Kevin Custer of Statesville knows where he’d go if he had to choose a favorite catfish lake today. “If I was gonna go somewhere to catch (blue) catfish, I’d go to MountainIsland or LakeNorman,” said Custer, the vice-president of NC-CATS (www.nccats.net), a North Carolina catfish tournament trail.

Mountain Island, a Duke Energy impoundement of 3,281 acres with 61 miles of shoreline, lies northwest of Charlotte, downstream from Lake Norman’s 32,475 acres on the Catawba River, separated by Cowan’s Ford Dam.

Custer said he liked Mountain Island precisely because it’s smaller than Norman.

“It’s such as small lake; there’s only so many places catfish can hide,” he said. “That’s really the biggest thing.”

Custer said Mountain Island’s blue catfish — the only one of the three major catfish species he targets — will be in deep water for a few more days before moving shallow.

“Once it turns off colder, they’ll go shallow,” he said. “The reason is, the water warms up quicker in the backs of muddy creeks. That warm water attracts baitfish, which attract the catfish.”

Even though cut crappie or bluegill filets often are used by anglers, these catfish won’t turn up their noses at big, live gizzard shad.

Custer said the average size of current blue cats at MountainIsland and Lake Norman should run from 10 to 15 pounds, so he only uses Stren Hi-Impact 30-pound monofilament spooled onto an Abu-Garcia 6500 reel mated to a 10-foot Shimano trolling rod with a lot of backbone. He uses a standard Santee rig with a cork float to keep his baits off the bottom and a 2- to 3-ounce, no-roll sinker.

“But I do something with my leaders I don’t know anybody else does,” he said. “I tie a double leader — two 3-foot sections — of 30-pound Stren, then I tie two of the ends to my swivel and the other ends to my hook.”

Custer said he lost too many big catfish during tournaments using a single-line leader.

“A blue (catfish) that’s hooked will come to the top and roll, and his dorsal fin sometimes will cut a leader,” he said. “But I’ve had ’em cut one of my double leaders and landed ’em with the other leader intact.”

Tournament anglers are known for being antsy when they fish, moving a lot by trolling, albeit at a snail’s pace. But Custer said he’s figured out he needs to return to an old-school technique.

“I went back and saw I caught bigger fish when I was anchored up,” he said. “I also lost too many catfish when I trolled. I think maybe they didn’t have time enough to chew the bait properly.”