South Carolina's Catfish Outlook
October 04, 2010
Channel cats, blue cats and flatheads are widely distributed in South Carolina, and many lakes provide great numbers and trophy potential for anglers. (June 2009)
The popularity of catfish angling in South Carolina seems to have hit a boom stage. There are probably three reasons for that: Catfish are determined fighters, they can grow to trophy sizes, they're tasty on the supper table and they are found in just about every lake and river in the state. The channel catfish seems to be the common link in most fisheries, and this hard-fighting, great-eating fish is available in huge numbers and quality sizes statewide.
Moreover, during recent years, with the introduction and subsequent spread of the blue and flathead catfish species, there are now a number of lakes that provide trophy catfishing. The state now truly has outstanding fisheries for all of the 'Big Three" of catfish angling: the channel, flathead and blue catfish. Plus, bullheads offer a bonus in most lakes and rivers as well.
We're going to take a look at the best catfisheries in the sate, defined by species for certain lakes. Some lakes will certainly be top picks for more than one species. A couple of lakes have the potential to produce quality or quantity fishing opportunities for all three catfish species.
Here's a forecast of what catfishermen can expect to enjoy not only now but throughout the year from catfish at our lakes and rivers.
Channel catfish are found throughout the state, and there are few places that don't provide quality fishing for this species. But we've cropped out the best ones to highlight here. South Carolina certainly has some of the best channel catfishing opportunities in the southeast.
Of all the lakes in the state, the one most likely to produce a trophy channel catfish is Lake Greenwood. Moreover, this lake has the potential to produce large numbers of quality fish.
The channel catfishery at Lake Greenwood is very productive right now and remains so throughout the summer. But one real positive attribute is that the fishery remains very good right through the fall and winter months. The cold-weather season can produce both quantity and quality fish.
Double-digit-sized channel catfish are not common anywhere in South Carolina, but anglers are more likely to find them here than anywhere else, according to catfishing guide Chris Simpson (www.fightindablues.com or 864-992-2352).
"We'll catch a lot of 6- to 8-pound channel catfish on an average day," Simpson said. "But the potential to catch a 10-pound-plus channel catfish is better here than any place in the state, in my opinion," he said.
While the primary catfishery is the channel catfish, according to Simpson, both blue and flathead catfish are in the lake. He said in the next few years, he expects these species to become an important part of the overall catfishery in Lake Greenwood.
The story on this lake is that it consistently provides bites from big channel catfish. It's not uncommon to catch a stringer full of channel catfish in the 4- to 6-pound class, and very frequently, fish in the 8-pound and larger classes will be taken. While Wylie's potential to produce huge channel catfish is not as good as Lake Greenwood's, the average size of the channel catfish here is simply outstanding and there are scads of them.
Rodger Taylor, catfishing guide on this and other lakes, says to focus on the major creeks in the spring to early summer. Once really hot weather sets in, fish the humps and ledges on the main Catawba River channel.
While the channel catfish is the primary species on this lake right now, watch out for the big blues and flatheads. Both species are in this lake now and seem to be becoming more numerous and larger, according to several local fishermen.
Lakes Marion And Moultrie
Long known as a fantastic fishery for all three of the big three species of catfish, lake Marion is "chock-full" of channel catfish. The sizes run the gamut from 1-pound fish in big numbers to plenty of fish in the 7- to 8-pound class.
The world-record channel cat of 58 pounds was taken from Lake Moultrie in 1964. While the outlandish sized channel catfish are not taken frequently any more, there are still big fish roaming these waters. (Continued)
Because of the excellent fishing for blue and flathead catfish in these lakes, the channel catfishery is sometimes overlooked. I'd say this lake is a real channel catfish sleeper lake. There are lots of channel catfish fish waiting on someone to catch them from these lakes.
The channel catfish are caught year 'round using live bait and cut bait. Any of several varieties of stink baits or redworms are very productive during the summer and fall months.
Long a sleeper lake for outstanding channel catfish action, Wateree is finally seeing more catfish anglers beginning to take advantage of the strong population of channel cats here. Lake Wateree is within easy access from both the Columbia and Rock Hill areas.
While the channel catfish action is usually best right now on through the summer months, these hard-fighting fish are taken throughout the year. This lake will also be covered in the blue catfish section of this article and on many occasions, this lake is highly productive as a "two-for-one" fishery, with an outstanding combination catch of both channel catfish and blue catfish.
Two excellent techniques for taking both are to fish humps and ledges during the summer and fall with either stink bait or cut chunks of chicken breast. Both small blues and channel catfish for all sizes will devour these baits.
The blue catfish have considerably expanded their range since being introduced into lakes Marion and Moultrie years ago. Blue catfish fed heavily on forage such as shad, herring and other natural supplies of bait found in abundance at many lakes in the state.
While not stocked by South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) in many of the waters where they are now caught, blue cats have managed to take deep root in several South Carolina lakes and, for the most part, provide a solid fishery without seeming to have a negative effect on other species in the lakes.
As noted above, Lake Wateree has become one of the premier blue catfish fisheries in the state. The lake has two things going for it regarding blue catfish. First, there is a very dense and growing popul
ation of blue catfish in the 1- to 7-pound class, making the potential to catch a lot of fish very possible. Plus, there is a real opportunity to score on the heavyweights, with fish in the 20- to 30-pound class frequently caught.
The topend size of the fish is still growing, but fish over 50 pounds have been caught. But as a trophy blue catfishery, this lake is one of the waters to consider for blue catfish in the next several years. According to guide Rodger Taylor (Catfish On Guide Service, www.catfishon.com, 803-328-9587), the blue catfish fishery is expanding at a rapid rate right now.
"There are plenty of big fish to keep things exciting, but also the potential to catch dozens of eating-sized fish also exists on any given day," Taylor said.
Try drifting over humps, ledges and even flats off the river channel with irregular changes in depths when you are targeting blue catfish on Lake Wateree.
Lakes Marion And Moultrie
The biggest names in South Carolina blue catfish fishing have to be Marion and Moultrie. These are the lakes where the blue catfish were originally stocked by the SCDNR. Since they are connected via the Diversion Canal (also a blue catfish hotspot), we'll consider them as a single fishery.
However, the lakes are very different and offer fishermen a myriad of different fishing opportunities.
There are two different patterns catfish anglers employ when hunting the big blue catfish for which these lakes are famous.
One is to anchor on structure and fan-cast around the boat. Guides will enhance their odds of success when selecting a place to anchor by finding humps, ledges or good cover where lots of baitfish are also marked on their sonar units.
Catfish guide Barry Pritchard (Pritchard's Guide Service, 803-478-7533) fishes for catfish year around and said that another proven technique is to drift-fish.
"It's generally best to drift an area with irregular bottom contours and have a good bit of forage marked on your graph unit," Pritchard said. "One advantage is you are able to cover more territory. Once you hit an area where fish are located, repeat that drift."
Cut shad, herring or even white perch make good baits for blue catfish on these lakes. Often during the hot summer months, the Diversion Canal will have a good current flow and the blues will stack up in there.
This lake has really come on strong as a big blue catfish producer in recent years. Lake Monticello has certainly become one of the better lakes if you are trophy fishing and you have a real chance to catch blue catfish in the 25-pound range here. The upper end of the potential weight is still increasing, as these fish seem to grow fast in this lake.
There are a couple of things anglers should consider regarding Lake Monticello. One, this is a clear lake, and second, it is very deep. Catfish guide Chris Simpson fishes here for trophy blue catfish and has learned that patience is a real key to success.
"Sometimes I'll fish for considerable periods without any action, and then very quickly hook a couple of huge fish," Simpson said.
Simpson said the nocturnal hours can be very good during the summer, but the daytime fishing during fall and winter can be outstanding on this lake as well.
Lake Murray is rapidly becoming known as a blue catfish destination hotspot. There are a lot of medium-sized blue catfish scattered throughout the lake, with numerous 5- to 15-pound fish being caught by anglers targeting blues.
As a bonus, there are frequent catches of catfish somewhat larger as well -- 20- and 30-pounders are becoming less unusual. As is the case with blue catfish in some other South Carolina lakes, the population here seems to be expanding, and as it does so, the upper end of the weights of the blue catfish continues to grow.
While the entire lake is productive during the year, the upper third, and up into the river portion, are prime areas targeted by many knowledgeable blue catfish anglers. Drifting cut bait and fishing points, humps and channel ledges are the primary keys to success for blue catfish on Lake Murray.
The Cooper River below Lake Moultrie harbors a huge population of blue catfish. In addition to providing plenty of fish for anglers, this river has long been known as a trophy catfish paradise. While 40-pound catfish are not common anywhere, you certainly have the potential to hook fish that size, and much larger, here.
The current state record of 109 pounds, 4 ounces was caught in the Tailrace Canal in 1991. If you are looking for a trophy blue catfish, there's no doubt they're in this river.
The fishing for blue catfish is excellent all the way from the dam down to the salt water. The specific location of the blues will be influenced by the current (or lack of current), so that should be a key to your fishing style and location. However, generally speaking, the junctions of creeks, the outside bends of channel turns and deep holes are all prime spots to focus fishing efforts in this river.
Gizzard shad, herring and chunks of almost any cut fish in large sizes are prime baits for the big blues in the Cooper River. There are many underwater snags for big fish to head to if they're hooked, so using heavy line is a good idea.
The flatheads in South Carolina have also expanded to a lot of lakes and rivers they were not originally stocked in. Unlike the blue catfish, however, they are often not as welcomed by anglers. These fish, especially when they reach large sizes, have the propensity to eat about anything else that swims. That makes them less popular with crappie, bream and bass fishermen. Some SCDNR fisheries biologists do not hold them in high regard either, especially in waters where they were not originally stocked.
Nevertheless, their potential to reach trophy sizes do make them a target for anglers who want a challenge.
Lakes Marion And Moutlrie
These two lakes are obviously included as hotspots for all three species we're discussing. Flatheads were introduced into these lakes years ago by the SCDNR and have since created a fabulous fishery for trophy catfish. The fish in these lakes have adapted to the habitat.
While both lakes have a lot of flatheads, Lake Marion does seem to be the top producer. Nevertheless, Lake Moultrie, as well as the upper end of the lake, is an outstanding producer, along with the Wateree and Congaree rivers. In fact, for trophy flatheads, the Wateree River arm of the lake has produced a large number of trophy fish.
Currently the state-record flathead catfish was caught in the Diversion Canal joining lakes Marion and Moultrie. The big fish weighed 79 pounds, 4 ounces and was caught
Not surprisingly, the snag-infested river below the Wilson Dam that impounds Lake Marion is also chock-full of big flatheads. In fact, this river is a premier place to hook a trophy flathead. A lot of flatheads in excess of 25 pounds are taken each year and fish in the 40-pound class are not at all uncommon.
Because of the heavy cover along the river edge and even throughout the river's bed, you'll need heavy line in most places. Deep holes and the outside bends of the river are prime places to hunt these shovel-headed fish. Most anglers will use big chunks of fresh bait caught from the river when rod and reel fishing for the flatheads.Edisto River
While not appreciated by the panfish anglers in the Edisto River, particularly the redbreast fishermen, the flathead catfish are here in good numbers. There is an opportunity to hook and land some big fish along this river. Not long after these fish made their way into the Edisto, the population of sunfish began to decline noticeably.
As is the case in the Santee River, fish the deep holes for the best action on big flatheads. Also, at night the big fish will move to shallower water. During the summer months, you can often hook big flatheads in relatively shallow water.
A YEARLONG FISHERY
This outlook depicts the primary places you can target your favorite species of catfish in 2009. Not only during the next few months when fishing is typically great for catfish, but throughout the year. Catfish angling is not just for summertime fishermen anymore, and it's not all about just the channel catfish. We not only have choices, we have lots of good choices.
Whether you opt for quantity, quality or a combination, these lakes and rivers offer the catfish bounty to satisfy anyone's catfishing appetite.