Most fishermen leave Lake Wylie to duck hunters in January but for guide Rodger Taylor of Rock Hill, S.C., it is a prime month to catch a big blue catfish.
“January has become one of my favorite months to fish for blue catfish on Lake Wylie for several reasons,” said Taylor (803-517-7828). “Blue cats, unlike flathead catfish, really bite well during the cold water period — late December through mid-March. Blue cat patterns may not be as predictable as they are in early spring or fall, but cold water blue cats are very willing biters, and the big boys come out to feed, too.”
In fact, Taylor said, blue catfish seem to feed better as the water gets colder, all the way down to the low-50s. Wylie’s coldest water temperatures are usually recorded from late January to early February, depending on weather trends.
“Fish can be as deep as 55 feet in the morning and as shallow as 3 feet in the afternoon, even on the coldest day of the year. You have to make adjustments to find the active bite during January,” Taylor said.
“I like to start fishing deeper water in the early morning and work my way to shallow water as the day progresses and the sun warms the shallows. Once biting schools of blues are located, I like to keep working a pattern until the fish stop biting or move off.”
Taylor said gizzard shad are his go-to baits in January when they are available, but white perch also work very well.
“Drifting is my main tactic to locate schools of active blues on the larger water of the main channel. Setting up a drift to cover different changes in the bottom and different depths while using the wind or trolling motor to propel the boat slowly across the widest portions of the lake will help find the ‘target’ depth or structure the blues will be holding on,” he said. “Using the sonar is key to seeking out bait pods and see their relationship to bottom structure.”
Anchoring is also effective and usually produces trophy fish this time of year, he said, adding that while the average blue catfish caught will be between 6 and 14 pounds, trophy fish bigger than 40 pounds are caught in Wylie every year.
“I like to anchor in shallow water near deep-water drops, hard, shallow wind-blown points or shallow areas where collections of birds may be holding. Birds like gulls, cormorants, and herons often betray the location of wind blown/temperature stressed threadfin,” he said. “The shad become slower and impaired in cold water, which allows both fish and birds to take advantage of easy meals. Blues will feed in very shallow water even in the dead of winter.”
While mid-winter fishing on Wylie can be enjoyable because the lake is not overcrowded with boats like as in summer, there are some precautions that should be taken, Taylor said.