Catfish are biting across Lake Norman in a variety of sizes, and Jerry Neeley of Jerry’s Fishing Guide Service said trolling with cut bait is the best way to catch them during on hot days.
Fishing out of a 22-foot center console, Neeley said knowing how to use your boat’s electronics is one of the biggest factors when trolling for catfish.
“I’ve got countless waypoints and trolling routes on my radar, and I generally come up with a plan for which ones I’m using on any given day. I’ll follow that plan, and I watch my radar closely while following the route,” said Neeley (704-678-1043). “Side-imaging radar is a big plus here, because it shows you everything that is to the sides of your boat. You might be just too far off of certain structure, or you might actually see fish with side-imaging, and if you are too far away from those fish, you’ll know it and can make adjustments.”
Neeley keeps his trolling speed at .5 to .7 mph, and he likes to fish five or six catfish rods out. He uses what he calls a “Santee rig,” which consists of a 1-ounce weight made with parachute cord, a 14-inch leader and an Eagle Claw 4/0 hook.
“I make my own weights, and it’s just the casing of parachute cord with an ounce of weight sewn inside it. It’s a really thin weight with no edges, so it doesn’t get caught up on anything while you troll. If you’re using any other kind of weight, you’re going to get snagged multiple times throughout a day of fishing this way,” he said.
Neeley’s preferred cut bait is white perch; he catches plenty of them at the same time he’s trolling for cats. He uses Sabiki rigs and suspends them straight down beside the boat.
“I use a 1-ounce sinker at the bottom of the Sabiki rig to keep it good and straight, and to keep it down in the water column,” said Neeley, who will keep two rods out to catch bait.
Most of his bites have been coming on the bottom in 30 to 40 feet of water, and he’s having especially good luck in creek mouths and along depth changes along the flats. He said the bite has been consistent throughout the lake as long as he’s fishing those types of areas.
Neeley said the best time of day for getting bites has been unpredictable. “You can catch fish pretty steady throughout the day while trolling, but some days you’ll get a lot of quick action in the morning. The next day, the hottest action will be evening, and another day it might come at noon,” he said. the catfish have been ranging anywhere from 5 to 20 pounds.