Although most freshwater fish slow down when the water really cools off during the winter, the frigid temperatures don't seem to bother catfish.

It doesn't matter if air or water temperatures are hot, pleasant or cold, catfish will bite. And one of the best places to try for a trophy blue cat or flathead catfish is the upper Neuse River and its tributaries.

"Catfish will bite any time of the year," said Joe Ward of Fly Daddy Charters and Down East Guide Service. "People can catch big ones, too. The upper Neuse has some monster catfish in it." 

Ward, who also guides on the Neuse and Trent rivers for shad, striped bass, red drum, speckled trout and flounder, said big catfish will be in deep holes, except when the weather takes on a more spring-like outlook. 

"The best places to find big catfish during winter are deep holes," Ward said. "But if we get a warm snap, sometimes they'll go to shallow water."  

The Trent joins the Neuse from the southwest in New Bern, and upstream, the Neuse narrows greatly. Ward said both places are good for catfish. 

"Big catfish are caught in the rivers and some of the feeder streams," Ward said, "even up to Kinston and Goldsboro (in the Neuse) and in the Trent. Mouths of feeder streams where there's deep water is a good bet." 

Ward said the blue and flatheads catfish can weigh from 40-, 50- or 60-pounds. 

"Most of the time, guys use cut bait to catch blue catfish," he said. "One of their favorite dead-bait lures is to remove the gills from shad for cut bait and soak them on the bottom using Carolina or Santee rigs. These cut-bait rigs also will catch some of the biggest striped bass in the rivers." 

Fishermen use mostly live baits, especially live bream, to target flathead catfish, which generally prefer live bait, while blues like cut bait. 

"Some people use other baits, such as chicken livers or (artificial) stink baits, but cut baits, especially the shad, seem to get the biggest blue cats," Ward said.