Quality catfish action during hot weather is highly anticipated by fishermen throughout the Carolinas. Many lakes and river produce outstanding fishing, but each system is unique, and the most-productive fishing patterns during the scorching weather of August can be quite specific.
Here’s a look at six of the Carolinas’ top catfish waters, with basic patterns described for August fishing in rivers and lakes, covering how to catch blue, flathead and channel catfish.
With blue catfish bursting on the scene in recent years, some fishermen may overlook flatheads, but not Tyler Schultz from Rock Ridge, N.C. A tournament director with the Neuse River Catfish Hunters tournament trail, Schultz has long been a flathead fisherman, and years of fishing have confirmed what he’s long suspected: the Neuse River is a flathead paradise.
“The Neuse has plenty of hefty blues, as well as channel catfish,” Schultz said, “but the flatheads rule, and I can’t imagine a better river for catching both quality and quantity of flatheads. We catch fish from all size classes, with fish in the 30-pound class not an unreasonable expectation for any trip.”
Schultz said he and tournament anglers he knows target big flatheads because the tournament environment rewards bigger fish. For pleasure fishing and to increase the number of bites, simply downsize tackle and bait used to target the big cats.
“I target specific places including bends in the river, logjams, eddies, junctions of feeder creeks and natural rock bluffs,” he said. “Each of these creates unique situations with deeper water, current and eddies.
“A lot of our tournaments during the summer are at night, but catfish can be caught day or night,” he said. “The bite may be slightly faster at night, but plenty of catfish are caught by day. The big difference is, I consider 15 to 30-minutes plenty of time for a cat to bite at night, but by day, I’ll give a spot about twice that.”
Schultz said when he’s targeting big catfish, an average trip might be three to seven-fish averaging 15 to 25 pounds. Fish weighing 30 pounds and up are not unusual, and he’s caught fish up to 52 pounds from the Neuse.
“My preferred baits for big flatheads are live bream and eels, and eels can be purchased at many tackle shops,” he said. “I’ll usually cut the eel to use a 5- or 6-inch long bait. They’re hardy, and in the current, they look lively. I’ll also use shad, cut or whole, and pick up an occasional flathead, but the shad really improves odds for blues and channel catfish.”
Schultz’s equipment is set up for big flatheads in a river environment. He uses 7½-foot, medium-action Big Cat Fever rods and 6500 ABU reels loaded with 100-pound braid.
“Fishing around heavy cover for flatheads requires strong line with no stretch to get them out of the structure,” he said. “I also use a no-roll sinker above a 165-pound test swivel and a 12- to 16-inch leader and an 8/0 Reaper circle hook.”
Schultz said August is a prime time for big Neuse catfish. Rig for big fish, fish these kinds of spots and sprinkle in a bit of patience, and you’ll discover why you should never forget the flathead catfish.
Lake Richard B. Russell
Guide Jerry Kotal said the expression “controlled chaos” is an apt description of the channel catfish action at Lake Richard B. Russell can be during the summertime weather.
“But occasionally, we’ll have a brief spell of ‘uncontrolled chaos’,” he said. “That occurs when I anchor on a point, cast out my normal setup of eight rigs with three anglers in the boat. In a minute or two, everyone is holding a rod in each hand with a catfish hooked, and the remaining two rigs in the rod holders have rod tips arched two eyes deep into the water with hooked catfish.”
Lake Russell, which is on the Georgia-South Carolina border on the Savannah River, has all three major catfish species, but Kotal (706-213-8745) said the lake is one of the best he’s fished for sheer numbers of channel catfish.
Kotal said targeting catfish by the numbers is not difficult, but he does have a game plan.
“By early June through the summer, I work an open-water pattern of fishing shallow shoals, points that extend well offshore into deep water and offshore humps and ledges,” he said. “My strategy is to anchor in 8 to 15 feet of water and fan-cast rods all around the boat toward the deeper water. If one area gets hot, I’ll target that depth or that specific spot.”
Kotal said tackle is crucial to catching large quantities of catfish and his terminal tackle is downsized.
“I use spinning rigs with 15-pound test braid for small line diameter and low stretch for better hooksetting,” he said. “I use size 1/0 regular Eagle claw “J” hooks and a ½-ounce sliding sinker about a foot above a swivel. Downsizing tackle is crucial for more bites but the rig handles larger catfish when hooked.”
Kotal’s No. 1 bait, when available, is catalpa worms — followed by cut herring or shad. He prefers thumb-sized chunks of cut bait.
Kotal said time of day can be important but it may change daily.
“I go early to beat the heat but fishermen can go anytime of the day or night and be successful,” he said.
Lake Wylie has boomed into a premier catfishing destination, and guide Chris Nichols from Gastonia, N.C., said the fishing is awesome in August. Blue, channel and flathead catfish are all realistic targets.
“I’ve found two major patterns during August,” Nichols said. “Both involve the thermocline that sets up in Lake Wylie, and one is targeting suspended catfish offering excellent fishing.”
Nichols said that by July, the thermocline sets up in Lake Wylie at a depth of 20 to 25 feet and that’s his key.
“I’ll target catfish over the main-river channel and fish for suspended fish,” he said. “The forage and catfish will hover just above the thermocline. For example, at Wylie, the thermocline often sets up at about 25 feet deep, perhaps over 40 feet of water. I’ll target the 20- to 22-foot depth and count off my line to position the bait at the target depth, slightly above the thermocline.”
Nichols (704-868-2298) uses a basic Carolina rig but fishes vertically with a 2-ounce sinker to keep the line straight down to stay at the target depth. He’ll use his electric motor to move along at about 0.5 miles per hour once he spots fish with his graph.
“Most catfish caught are blues, but we’ll typically catch flatheads and channel catfish on most days in July and August,” he said.
A second trick is to drift flats in the same basic water depths, but work flats near the main channel.
“It’s crucial to stay above he thermocline so I’ll target 18 to 22 feet of water using a standard drift rig but move a little faster, about 0.7 miles per hour is ideal, but slightly faster is OK during August.”
Both tactics utilize the same baits, with cut and live white perch and bream among his favorites. Small chunks of cut or whole threadfin shad are excellent.
“We’ll catch plenty of big blues as well as a few good flatheads and mixed sizes of channel catfish,” Nichols said.
Lake Moultrie/Diversion Canal
By summer, the catfish action on South Carolina’s Lake Moultrie has morphed into a deep-water pattern with most of the catfish taken in water 20 feet deep and often much deeper.
Guide Kevin Davis of Blacks Camp said catfish anglers enjoy exceptional action by using a Santee drift rig for drift fishing. Most catfish caught will be blues, but plenty of big flatheads and channel catfish are caught as well.
“I focus on deep water around drops and ledges,” he said. “The depth may vary, but the key for finding catfish will be the presence of forage. I graph to search for forage and big fish marked on or near the bottom. When I see this pattern, I use the wind to drift my boat, or on a calm day, I’ll use my electric motor to move the boat exactly where I want to present baits.”
Favored baits include gizzard shad, herring and white perch. He’ll use cut and live baits because plenty of big flatheads are available and flatheads prefer live, whole baits; blues basically eat it all.
Davis said that if the Diversion Canal has some water flow during August it’s another great option.
“The Diversion Canal typically produces exceptional catfishing during August,” he said. “Drift- or anchor-fishing is productive, with drift-fishing popular during the day, using a vertical down rig. At night, fishermen prefer to anchor and fish multiple rigs downstream from the boat.”
North Carolina’s last three state-record blue catfish were all caught in a six-month period between December 2015 and June 2016; the current record is a 117½-pound fish caught in June 2016. The previous two record fish were caught by guide Zakk Royce from Murfreesboro, N.C.
Royce fishes year-round, and while his biggest cats are typically taken in cold weather, he said summer action on Lake Gaston is wide open for quantity as well as quality fish.
“I fish a bit different during the summer,” he said. “The water and air temperature is warm, and the metabolism of catfish is high, (so) I find catfish quite aggressive on the bite. Catfish are caught in big numbers, but we hook into trophy cats as well, with fish in the 30-pound class and much larger realistic.”
Royce (919-724-2474) said the water temperature at Lake Gaston will get into the 80s, and the catfish get more aggressive.
“An aggressive bite enables me to drift faster, so I cover more water and usually hook more fish,” Royce said. “I want to drift at least 0.6 to 0.8 miles per hour, but I will often go 1.0 miles per hour. Most of the catfish are blues, but we do catch some really nice channel catfish and an occasional flathead.”
Royce said he uses the standard drift rig and the depths fished vary depending on forage location.
“I’ll drift main-lake flats in 20 to 25 feet of water, and because of the thermocline, I can eliminate most of the deeper water, so it works to my advantage,” he said.
Royce prefers perch, bream and shad for summer baits. He’ll rig baits of all sizes, and he’s caught huge fish on small cut baits as well as large live baits.
“Bait-size preference varies daily, so I start out with big, medium and small baits looking for the daily pattern,” Royce said.
The catfish bite at Lake Wateree is consistently good through the summer, and guide Justin Whiteside said anchor setups provide him the best opportunity to hook big catfish.
“Drifting can be good, and I drift other times of the year, but during August I prefer to anchor on high-confidence targets,” Whiteside said. “I fish humps, points, ledges, rock piles and channel junctions. The key to these is depth, because the lake has a thermocline, so most of my fishing will be less than 25 feet deep, often considerably less.”
Whiteside said the entire lake can be very productive, but his favorite area ranges from the Lake Wateree State Park down to Colonels Creek.
“I use the Carolina rig for bottom-fishing and I’ll usually anchor in a mid-depth so I can fan-cast all around the boat, covering as many depths as possible,” he said. “Despite the hot weather, we’ll often hook some big catfish in shallow water, especially early during low light. But even during the mid-day, we’ll occasionally hook a big blue catfish in water less than 10 feet deep. Until I get on a solid pattern for the day, I’ll cast rigs into multiple depths.”
Whiteside will give a spot 30 mintues to produce, maybe more if he’s had success there recently. If he catches a quality fish or two, he’ll add more time.
“It may take a while for big catfish to make their move, so give them a reasonable amount of time to find the bait,” he said. “We’ll often have multiple hookups on a good place so my patience is limited if we’re not getting bites.”
Whiteside uses a wide variety of baits, including gizzard and threadfin shad, bream and perch.
“We’ll usually catch a good assortment of sizes of fish, but it’s not unusual to hook some huge blue catfish during this time of the year,” he said.