Blue catfish stack up during cold weather at Gaston
Anglers shouldn’t feel blue about January fishing. Instead, they should think about boating blue catfish in the depths of Lake Gaston along the North Carolina-Virginia border.
The water will be cold and the fish deep. And guide Zakk Royce of Blues Brothers Catfishing Guide Service knows he can find them shadowing bait, where they will be stacked up and hungry.
“In January, I’m going to be fishing the lower end of the lake in the main feeder creeks,” said Royce (919-724-2474). “I’ll be looking for huge schools of threadfin shad in deeper water, anywhere from 40 to 60 feet deep. Everything will be keyed in on the shad: the white perch, stripers and blues.
‘I’ll be fishing the creek channel itself, closer to the mouth if it gets really cold. If you have a point that comes out to meet the channel, it can be really good. But most of the time I’m simply trolling down the channel.”
Royce will always start his troll at .5 miles per hour. Depending on the water temperature, he may slow to as little as .3. But he’ll never go faster than .5. Royce will often set out his spread in an area he knows well and feels confident he will find baitfish. But a newcomer is wise to locate the bait first.
Look for birds and stripers
Royce’s spread includes six rods bouncing baits along the bottom: two straight off the back and two more off each gunwale with planer boards. Each will carry a 3-way Santee rig. Those straight off the back will be weighted by a 2- to 3-ounce slinky weight, while the planer rods will have 1½-ounce slinky weights. Four 9/0 circle hooks will carry white perch filets with two 7/0 circle hooks carrying smaller perch filets for fish that prefer a smaller offering.
Although gizzard shad would be a prime bait for this season, Royce said they are difficult to catch at such great depths. White perch can be caught on a Sabiki rig near schools of threadfin shad.
“If you find a school of stripers, you have to fish under them,” Royce said. “You can bet the blue cats will be cleaning up the scraps of shad underneath them. That goes for finding stripers on sonar or finding birds. If you see gulls diving into the water, you know there’s active feeding going on. But even if they’re just sitting on the water, a large concentration of birds means there’s bait and fish nearby.”
JOIN THE CLUB, get unlimited access for $2.99/month
Become the most informed Sportsman you know, with a membership to the Carolina Sportsman Magazine and CarolinaSportsman.com.