Winter is a great time for catching blue catfish on South Carolina’s Lake Wateree, and it’s an excellent time for targeting trophy fish, according to guide Rodger Taylor of Rock Hill, S.C.

“I usually catch the biggest fish of the year in January, February and March,” Taylor said. “A lot of people don’t like to fish this time of year because it can be so cold, but the fish don’t seem to care.”

Winter rains really help the catfishing because they muddy the water, he said.

“I don’t know if this will be a typical year because of the drought we have had,” Taylor said, “but usually we get a good bit of rain in the winter and that muddies the water (and that) makes for really good fishing”

Gizzard shad is the primary bait for winter blues.

“They are feeding on gizzard shad, and I would not leave the house without gizzard shad for bait,” said Taylor (803-517-7828). “A 4- or 5-inch gizzard shad is the best, but if I have a 12- to 13-inch gizzard shad, I cut it up for cut bait. The head is the better bait for trophy fish, especially when you are fishing on the bottom.”

The bigger gizzard shad are really too big to drag when drift-fishing, he said, so he likes to butterfly a 4- or 5-inch gizzard shad and drag it on a drift rod.

On a typical winter day, Taylor will start out in the morning anchored along the main channel.

“I like to fish in the mouths of creeks and the long points that run out into the channel,” he said, “and fan-cast baits out into different depths from shallow to deep.”

If there is a lot of wind and he has trouble staying anchored, Taylor will try to drift the deeper flats between the state park and Colonel Creek, pulling six to eight drift rods in 20-foot water.

“I will do that in the morning and the middle of the day, but in the afternoon if the sun comes up and it is a clear day, I’ll go back in the creeks and fish the shallow water for the blues that come in there to feed on the baitfish coming back in to the warmer water,” he said. “Usually there are birds back there, and if they are there, the fish will be there.”

Another key for locating the baitfish, he said, is to pay attention to how the sun is hitting certain banks and certain areas.

“I would not fish the south side because the trees may block the sun, so I fish the north side. Also, there will usually be bulrushes, and the birds will be in there feeding, too. If you find warmer water, birds and baitfish, you will find the catfish there in the winter,” he said.

“You tend to fill out your catch with good-sized fish between 8 and 15 pounds — and they really hit it well — but a 40- to 50-pound fish is not out of the question and that is a really good time of year to get one.”