Cattin’ around the Carolinas

Brandon Miller and his daughter Abby catch plenty of quality catfish at High Rock this month. (Photo by Terry Madewell)

Try these catfish holes for hot-weather action

Summertime is the traditional season for fishermen and catfish to hook up on a frequent basis. The water temperature drives the metabolic rate of catfish into overdrive, and post-spawn catfish are chasing chow.

At some point during the late spring and early summer, catfish anglers deal with the spawn slowdown for big fish. But post-spawn catfish feed heavily, and the patterns are strong and predictable.

Many lakes in the Carolinas produce excellent summertime action, and these rank among the best. All produce plenty of fish-catching action and the opportunity to hook trophy-sized catfish.

High Rock Lake

Tournament angler Brandon Miller from Gold Hill, NC said High Rock Lake is an excellent summertime catfish choice. He’s an enthusiastic tournament angler on the Yadkin Chain of lakes who teams up with his 11-year-old daughter Abby.

“High Rock Lake is full of flathead catfish, and they offer excellent fishing during June and through the summer,” Miller said. “Plus, during the past 10 years, the blue catfish population has exploded here, and respectable sizes of blues are consistently caught.”

Miller said flatheads are caught throughout the lake, but two specific and predictable patterns emerge for summer.

“One pattern is fishing uplake, around the I-85 area,” he said. “The water depths are shallow, which works well because a definite thermocline sets up in High Rock Lake. Flatheads can be found in the 10-foot depth range. But if you can find slightly deeper holes in the 15- to 20-foot range, you’ve got a potential target for big flatheads. The summertime flatheads are often caught in the 20-pound range and fish up to 40-pounds are possible.”

Catfish of all sizes are caught during the summer. (Photo by Terry Madewell)

Miller said the best flathead fishing is in low-light conditions. He’ll set up just before dark and fish until after midnight. He’ll anchor up on the target and fish live bait, usually white perch, on the bottom.

“Another pattern in the summer, especially during June, is when the pre-spawn flatheads are in the creeks searching for spawning sites,” he said. “Ideal spawning holes are often found around launching ramps. So that’s a good target if you can find one that’s not too busy.”

Anchored setups are the most productive during nocturnal hours.

When targeting blue catfish, Miller said fish are found lake-wide. But he favors the uplake area around I-85 and above.

“The blues in this part of the lake will be roaming the flats and are often caught in shallow water, in the 5- to 10-foot range,” he said. “Day or night fishing can be productive. My favored bait will be cut white perch.”

Miller said his basic style of fishing is to anchor. But he’ll drift if he needs to cover more area.

“High Rock is loaded with ‘teener-sized’ blue catfish, and those provide great fun for summertime fishing. But larger blue catfish are caught,” he said. “We’re having quality blues weighed at our Yadkin Chain tournaments at High Rock Lake throughout the year.”

Lake Monticello

Lake Monticello in SC’s mid-state area is a deep, clear-water fishery that’s earned a reputation for cold weather trophy catfishing. But summer action is also excellent because blue and channel catfish are abundant.

William Attaway of Pomaria, SC guides at Monticello and Lake Murray. He focuses on deep water by day, and suspended fish on flats and off points at night.

“Lake Monticello is deep and clear, and has water pumped into and out of it. And that creates enough water turnover that deepwater fishing is good during the summer,” he said.

Attaway (Slick Willies Guide Service 803-924-0857) said his preferred style on Lake Monticello is drift fishing.

“I’ll target blues by day in 30 to 60 feet of water,” he said. “I’ll scan the points and humps, and I’ll fish areas where I see multiple fish. The lake does produce quality fish during the summer.”

Attaway said catfish will suspend this month. An effective method is drift fishing with baits suspended on a freeline, or with small sinkers, to target depths in the water column where fish are marked.

“It’s one of my preferred techniques that many anglers don’t employ,” he said. “It’s an excellent tactic at night to catch lots of catfish.”

Attaway said during this season, he’ll often downsize a lot of his rigs and baits to target numbers of fish.

“Lake Monticello has an abundant population of blues in the 1- to 10-pound class and plenty of channel catfish in great eating sizes,” he said. “Fishermen can fill a cooler of good-sized fish on most days in the summer with a bit of moving around. And we always have the chance to hook huge blues in this lake.”

Attaway said he’ll use cut white perch, bream, and shad during the summer as preferred baits.

Royce said quality fish, and lots of them, make Gaston an excellent summer destination. (Photo by Terry Madewell)

Lake Gaston

Catfish Guide Zakk Royce has developed consistent, productive summer patterns on Lake Gaston. Depth is the key, and that’s based on the thermocline.

Royce said once the spawn ends and the catfish are in post-spawn mode, they put on the feedbag and become aggressive.

He said the thermocline at Gaston varies annually because of variations in water flows through the lake, amount of rainfall, and temperatures.

“Generally, the norm for the thermocline would be in the 20- to 25-foot range,” he said. “Most sonar units will enable an angler to pick it out.”

One productive pattern is drift fishing the Santee rig on points, humps and flats near ledges that are above the thermocline.

“I’ll drift fish and vary my speed between .5 up to 1 mile per hour,” he said. “The fish are aggressive. So drifting faster works and enables me to cover more water.”

Royce (Blues Brothers Guide Service 919-724-2474) said to not overlook shallow water during the summer.

“I’ve found scads of big catfish in shallow water, around 5 feet deep,” he said. “The thermocline is my limit for how deep I fish, but when cats are feeding on mussels, they’ll go shallow.”

The second technique is fishing open water, suspended catfish.

“During the summer we’ll find a pattern where catfish suspend at or just above the thermocline over deeper water,” Royce said. “For example, if it’s at 22 feet, and I mark lots of fish just above that depth, but suspended over 30 to 40 feet of water, it’s an opportunity to catch lots of catfish, including trophies.”

Royce trolls using his electric motor, and he deploys two rigs with large slip floats, and planer boards, behind the boat. He sets the appropriate amount of line to fish just above the thermocline.

Royce said his favored summertime baits are shad, white perch, and bream.

Zakk Royce prefers to drift fish on Lake Gaston during the summer. (Photo by Terry Madewell)

Santee Cooper

The Santee Cooper lakes of Marion and Moultrie offer a diversity of catfishing opportunities during the summer.

Catfish Guide Eric Sellers said summertime produces abundant catfish action while still offering the potential for big fish.

“The key to summertime fishing is mobility in terms of finding where the fish are congregated on any given day,” Sellers said. “And drift fishing is the most consistent daytime tactic.”

Sellers said the spawn slowdown for catfish at Santee Cooper often occurs in May, and can extend into early June. But the fish get on a tremendous bite for the remainder of the summer.

“Following forage is the key to finding  catfish on both lakes,” he said. “The fishing patterns can be relatively stable during the summer. But the places we’ll find fish often change. That’s why drift fishing is my “go-to” tactic, because it enables me to cover a lot of water until I find the pattern of the day.”

Sellers targets areas where the bottom depth changes, so he can fish different depths over the course of the same drift.

“Once I find the best depth, and define the general area where catfish are congregated, I’ll work that target,” he said. “But the pattern can change during the day. That’s why I pay close attention to the depths where fish are hooked once I’m on fish.”

Sellers said shad is an excellent year-round bait. And during the summer, cut bait from white perch and bream are also highly productive.

The lesser-celebrated channel catfish provides good action in June, and is great tasting. (Photo by Terry Madewell)

Don’t overlook channel catfish

While a lot of the focus of catfishing is on the larger species, the blue and flathead catfish, anglers often overlook the channel catfish.

Channel catfish are found in most lakes and rivers in the Carolinas in excellent numbers, and are typically ideal eating size. These hard-fighting fish can be caught on a variety of baits, and don’t require sophisticated tackle, or boats, to catch.

Look for channel catfish to be working shallow water areas during low light conditions. Nightcrawlers, minnows, stink baits and small chunks of cut bait are all excellent choices.

When fishing from a boat, anglers can target shallow points or humps. Shoreline anglers can fish around slightly deeper water areas often found around boat ramps and landings where public access is allowed.

Just because you don’t have a boat or expensive tackle doesn’t mean you can’t get in on outstanding summertime catfish action, especially if you target channel 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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