Catching Carolina catfish all night long

Hit these lakes for hot nocturnal catfish action

Mid-summer has long been associated with catfishing. 

With water temperatures increasing the metabolism of these cold-blooded creatures, they simply must eat. This makes them highly susceptible to anglers fishing the right lakes with the appropriate baits, tackle and fishing strategy.

The keys to success are simple. Find the right lakes and employ the strategies of highly successful catfishermen to make excellent catches.

Guide Rodger Taylor said don’t hesitate to fish skinny water at night on Lake Wateree. (Photo by Terry Madewell)

Lake Moultrie

The Santee Cooper lakes offer excellent nocturnal catfish action in July. Professional Guide Spencer Hodges said nighttime catfishing at Lake Moultrie can be sensational.

Hodges hails from Winterville, NC and has fished the Santee Cooper lakes since he was 1-year-old. He’s been guiding professionally for catfish for the past few years.

“I have two solid patterns for July and August,” he said. “Lake Moultrie’s proximity to the coast typically ensures a reliable wind pattern on most afternoons. So I’ll fish downwind mussel beds in shallow water where waves are rolling over the area.”

Hodges (336-469-0177, Purrfect Kitty Guide Service) said mussels rank high on the preferred catfish chow in hot weather. And the wind-driven waves create an ideal situation for big cats to feed in skinny water after dark.  

“I’ll get set up about 90-minutes prior to dark and we’ll occasionally enjoy a flurry of action around sunset,” he said. “Prime time is typically right at dark. And for the next hour or two, the action is often sensational.

“Actively feeding fish are on the move. So an anchored setup with multiple rigs is ideal,” he said. 

Hodges anchors about 6 feet deep and fan casts baits around the boat. He’ll position baits in various depths, but skinny water is prime for big cats.

Jeff Manning said for nocturnal fishing, focus on areas where the deep water is close to shallow flats. (Photo by Terry Madewell)

Anchor first, then drag

“I’ll stay anchored in this type area as long as the fish keep biting. But usually by 10:30 pm the bite slows on this pattern,” he said. “I’ll pull my rigs and make a move to deeper water and drag baits the rest of the night.”

Hodges added that if the preferred wind pattern doesn’t occur, the dragging mathod is his singular go-to tactic.

“I love fishing the shallow stuff. But if the wind is calm, it’s much less productive. And the dragging bait tactic works great all night” he said.

Hodges said favored targets for dragging baits include ledges and underwater rolling hills where the depth changes routinely.

“I have a pattern to fishing deeper water,” he said. “I’ll begin in 20 feet but will gradually migrate to 25 to 30 feet, as well as pulling baits in shallower water into the15 to 20-foot range. Different depth patterns can produce. So don’t get locked into a specific depth unless you’re catching fish.”

The type and size of bait choices are crucial to success. Best choices can vary from one lake to another. (Photo by Terry Madewell)

Bait is a crucial component and Hodges has favorites for hot weather.

“My A-number one bait at this time of the year is white perch, followed by bream,” he said. “Big cats are feeding heavily on these species making it an easy choice.”

Hodges said a key for trophy catfish this month is bait size. 

“Big bait for big fish is a common practice and I’ll fish some big baits in the summer,” he said. “But small baits are lethal in July and August. The head of a 5- to 6-inch white perch is in the half-dollar size range. But this small-bait pattern is strong this month and produces trophy catfish.” 

Hodges said having a fishing game plan before going, and knowing where and how to safely navigate at night, are two keys to nocturnal catfishing success. 

Michael Paciocco said big catfish move shallower after dark to feed during the summer months. (Photo by Terry Madewell)

Clarks Hill Lake

Clarks Hill Lake offers outstanding fishing for blue, flathead and channel catfish. And during mid-summer, the nocturnal hours are prime time.

Catfish guide Chris Simpson from McCormick, S.C. fishes Clarks Hill Lake year-round. And he loves this time of year after the sun goes down. 

“Big cats move into shallower water after dark and are more accessible at reasonable depths,” Simpson said. “On Clarks Hill shallow is a relative term because of water clarity. And I consider anything 20 feet deep or less to be shallow. At night the blues, flatheads and channel catfish all move shallower.”

Simpson (864-992-2352, Fightin’ Da Blues Guide Service) said the key is fishing areas with lots of rock outcroppings.

“I usually orient to main lake and secondary points, humps and ledges in the major arms of the lake,” he said. “But anywhere large rock outcroppings exist near deeper water can be a prime target.”

Simpson anchors in about 15 feet of water and fan casts baits all around the boat in various depths, from close to the shoreline all the way down to 30 feet deep.

“Big flatheads tend to move quite shallow at night and I’ll often catch them near the shoreline as shallow as 4-feet-deep,” he said. “Blue catfish tend to cruise multiple depths and they’re often deeper. But they’ll also cruise the shallows.”

Simpson prefers bream, white perch or gizzard shad as bait to target blues and flatheads during July. He’ll use chunks of cutbait in assorted sizes for blues, and whole, live bait to target flatheads.

“Flatheads love a live bait. But they’ll eat fresh cutbait too,” he said. “And a big blue catfish won’t hesitate to eat a live bait. I fish both baits and let the catfish decide.”

Simpson said the entire lake is productive, although he typically fishes the mid- to upper-portion of the lake. 

“In the lower end of the lake, with much deeper water, catfish may not move quite as shallow,” he said. “But it’s still a significant change from fishing during the daylight hours.”

“If clients want to fill a cooler with channel catfish in the 1- to 10-pound range, I’ll use small pieces of cut herring, stink bait and shrimp,” he said. “The lake is teeming with channel catfish and they’re found in the same type rocky areas as the big blues and flatheads.” 

Lake Wylie 

This border lake encompasses large chunks of both North and South Carolina and offers tremendous diversity for nocturnal catfish anglers.

Jeff Manning and Michael Paciocco often team up as highly successful catfish tournament partners. Both live in Gastonia, N.C., making Lake Wylie their home lake.

“Lake Wylie has a diversity of species and produces quality fishing for blues, flatheads and channel catfish,” Manning said. “Fishing at night, we’ll avoid the recreational traffic and the weather is much more tolerable. Most importantly the big blues and flatheads migrate to shallow water to feed.” 

Manning said he fishes the South Carolina lower portion of the lake a lot. But the entire lake can be productive. Since no reciprocal license agreement exists, he and Paciocco have licenses for both states.

Paciocco said targeting big blues and flatheads at night is an excellent plan because they can often be found on the same type of bottom topography and the same baits work for both species. Cut perch, bream and shad and whole live baits are top bait choices.

“Live baits are touted as a prime offering for flatheads. But these big-headed brutes are caught on fresh cut bait,” Paciocco said. 

Manning said his fishing strategy is similar to daytime fishing. He simply moves to shallower water.

“I key on changes in water depth such as river or creek channel ledges, as well as humps, underwater islands and long points,” Manning said. “During the day I may fish 20 feet deep or deeper. But at night I’m targeting areas in less than 10 feet of water and casting baits even shallower. I fish from an anchored setup because I catch more big fish that way.” 

Manning said a good example of a prime target would be a shallow sandbar along the main river channel, perhaps 5 to 10 feet deep, with a small creek or cove entering downstream of where he would anchor. 

“I’ll cast baits to the drop where the creek or ditch is located, shallower on the sandbar and deeper along the river channel ledge,” he said. 

Manning said fishing humps along the river — some that may be within 5 feet of the surface — is another prime target.

Paciocco said they’ll give a spot an hour or more to produce, but they won’t stay in one spot longer than 90 minutes without action.

“The key is to find identifiable targets with changing bottom contours, fish a lot of rigs in various depths then adjust according to where the bites originate,” Paciocco said. “By downsizing baits and rigs, anglers can load a cooler with great-eating channel catfish in these same locations.”

Jeff Manning said blue and flathead catfish are often caught in the same locations after dark. (Photo by Terry Madewell)

Sleeper hotspot — Lake Wateree

Catfish guide Rodger Taylor from Rock Hill, SC, who guides on lakes Wylie and Wateree, said Lake Wateree offers outstanding fishing for blue and channel catfish. Plus, flatheads are beginning to get a foothold in the lake and overall catfish action is excellent at night.

Taylor (803-517-7828; Catfish ON! Guide Service) said he’ll work the main lake points, ledges and humps with cut bait including bream, white perch, gizzard and threadfin shad.

“The entire lake can be productive in July but a key is having some patience and fishing some baits in ultra-shallow water,” he said. “Downsize rigs and bait size for excellent action on smaller channel and blue catfish.”

About Terry Madewell 812 Articles
Award-winning writer and photographer Terry Madewell of Ridgeway, S.C., has been an outdoors writer for more than 30 years. He has a degree in wildlife and fisheries management and has a long career as a professional wildlife biologist/natural resources manager.

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