A funny thing happened during a hunt for schooling stripers on Lake Wateree for veteran fisherman Chuck Porter. It turns out the recent rains and dingy water pouring through Lake Wateree seem to have slowed down the stripers but turned the catfish action on big time.
Porter, who hails from Sumter, put out some catfish rigs while waiting for stripers to school one day last week. That simple check turned into a huge cooler of hefty catfish.
“I thought it may have been a coincidence, but it turns out, one of my fishing buddies was also on the lake in another spot and happened on the same pattern I did,” Porter said. “He zeroed on stripers but had a boat full of blues.”
The key, Porter said, is what all the dirty water pouring into Wateree has done to the baitfish.
“Wateree is my favorite place during the winter for catfish, but right now the water conditions have moved the shad into the mouths of creeks and large coves and even back into some of the larger creeks,” he said. “There are areas you can use a graph to find pods of baitfish that extend for several hundred yards. The baitfish is suspended about 12 to 20 feet deep. This thick layer of shad is drawing catfish like crazy. We’re catching them on shad caught in the cast net as well as big gizzard shad cut into chunks and even pieces of chicken breasts soaked in garlic flavoring.
“Not all of the fish are being taken near or on the bottom, either,” Porter said. “It was a pattern I’d seen before where fishing straight under the boat at a specific depth and drifting on the bottom behind the boat both worked. In fact, my buddy in the other boat and I often fish together and had encountered this pattern together a couple years ago. I suppose on this day, our memories meshed, because we both figured out that by straight-lining some baits under the boat with heavy sinkers on downrods also worked.
“Drop the bait right to the depth where the bottom of the shad pods is depicted, usually around 20 feet. Bottom-bumping drift rigs have also worked. The fish are feeding on the shad and some of the catfish – the vast majority of which are blue catfish – are suspended in the water column. When we drift to where the bottom depth is just a few feet deeper than the bottom of the shad line, the bottom bite is tremendous, and some of the bigger fish are coming from those spots.”
Porter said the middle portion of the lake to the dam, essentially from Beaver Creek on down, is the prime area.
“But typically, the catfish action is good during January throughout the lake, and I expect we’ll see the action become good lakewide as the water clears,” Porter said. “For now, if the stripers surface near my boat, I’ll certainly be ready to cast to them, but now’s the time to locate those pods of shad and catch catfish like crazy.”