Though many famous catfish lakes and rivers are in other parts of the state, Upstate anglers can find some great spots to catch cats around Greenville.
The only thing that beats the smell of frying catfish on a summer afternoon is the fun of catching them. Greenville area residents are lucky, because the places they can go to in order to catch a mess of summer cats are many indeed. You can fish small lakes, big lakes and rivers and bring home some of the best-eating fish in fresh water.
If you want to target trophy cats, you can do that, too. Some area lakes hold 30-pound (or larger) flatheads, channels and blues. They offer a challenge to any fisherman and will test your tackle. Many anglers who target big cats practice catch-and-release so that the fish can fight again; there are plenty of eatin'-sized cats available for hot grease.
Catfish bait is only limited by your imagination. Everything from the traditional chicken livers to the homemade concoctions that only you use will catch cats -- particularly channel cats. Collect your own bait, buy it at a bait and tackle store, or mix it up in a bowl: Just be sure that, if you mix your own stink baits, you use a bowl that your wife won't use to hit you with when she finds out what you did.
Earthworms are hard to beat for channels, blues and bullheads. A live bream will catch flatheads and the bigger the bait, the bigger the flathead you are likely to hook. Channel and white cats seem especially fond of liver. Cut bait, stink bait, blood bait, mussels and even cheese all work to catch cats.
You can fish from the bank in many places, but a boat will get you to more waters. When fishing from the bank, make sure you have permission to be on the shoreline. You can launch a boat on public access and stay on the water in rivers and lakes without problems, but make sure the spot you use to launch is open to the public so your vehicle will be there when you return.
Watch for advisories on eating fish. The only place listed below that has restrictions based on water pollution is Lake Hartwell; you should not eat meals of catfish from there at all.
The following waters are within an hour's drive of most Greenville cat fishermen and offer you good fishing.
The Saluda River can be divided into two parts for Greenville fishermen. The river above Saluda Lake is different in character from the river below the lake and you should approach each differently.
Above the lake, the river has cooler water, more current and more shoals. Access is limited, but once you get to the water, it is public since it is a navigable stream. You can use a boat on the river, but obviously, the public does not automatically have permission to launch or land on private property.
A canoe or kayak is ideal for fishing this area of the river and there are access points at Pearson Circle, Old Hunts Bridge and Easley Combined Utilities.
South Carolina Department of Natural Resources Regional Fisheries biologist Dan Rankin said you are most likely to find channel and white cats in the upper river, though there are some bullheads there, too. There had been no reports of flatheads, but they may start turning up anytime, since they are in the river below the lake.
The channel and white cats are frying size and you should catch some eating-sized bullheads, too. Use smaller baits and hooks and you can enjoy the fight more with lighter tackle. Fish eddies and undercut banks as well as pools at the lower ends of shoals.
Many people access the river where a road crosses and the thinking is the right of way is public access around bridges. However, Dan cautions you need permission even to access the water on right of ways.
The river below Saluda Lake is more accessible and has a good population of flathead and channel cats. A small fish kill a few years ago showed some flatheads in the 4- to 5-pound range. There are also white cats in the river as well as some bullheads.
You can access the river to launch a boat or to fish from the bank at the city of Belton Park where Highway 247 crosses the river. From there, you can fish upstream in a boat to the steam plant dam or downstream if you have a small motor to go against the current to return to the ramp.
There is also a public boat ramp and bank access at the boat ramp above Pelzer on the Anderson County side of the river. You can fish upstream to the Saluda Lake dam if your boat is small and you are careful.
In this area of the river fish undercut banks and deeper holes during the day with live bait like small bream. You can catch and use live bream for bait, but you cannot have more than the daily limit of 30 bream. Use smaller bream about 3 inches long, since most of the flatheads you are likely to catch will run in the 2- to 4-pound range. For bigger fish, try bigger bait. You might set out a variety of sizes of bait on several rods.
For channel and white catfish, use cut bait, small live bream, liver or earthworms. Late and early in the day and at night are the best times. Fish the heads of pools where these cats spend the day and move up to the shallows at night to feed.
Saluda Lake is private, with a built-up shoreline. You have access at the Saluda Lake Landing marina and they sell bait there. Sometimes they schedule fishing contests, too. You have some bank access at the marina and boat ramp, but ask before you fish. Buying some bait may help you get permission.
Fishing from a boat on the lake is going to be difficult on the weekends and holidays due to heavy boat traffic. On less used days, find deeper holes and anchor your boat so you can fish earthworms and liver on the bottom. One local dock owner catches cats from his dock with earthworms and said he has heard mussels are good bait, too. You can buy them frozen at local grocery stores or some bait stores.
Saluda Lake has filled in with sediment over the years, so defined channels are not easy to find. Start near the dam and work up the river channel, watching a depthfinder for a deeper hole. Also, check out any side channels or ditches entering the river channel. You won't see a sharp dropoff, but the deeper holes should hold catfish.
Fishing at night is another option. Anchor near the deeper holes, but make sure at least one of your baits is in more shallow water near it. Be sure to keep lights on at night, since this lake is heavily used.
Oak Grove is an 18-acre public lake off Roper Mountain Road near I-85 that w
as owned and managed by the state until last year when it was transferred to Greenville County. Until last fall, the DNR stocked it with catchable-sized channel cats, but no stocking was done last fall, owing to the transfer. With luck, any problems will be worked out by this fall, and stocking will resume.
There are still some channel cats from previous stockings and they are good size. Although there is no natural reproduction of channel cats at Oak Grove, there are enough catfish there to make it worth a trip.
There is bank access and you can launch a small boat with electric motors only. There is no boat ramp. The lake has been open to fishing on Wednesdays and Saturdays only, but this may change. Minnows are not allowed as bait, so plan on fishing with earthworms and liver. There is no fishing pier or handicap access on this lake.
Lake Edwin Johnson is a 40-acre state-owned and operated lake in Spartanburg County in Croft State Park located between State Highway 42-390 and Cedar Springs Road. It is stocked each year with catchable-sized channel cats and fishing can be good for them.
There is good bank access and a boat ramp. Boats are restricted to electric motors only and no minnows are allowed. The lake is open seven days each week, but there is no fishing pier or handicap access. There are good numbers of channel cats in the 3- to 4-pound range.
If you are fishing from the bank, try earthworms and liver, as well as small pieces of cut bait. Since channel cats are the predominant species in the lake and your best fish are probably going to be around 3 or 4 pounds, keep your hooks and bait small.
With a boat try to find deeper holes and fish them with the same baits during the day. Late in the afternoon and early mornings are best.
Lake Jocassee is a coldwater lake not known for its catfish, but Dan said reports indicate you can have good luck if you go big or go small. This lake may be a sleeper for trophy-size catfish since few people fish for them. Some big cats are caught each summer, however, by people fishing near the dam for trout. You will need a boat to catch cats on Jocassee.
To explore this lake for big channel cats, use a good depthfinder and you may be able to locate the fish hugging the bottom during the day. They will bite better at night near the same places you see them and some current helps. Anchor at the dam near the deep channel and fish live or dead herring near the bottom on the lip of a channel drop. Blueback herring are the predominant baitfish here, so they make good bait.
Remember, it is unlawful to fish with corn, cheese, fish eggs or imitations of them as bait on Lake Jocassee, so stick with herring or liver. You can also try live or cut shad and if you can't find them, substitute cut mullet for bait. Mullet is an oily fish that will attract cats much like the herring and shad baits do.
Another option if you want eating-sized fish is to go up to the very headwaters of the lake and fish for small bullheads. You can load your stringer with little 7- and 8-inch bullheads and many people think they are the best eating of all catfish. They are not considered game fish, so there is no limit on them.
For these small fish, use a small hook and earthworms for bait. Try deeper holes where the river enters the lake and look for undercut banks, too. Keep your bait on the bottom and you should catch all the bullheads you want.
Lake Keowee waters are warm due to the power plant and the lake is a more traditional catfish lake than is Jocassee. It has a decent population of channel cats and you can catch them from the bank or a boat. Until five years or so ago, no flatheads were reported, but now big flatheads are beginning to show up.
For channel cats, public access at bridges, parks and boat ramps offers a chance to catch them. Fish liver or cut bait around any riprap banks you can get to. Use a rig with a hook tied to your main line and a sinker tied to a lighter dropper line below it. When you become hung in the rocks, you can break off your sinker without losing your whole rig.
Late afternoons and nighttime is best for channel cats. Many people carry a lantern and a chair and set out several rods, sit back and enjoy the cool of the night while waiting on a bite. Check signs in parks to make sure you are allowed to fish at night and do not block boat ramps when fishing near them.
For flatheads, the area around the warm water discharge provides the biggest fish. Use live bream or shad for bait and fish near the bottom. Anchor your boat so you can fish your bait near a dropoff where the discharge moves over it. Fishing at night will usually be better than during the day.
There are some big flatheads in the lake, so use suitable tackle. You have a chance of hooking a 40-pounder here and you don't want to lose it because your line is too light or your reel drag is not up to the challenge.
If you want to catch some big cats for fun, go to the Seneca River above Clemson on Lake Hartwell. However, don't plan to eat the fish. Owing to contamination by pollutants, a consumption advisory applying to all catfish taken from the Seneca River has been issued -- so don't eat any of them.
Good populations of big flatheads and top-quality channels swim this venue. Fish live bream, cut bait or liver on the bottom of drops. Fishing from a boat will give you more access to better fishing.
WATER SUPPLY LAKES
There are a variety of water supply lakes with good catfish populations within an hour's drive of Greenville. Several are worth checking out to catch a mess of cats.
In the SJWD Water District, Lake Cooley is a 330-acre lake a mile south of Inman. Lake Lyman has 550 acres of water and is near Greer. Both lakes have boat ramps and bank access, but you must have a permit that runs $40 for Spartanburg County residents and $60 for other South Carolina residents. That covers bank access as well as boating on the lakes. There are some motor size restrictions.
The lakes are open from sunrise to sunset each day and skiing is allowed on Lyman. Avoid fishing it on weekends and holidays. Bank-fishing is good from the parks. In a survey of fishermen on Lyman, the average size of catfish kept was 1 3/4 pounds, and on Cooley, it was 2 pounds per fish. Those are good eating-sized cats.
Spartanburg Water System lakes Blalock and Bowen also offer good catfishing. Bowen is a 1,600-acre lake near New Prospect. It has a boat ramp on Highway 9 and a public fishing pier. You must have a permit to launch and use a boat on the lake.
In a survey of fishermen, about 1,600 man-hours of fishing a year produced 1,100 keeper cats. Expect to fish for over an hour for each cat. But that survey was of all fishermen, so if you are a good cat fisherman, you can probably beat that average.
Blalock has 35 miles of shoreline and offers a fishing pier and boat ramp, but you need a permit for a boat. Dan said that the lake is full of an Asian mussel that catfish like to eat. In 5,000 angler-hours per year, Blalock produced about 2,200 keeper-sized cats averaging 1 pound each.
Get your tackle and bait, pick the kind of water you want to fish and make the short drive to fun and good eating this summer.