If your fishing persuasion during July leans to night excursions for channel catfish, the place to be is Lake Hickory.

Kevin Custer of Statesville, a veteran catfish angler, said that if he had to choose, Lake Hickory, a 4,233-acre Duke Energy impoundment on the Catawba River, would his favorite venue. But it didn't used to be.


"I hated that lake," he said. "It took me a long while to figure out how to catch catfish there, but once I caught on, now it's my favorite lake."


Custer said the lake currently is surrendering big channel catfish.


"We're starting to catch 16- to 18-pound channel cats at Hickory, and I know of one over 20 pounds, but that's an unusual size," he said.


Best baits are cut bream heads (must be caught by hook-and-line and not in a net) slow-trolled at channel ledges near deep water; most are suspended between 16 and 18 feet deep.


"I use Carolina rigs, a snake weight and a cork, basically a Santee rig," he said. "In the spring you can catch 'em in 10 to 12 feet of water, but now they're deeper because of the heat. You won't find any shallow catfish now.


"I start fishing at the backs of creeks adjacent to a ledge and a drop-off then move toward deeper water," he said.


Lake Hickory doesn't have a lot of feeder creeks, but in July, they are the places to be.


"One creek everyone knows about is Snow Creek," he said. "It's got shallow water in the back, and that's where you start fishing and troll your way out to the mouth. You can locate your fish that way."


Custer said he also uses his depth-finder during summer to detect deep catfish.


"They look like arcs on the screen," he said. "Sometimes they'll suspend near (sunken) trees. You can actually see 'em come up toward baits (on the depth-finder screen)."


Channel catfish school in decent numbers during July.

 "You'll probably catch 25 to 30 a night now," he said. "In the spring I've seen times when you didn't have time to sit down and would catch at least 100 fish."