Top two ways to catch catfish on Santee Cooper in hot weather

Julia Shillinglaw shows off a big blue cat caught from Santee's lower lake.

Hot weather isn’t slowing the bite down at all

August’s days can be hot and oppressive, brutal conditions for anglers waiting on a bite. But those are great days for catching catfish on the Santee Cooper lakes according to Capt. David Hilton, who fishes out of Black’s Camp on the Diversion Canal.

Hilton (843-870-4734) and his clients have been on a hot catfish bite, and he said two strategies are working well. Anchoring in shallow water and using stink bait is tough to beat. And drifting with herring is another method that is putting catfish in the boat. Both strategies are working on the upper lake and the lower lake.

When fishing in shallow water, Hilton said anglers should look for areas that are less than 10 feet deep. And he said the hotter the temperature is, the better the catfishing is.

“Hot, calm days are when they’ve been biting the best. We’ve been catching channel cats and blues on stink bait. We’re using Carolina rigs with short leaders, and sponges on our hooks to hold the stink bait,” he said.

Hilton said when fishing like this, anglers just have to find the fish the old fashioned way.

“It gets tough to locate them on your depthfinder when you’re fishing shallow, but you’ll know within ten minutes if you’re in a good spot or not. Once you fan cast a handful of rods out, you’ll be catching them in ten minutes. And if you’re not, then you should move to another spot,” he said.

Expect fast action for shallow-water cats in August heat

Hilton said this style of fishing is especially good when you have kids. It allows you to use fairly light tackle, the action is fast, you’ll catch lots of fish, and occasionally you’ll land a trophy.

“Most of these fish are good, keeper-sized fish, and the action is fast. You’ll catch a lot of catfish this way. You’ll catch fewer big fish, but we’ve caught 40-pound blues in 6 feet of water fishing this way. You’ve always got a chance to hook a big one,” he said.

For anglers more concerned with catching bigger fish consistently, Hilton said drifting is the way to go. And on this lake, you’ve always got the opportunity to catch some very big fish.

Hilton uses drift socks when drift fishing. This slows the drift down, allowing the bait to sit in the strike zone longer. That gives catfish a better look at it as it drifts by.

“I like to drift backwards or sideways, and the number of drift socks you need depends on how strong the wind is blowing and how strong the current is running. We’re drifting with herring as bait, and using them on Carolina rigs with a standard length leader,” he said.

Drifting allows anglers to cover a lot of ground quickly, and also puts the bait in a wide variety of locations.

“In one drift, you’re putting the bait in deep holes, shallow holes, humps, ledges, and flats,” said Hilton.

Click here for tips on making cut bait look alive.

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Brian Cope is the editor of Carolina Sportsman. He has won numerous awards for his writing, photography, and videography. He is a retired Air Force combat communications technician, and has a B.A. in English Literature from the University of South Carolina. You can reach him at