Fall Catfishing Baits, Tips, Spots in Carolina
September 11, 2017
Don't miss out on these great South Carolina fall fisheries.
One of the top fall fishing opportunities across South Carolina is angling for catfish. As the weather and water temperatures cool during fall, catfish go on the prowl and excellent fishing is available for the big three species — blues, flatheads and channel catfish.
Some lakes produce excellent fishing for all three, while other waters have great fishing for one or two species. But regardless of where you live you can find great fall catfish action near you.
We'll take a close look at lakes Moultrie, Monticello, Murray, Wylie and Greenwood. All of these provide excellent fishing during October and most continue producing excellent fishing deep into November and December.
Lake Moultrie, the lower of the two lakes in the Santee Cooper system, generally produces very good fishing throughout the summer, but beginning in late September and early October, the action booms. And as October progresses the catfishing gets smokin' hot for both numbers and big fish.
October is prime time for both big blue and flathead catfish and fishing is an around-the-clock affair during October. Many catfish anglers will drift-fish by day or night on Lake Moultrie and others will anchor and fan cast around their boats on humps and ledges during nocturnal hours.
Guide Linwood Thornhill (843-753-2231) says that big catfish can be targeted by looking for exceptionally big fish marks on the graph.
"Even when drift-fishing, I want to see catfish targets on the graph," Thornhill said. "I don't random driftfish. If I find catfish loaded in a general area, drift-fishing in October can be awesome. The key in every instance is being around a lot of baitfish. The depths will vary but in October often we'll find catfish in 20 feet of water but also as deep as 40 to 50 feet. As the weather begins to cool, forage patterns change and I'll adjust my fishing accordingly when that happens."
Thornhill says patience is occasionally needed to find fish patterns after major frontal passages, but if he spends some time in an area that had been producing fish but the action shuts down, he won't hesitate to search other sections of the lake. As fronts blow through and water cools, forage and fish patterns will change, but the bite is still on.
"The October and November action on big blues is usually great," he said. "If you're looking for a trophy blue catfish, something in excess of 50 pounds with the top end potentially much higher, this is a great time to do it.
"To target really big catfish, I like to stay in the deeper water during the fall," Thornhill said. "Sometimes that's difficult because drifting shallower water before the bait drops into the deep holes we frequently find hot action on good eating-sized catfish. It's not uncommon to catch a couple hundred pounds of decent sized-catfish, 5 to 20 pounds apiece, pretty quickly. But the best odds for hooking a trophy catfish are had by drift-fishing in the deep water."
Thornhill uses a wide variety of bait, but cut mullet, white perch, herring and shad all produce well.
"I give the fish options to determine what's best on a daily basis," he said. "Catfish will bite a lot of different baits but sometimes big catfish can be finicky on what they'll eat so I'll lay out a buffet for them."
When the wind is not strong enough to push the boat at the speed Thornhill wants, he'll put out drift socks to enable him to get the right speed and backtroll over his targets such as mid-lake humps and ridges.
"I like to keep the speed right and control the way I cover an area," he said. "Big catfish are usually holding in specific areas and once I figure that pattern I want to keep my bait in that area. With my motor in reverse and pulling against one or two drift socks, I can control the speed and the course I drift.
"Catching big catfish is not a random type of fishing even when the bite is on," he said. "The presentation must be right, you have to have forage and fish on the graph, use the right bait and quality tackle to handle the big fish once hooked."
Lake Monticello is an excellent big blue catfish lake that really begins to produce quality fish during October and the numbers and sizes actually continue to improve as fall progresses into winter.
Guide Chris Simpson (864-992-2352) targets huge blue catfish and he has some specific ideas about big blue cats. Like most catfish guides he agrees on several key factors, including selecting a lake that produces big blue catfish and locating forage and fish in close proximity to each other.
In recent years Simpson has caught some huge catfish in the fall and early winter: Catfish up to 97 pounds have been caught and released from his boat.
"This is the time of year for big catfish at Lake Monticello," Simpson said. "To be successful here you've got to have a plan. During October I'll fish the open water of the main lake and the points at the mouths of the feeder creeks. That's where most of the forage is found. The humps, ridges and saddles between two high spots are all great targets for finding big blue catfish. As the weather cools I'll find the forage will begin to orient more to the creeks, and the big blues will follow."
Simpson says that at this time of the year, the entire lake can be very productive, but as the weather cools, the warm water discharged back into the lake from the "pumpback" lake will warm the water temperature enough to attract forage and fish toward the lower end of the lake.
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Simpson says he'll employ both drift-fishing and anchoring techniques at Lake Monticello.
"We can make good catches either way and sometimes in the early fall drift-fishing excels by enabling me to cover more water," Simpson said. "But as the water temperature drops I prefer anchor-fishing to drifting for the biggest blue catfish."
Simpson says a final tip for fishing any cold weather blue catfish destination is patience.
"Patience is crucial at Monticello but the potential reward is a huge blue catfish," he said. "I spend considerable time graphing for the right setup and when I find it I commit to that spot. I'll typically stay at least 90 minutes and sometimes more if it really looks good or if that spot has produced monster blues in the past. There have been a number of times just before I pull anchor that we hook a huge blue. Often that triggers a feeding spree and we'll hook two or three others quickly. Sometimes, it's just takes time and patience."
William Attaway from Pomaria guides on Lake Murray and Monticello, but Lake Murray has become one of his more consistent lakes for fall fishing. One important key here for Attaway is that all three of the big three species are in play. Big blues and flatheads — fish in excess of 30 pounds are reasonable — can make any angler's day, but the lake also produces some of the consistently best fishing for quality channel catfish in South Carolina.
"The chance to hook a high-end trophy blue catfish is very good at Lake Murray and we'll catch big flatheads occasionally when targeting them," Attaway said. "But for me, the average size of the channel catfish at Lake Murray is exceptional. We'll catch a lot of channel catfish in the 6- to 8-pound class but plenty of these hard-fighting fish will be in the double-digit size class. That's big channel catfish and Lake Murray is chock full of them."
Attaway (803-924-0857) fishes Lake Murray with a couple of different tactics. One is continuing an excellent summertime pattern of fishing at night.
"While the weather is still warm I often fish at night and will anchor on points and drops at night and fan cast baits around the boat," he said. "I'll anchor in reasonably shallow water and work the point out toward deep water and off both sides. I also cast a rig or two toward the shallows because at night some hefty catfish will move very shallow to feed during the fall."
By day, and as the water cools from late October into December, the fishing remains excellent and Attaway primarily begins to drift-fish. He targets big blues and plenty of hefty channel catfish, but he can also catch big flatheads using live bait in addition to cut bait. His favorite cut baits include white perch, gizzard and threadfin shad and blueback herring.
"The action really gets good during October and is overlooked by a lot of catfishermen," he said. "I know deer and dove hunting seasons are open, and I love to dove hunt as much as anyone, but some great catfishing is available at this time of the year."
Attaway said time of day is not crucial when drift-fishing since more of the catfish are in deep water, but he still likes to get out early for the occasional strong low-light bite. He said fishing is consistently good throughout the day but occasionally a flurry of fast action can occur early or late in the day.
One of the most overlooked lakes for fall catfishing is Lake Wylie. Always known for good channel catfish action during spring and summer, Lake Wylie has experienced a boom in catfishing, specifically for blue catfish. The blues are now in the lake in huge numbers and exceptional sizes. Lake Wylie also produces plenty of big flatheads, especially in late September through October, and scads of channel catfish in the 1- to 3-pound class.
Guide Roger Taylor lives on Lake Wylie and has guided on this lake for many years. He said the transformation of the lake has been remarkable and it's now his favorite catfishing lake.
"Years ago Lake Wylie was known as a great channel catfishing lake, and while it still produces lots of channel catfish, it's the big blue catfish that are the main draw to the lake for catfishermen," he said. "Blue catfish over 80 pounds have been verified but the most awesome thing about this lake is there are so many blue catfish from 15 to 30 pounds that the fishing is usually excellent. Also we consistently catch more of these bigger fish in the fall than at any time of the year."
Taylor (803-517-7828) says he will typically drift-fish by day for the blues and the channel catfish, primarily using cut bait, drifted along ledges, humps and in the creeks near the old channel run.
Most of the channel catfish seem to come from the creeks at this time of year and the blues are typically found more on the main channel, but that's not a hard-and-fast rule.
"I look for forage on the graph regardless of where I fish," he said. "Catfish are usually feeding heavily in October and they're going to be around forage. I like gizzard shad, threadfin shad and white perch as my favorite baits."
Taylor loves October for big flatheads and when targeting big flatheads he will fish at night, selecting deep holes surrounded by fairly shallow water.
"I'll anchor up right about sunset and get everything set up and will often stay until midnight or later," he said. "Patience is a key for big flatheads. Sometimes we'll hook up pretty quick but on some nights it's a waiting game for the big flatheads to make a move. But we'll usually catch some good blue catfish as well and I'll usually have a rod or two rigged with cut baits for channel catfish. My favorite bait for the big flatheads is whole, live white perch. That's what big flatheads like to eat here at Wylie so that's my go-to bait."
Lake Greenwood may be the sleeper lake for fall fishing in South Carolina. Once considered a premier channel catfishing lake, the lake has blossomed with excellent populations of blue catfish and has plenty of flatheads as well. The channel catfishing has remained good, although it diminished a bit with the population explosion of the blues.
But Lake Greenwood remains a prime destination for fall catfishing for all three of these species.
Most experts prefer to target the upper half of the lake, with the depths more conducive for fishing. Plus during late September and into November, that section of the lake is usually flooded with forage, which is a key to prime catfishing in any of the lakes we've discussed.