Catfish on the prowl in Diversion Canal

This month, anglers are catching quality catfish during the day and at night. (Photo by Terry Madewell)

The summertime patterns are locked in at Santee Cooper, and these fishing patterns are tough to figure for some species. But blue, channel and flathead catfish all prowl the Diversion Canal and are quite predictable in terms of how, when, and where anglers can catch them.

Excellent catfish can be enjoyed on both lakes during July and August, but one target that often peaks this month is the Diversion Canal. This 7 ½ mile-long canal, linking lakes Marion and Moultrie, provides multiple catfishing opportunities.

Capt. Jon Mercer, with No Mercy Fishing Charters, fishes out of Blacks Camp and fishes the Canal throughout the year. But August ranks as a prime time for him to prowl the Canal.

“By August, the flowing water is a great attractor of baitfish into the Canal. And catfishermen know that’s a key to catching catfish,” Mercer said. “The water flow is an additional attraction that pulls cats to the canal. Anglers enjoy the potential to catch lots of catfish, including big fish, both day and night. But different patterns produce better results depending on how, when and where you fish.”

Mercer (910-734-3845) said one favored tactic is to anchor fish, but he doesn’t anchor randomly. He targets specific places.

“I’ll target high spots along the drops and ledges found throughout the Canal,” he said. “I’ll anchor the boat so I can fish the drop. And I’ll cast rigs shallow and deep to cover the entire area. Catfish can be shallow during the day if the forage is shallow, but deep water is a good bet. If I mark any large physical features on the graph such as trees or rocks on the bottom, that’s a plus for a specific area.”

Mercer uses the basic drift rig for his anchor fishing, and depending on the current flow, he may use a couple of ounces of weight, or as much as 6 ounces to keep the bait in place.

“I don’t want to drag the bait along the bottom of the canal,” he said. “It’s snaggy, but that cover attracts catfish. I use 8-foot Shakespeare Ugly Stiks with 30-pound test line, rigged with 6/0 and 7/0 circle hooks. I’ll give a spot 30 minutes to produce. Generally, if fish are on a specific area, they’ll bite quickly. If action is slow, or the bite ends abruptly, I’ll move to another spot and I’ll repeat the process until the box is full of catfish.”

Mercer said he targets spots throughout the Canal, not just one general area. The fishing patterns on a given day may produce better in a specific area, but overall, he prefers to hunt down the best areas for the conditions on a given day.

Nighttime is often the most productive, and certainly most comfortable, for anglers in the Diversion Canal.

“Drifting is another good tactic that many anglers employ. For this type fishing, I fish vertically with the rigs just off the bottom,” he said. “I lower the line to the bottom and reel up 3 cranks. That’s close enough to the bottom to attract catfish, but it keeps the rigs from snagging as often. Watch the depth and adjust the baits as needed to ensure they’re near the bottom. Drift fishing is good throughout the Canal, but the mid-section has more consistent bottom depths making this type fishing more effective.”

The nocturnal hours are great for August fishing, Mercer said.

“The air temperature is certainly more conducive to enjoying the fishing. And the catfish bite is excellent,” he said. “At night, I’ll anchor fish. It’s simply safer and highly productive. I’ll give an area more time to produce since catfish frequently move and feed a lot at night.”

Mercer said the Canal produces all three of the major species with blues, flatheads, and channel catfish abundant. By switching baits and rigs he can target quality catfish or quantity of fish.

“Downsizing rigs and baits can produce more bites from all sizes of fish. But make no mistake, big cats are available in the Canal during August,” he said. “Catching all three major species on a trip is common, and huge catfish are often caught here. I think 20- to 25-pound fish are reasonable expectations. But much larger fish are certainly realistic.”

Mercer said his bait of choice is blueback herring, with a whole herring filleted down one side with the flap pulled up and hooked as a favored offering. Cut herring, white perch, bream, mullet, and gizzard shad are all highly effective bait choices.

Go now for prime catfishing around the clock in the Santee Cooper Diversion Canal.

Catfish haven:

The Diversion Canal connects the Upper and Lower lakes. Also known as Lake Marion (upper) and Lake Moultrie (lower), these waters, including the canal, hold all three major species of catfish.


About Terry Madewell 802 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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