With summer finally kicking in and other fish becoming lethargic and hard to find, the blue catfish at Lake Gaston are strapping on the feed bag, according to guide Pete Crabtree of Trophy Hunter Guide Service.

Working out of Holly Grove Marina near Bracey, Va., Crabtree (919-524-0912) said blues weighing 30 pounds or better are being caught regularly, even during the summer’s hottest weather.

“Gaston is full of citation size fish; they never stop eating, and that’s why they get so big,” Crabtree said. “In the summer, most of those fish will be in deeper water, close to creek and river channels.” 

Crabtree sets up his pontoon boat to drift over depth changes associated with drops, humps and places where channels meet, regulating his speed with wind socks.

 “Even a two-foot depth change sets up a good ambush point for the blues,” said Crabtree, who said gizzard shad are the best baits; he catches them in cast nets around small bridges back in feeder creeks.

“You can smell them in the cast net as soon you pull it out of the water,” he said. “You’ve got to get there while it’s still dark out, the shad leave soon after first light.”

Crabtree prefers larger shad; he cuts off the tail and divides the remainder in two sections, head and body, then pins them to 4/0 to 7/0 Kahle hooks, depending on the size of the bait.  His drifting setup is most commonly known as a “Santee rig” or “Carolina driftmaster,” consisting of a snap swivel and a one-ounce weight threaded on the main line and tied to a barrel swivel, attached to 18 to 24 inches of monofilament leader with a cork pegged between the hook and swivel. He’ll drift with seven or eight rods at a time.

“I’ve put people on fish over 60 pounds and lost one at the boat that had to be more than ninety,” Crabtree said.  “The summer fishing is good, and will only get better when the water cools.”