Carolina Channel Cats You Can Bank On

You don't have to use a boat to get on great catfish action this summer. Here's a look at some top spots for catching fish from shore. (June 2009)

Who needs a boat?

Not every Tar Heel angler owns a boat or enjoys regular access to a buddy's craft, and even boat-equip­ped anglers don't always want to launch their boats, especially for short outings or for after-hours trips.

Arguably, no kind of fish offers more opportunities to shore-based anglers than channel catfish. Along with being very abundant in many waterways throughout the state, channels feed by scent and will seek out the source of something that smells inviting.

Because bank-fishermen often are limited in the areas they can fish from or in their capacity to move readily from spot to spot, it's important to have fish that will find their baits. With these considerations in mind, we have sought insights from biologists throughout the state and have put together a "best-bets" look at places to catch channel catfish from the bank in North Carolina.

CAPE FEAR RIVER
Although North Carolina's most celebrated catfish angling destination is best known for the super-sized blue and flathead catfish that it produces, the Cape Fear River is also a first-rate channel cat fishery. With numerous public access points scattered along its winding course, the river provides a plentitude of opportunity to anglers who opt to work from the bank.

The Cape Fear River offers everything a catfish could ever want. It twists endlessly throughout its course, creating an ongoing alternation of flats and holes and current lines and eddies, and countless toppled trees stretch down from the banks or are submerged on the bottom. The water is highly fertile and the menu hugely diverse, with a tremendous blend of invertebrates and freshwater fish and saltwater baitfish that spend time in the river. Cats are ever abundant, and they stay fat and happy.

Among the most popular and productive shoreline fishing spots are the areas immediately downstream of the three locks and dams along the river, according to NCWRC fisheries biologist Keith Ashley. All three areas provide several hundred yards of bank access immediately below the structures.

Ashley also suggests that the boating access areas, such as Lillington, Fayetteville, Tarheel and Elizabethtown, are good spots for bank-fishing for cats along the Cape Fear.

Because of the number of large cats, including both channels and their bigger cousins, and the abundance of cover in the Cape Fear, anglers are wise to arrive "loaded for bear." Twenty- to 30-pound-test line and a rod with plenty of backbone offer real advantages when a hefty cat latches on and tries to head into a timber tangle upon being hooked.

Because of the amount of sunken timber that's hidden beneath the Cape Fear's dark waters, it's a good idea to peg a small float between the weight and the hook so that the weight sits on the bottom but the hook stays just off the bottom. Cut fish and frozen shrimp are especially good bait choices for Cape Fear River channel catfish. Much of the best catfishing takes place after the sun goes down.

SUTTON LAKE
Another catfishing hotspot best known for its flathead offerings, Sutton Lake also supports a very good population of channel catfish, with some large fish in the mix, and the NCWRC operates a Public Fishing Access area that provides very good bank-fishing access.

The fishing pier near the parking lot provides anglers a little extra reach out into the lake, and the NCWRC regularly sinks Christmas trees within easy casting distance of the pier. Anglers find good success by fishing on the bottom near the trees with cut bait or chicken livers, and anglers who gear up a little heavier and use live bait sometimes hook up with one of Sutton Lake's big flathead catfish.

Anglers are not limited to the pier at Sutton Lake. The shoreline itself is open to public fishing within the designated area, and it provides good access to deep water and plenty of channel catfish.

COMMUNITY FISHING PROGRAM WATERS
Channel cats are the main attraction of North Carolina's Community Fishing Program, which brings highly accessible fishing opportunities right into North Carolina's cities and towns. It would be hard to hand pick a best site, though, because many -- if not most -- of the 40 sites in the program offer similarly fine shoreline fishing prospects.

The Community Fishing Program is unique because it's a joint effort between the NCWRC and a host of municipalities and local park administrators. Basically, the park or town or whoever it may be allows its waterway to be open to public fishing, and the commission and the local municipality share funding on a 75/25 basis to create and maintain good public access and to regularly stock catchable-sized channel catfish throughout the warm months.

For the park or the community, the Community Fishing Program adds fishing as a wholesome recreational opportunity. For the commission, the program offers an opportunity to make fishing much more accessible to a lot of people. For the fisherman, it means abundant and accessible catfish.

Along with offering plentiful catfish and consistently good shoreline access, many of the fishing lakes have fully accessible piers constructed specifically for anglers or automatic fish feeders to help concentrate fish and enhance growth potential. In addition, some of the lakes are fertilized to maximize fish-production potential.

Bob Barwick, NCWRC District 2 fisheries biologist, notes that North River Park and Neuseway Nature Center as good examples of the program's offerings within his district. Channel cats are regularly stocked in ponds at both sites, and the fish enjoy good growth. In fact, anglers sometimes catch very nice cats at both sites. Multiple fishing piers and cleared banks provide an abundance of access in both places.

For most lakes in the Community Fishing Lakes program, the best approach is to use a relatively light bottom rig, baiting either a treble hook with a chicken liver or a single hook with a night crawler or a piece of a hot dog. Cats from most Community Fishing Program sites will average a pound or two; however, the fish stay in many lakes throughout the year, so large fish often will be part of the mix.

Anglers who are interested in Community Fishing Program waters should check out the NCWRC's Web site, www.ncwildlife.org. A section dedicated to this program shows locations of all sites on three regional maps, and clicking on any given site brings up a graph with the site name, directions, basic planning information and, in some cases, pictures of the site. Included

in the information is whether the site is also a fishing tackle loaner site.

LAKE GASTON
One of the best bank-fishing destinations in the northeastern part of the state is at the point where Buggs Island ends and Lake Gaston begins, immediately downstream of John H. Kerr Dam. A fishing platform operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers gives anglers direct access to the tailwater, which can be a real hotspot for channel cats. The cats find abundant cover and structure and plenty of baitfish in the waters beneath the dam, and anglers enjoy good access to the fish.

The jury remains out on whether catfishing is best with more or less water flowing from the dam, according to NCWRC District 3 fisheries biologist Kirk Rundle. Rundle has spoken to various catfish anglers, and opinions vary regarding the best conditions for catching cats. Overall, however, they seem to prefer some current flow. Anglers can call (434) 738-6386, ext. 276 for daily flow information.

Moving down the lake from the dam, anglers also find access to good catfishing in Lake Gaston at a fairly new designated bank-fishing area at Salmon Landing. The landing is on the Big Stonehouse Creek arm of Lake Gaston in Warren County.

NEUSE RIVER
Biologists get a peek at the catfish offerings of the Neuse River every year when they sample fish populations, and those samples always yield some big channel cats in the upper Neuse River, between Raleigh and Kinston. Access points are scattered all along the river, and actually include the Community Fishing Program site at Neuseway Nature Center.

Anglers also find shoreline access at Milburnie Park, which is located off U.S. Highway 64 Business, and at Anderson Point Park, along the park's Neuse River Trail, which is part of the Capital Area Greenway System. Bank-fishing opportunities also exist in Smithfield at the Neuse River Walk/Town Commons area and at River Forest Landing.

"Other shoreline fishing opportunities exist outside of Goldsboro, where the river can be accessed by foot trails where Ferry Bridge Road runs parallel to the river," said Bob Barwick

Editor's Note: Jeff Samsel is the author of Catfishing in the South. To order a signed copy, send a check for $21.95 to Jeff Samsel, 173 Elsie Street, Clarkesville, GA 30523.

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