartwell, said fishing for channel catfish is some of the best family entertainment to be found — lots of action and lots of fish for everyone. 

“I tell my clients we’re not going fishing; it’s time to go catching,” said Plumley. “When the water starts getting warm in late May all the way through the summer, you can catch all the channel cats you want, anywhere from five to 20 feet deep, using a good stinkbait and a little piece of swim noodle.”

Plumley (864-287-2120) concentrates his fishing for channel cats on Hartwell’s two major tributaries. Their red-clay banks get a lot of wave-wash through the summer from boat traffic, and that tends to draw cats to the bank, waiting on food that gets washed out of the clay.

 “A lot of people don’t realize how many channel cats there are in this lake,” Plumley said. “They tend to get overlooked because of all the striper and bass fishing that goes on here, but you’ll find them all over the bank. Every point or hump will have three or four on it.”

The channel cats that Plumley targets are what he likes to call “eatin’ cats”, those in the 1 – 4 pound range that go straight from the lake to the ice box to the fryer. Unlike most other species that get lethargic or go deep when the weather turns hot, channel cats get active during the hot weather.

“They seem to like the hot weather, especially with the water up like it is,” said Plumley. “Usually I’ll go to a point and just nose up on the bank, but when the water is up, I’m finding I’m having to anchor the boat in order to fan cast my rods all around an area.”

Like Simpson, Plumley has tried some of the commercial “carriers” made to use with dip baits, PVC tubes, worms and sponges, but finds a ¾- by ¾-inch chunk of pool noodle to be the best thing to coat with the stinkbait concoctions.

“I take a piece of styrofoam swim noodle,  like you buy at Wal-mart, and I cut off a little piece, hook it on a Carolina rig and then dip it down in the stink bait,” he said. “The pool noodle is a good surface for the bait to stick to, and when you use it with a ½- to ¾-ounce weight, it floats up off the bottom. That helps the fish smell it, and they can get to it without having to root it off the bottom.”