Cold temps don’t stop the cats
December has the potential to be one of the best months to target Lake Gaston’s big blue catfish on the North Carolina-Virginia border. Fish that remain active despite declining temperatures, and baitfish balls that point the way to success like a flashing neon sign make this fishery a must for winter anglers. According to guide Zakk Royce, he who finds the shad finds the blues.
“The whole food chain in December revolves around threadfin shad,” said Royce (919-724-2474), who operates Blues Brothers Catfish Guide Service. “I like to start out in the deeper creeks on the lower end of the lake because the shad will really stack up in there. And it’s a smaller area to work with than the main-river channel. I expect to find them anywhere from 30 to 50 feet deep.”
Royce hopes to find clouds of bait on his sonar that are suspended in the water column. That means predators below are pushing them off the bottom. The channel in the creek mouth is an ideal place to start. But Royce will scan as far back as the general 30-foot depth will allow. If the creek search turns up cold, Royce checks the main-river channel nearby.
Trolling and power-drifting are the keys to catching cold-weather cats
On the lower end, the channel can run anywhere from 50 to 80 feet deep. And this area is subject to be home to some inactive fish amongst the eaters. If Royce finds a bite on this main-lake pattern — but not quite the one he’s looking for — he’ll pack it in and head uplake to where the main channel runs in the 30- to 35-foot range. Here, Lake Gaston’s big blues are likely to be more active and more concentrated. Wherever he finds an adequate bait source, Royce’s technique will be largely the same.
“I like to troll or power-drift with planer boards,” he said. “I’m pretty particular about my speed. I like to stay at 0.5 miles an hour or slower. If I feel like the fish are there, but I’m not getting bit, I’ll slow it down to 0.4 or 0.3. In December, you’re mostly fishing on the bottom. But if I see a school of bait on sonar with arches way off the bottom, I’ll suspend some baits at that depth.”
Royce’s bottom-bouncing outfit consists of six rods — two pulled straight behind the boat and two off each side staggered by planer boards. He uses Santee rigs and slinky weights to lessen hangups. White perch is the bait of choice due to its concentration around the schools of shad, and because of how readily he can load them onto the boat via a Sabiki rig.