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Top Spots For South Carolina Cat by Terry Madewell
South Carolina waters abound with flatheads, channels and blues, and quality catches can be made
 on most of the major bodies of water. Yet some are even better than others. Here are our top picks.

South Carolina is blessed with an abundance of fine catfishing holes for flatheads, channels and blues. Don Drose, a Santee-Cooper fishing guide, hoists a nice-sized Lake Marion blue catfish.
Photo by Terry Madewell.

   The moisture-laden air filtered the sunís rays just enough to allow a quick glance at the firey orange ball as it creased the eastern horizon. The sun seemed to actually be emerging from the earth and rocks of Wilson Dam. Using the sun as my target, I cast my favorite catfish concoction to what I hoped would be a waiting, and hungry, Lake Marion catfish. I didnít have to wait long to discover I was right. Before I could get another rod rigged and ready, the slack was ripped from the just-cast rig, and the rod dipped three eyes into the water. Reacting on instinct, I struggled to free the deeply bowed rod from the Drift Master Rod Holder, thankful that I had the foresight to use a rod holder that would withstand such punishment. Because of the lightning fast and powerful initial run of the huge catfish, it took considerable effort on my part to pry the rod from the holder. Within moments, beads of sweat popped from my brow as I tried to slow the run of the big fish. With only 20-pound test, I felt I was mildly outclassed and would need a run of good luck to land this fish. Fortunately, this was to be on of those days when things do go right, and I soon checked the powerful beast and managed to get its head turned in the right direction. Well, letís say I managed to turn the battle to more of an even fight, as opposed to one-sided advantage of the runaway locomotive that the battle began with. The beauty was heightened by the fact that the action was taking place in very shallow water, and on several occasions, the big fish rolled on the waterís surface, causing me to lose my breath in awe each time it happened. When the fish was finally brought to net, my partner hefted a 32-pound blue catfish and dumped it quite unceremoniously on the floor of the boat. In the interim he had caught three additional fish, all in the 3-to-5 pound class, and dropped them into my big 100-quart Coleman cooler.

   I dropped the big fish in the livewell, dipped some more Docís Catfish Getter Dip Bait on the special worm-rig and cast it back onto the shallow flat. Seconds later my partner and I were solidly hooked into another pair of Lake Marion catfish. By 11 a.m. we were out of cooler and livewell space and had to call it a morning for lack of places to put more fish, if not for the aches in my weary arms.

   Although catfishing isnít always that good on Lake Marion, itís certainly not an overstatement to say that such action is not unusual. Actually, the opportunity to consistently enjoy excellent catfish catches throughout the summer and fall months is more the rule than the exception. In this writerís opinion, the Palmetto State is blessed with numerous outstanding catfish hotspots, but the Lake Marion fishery certainly must rank near or at the top of any, anywhere on planet Earth. Much of this writing focuses on Lake Marion, because it is my choice as the best bet of the best bets. But many of the tactics described can be well applied to numerous Palmetto hotspots. This article looks at top choices for catfishing around the state. The "big three" of catfishing all call Lake Marion home in tremendous numbers -- the blue, channel and flathead catfish.

   Lake Marion may be best noted for outstanding fishing for huge flatheads, and itís a reputation certainly well deserved. But anglers too often overlook the blues and channels that abound in these fertile waters.

   In fact, most anglers donít even consider the channel cats at all. Lake Marion is part of the Santee Cooper complex, which is home to the world record channel catfish, a 58-pound monster. The channel catfish fishery has declined since the introduction of the blues about 20 years ago, but they have by no means disappeared. In fact, using the right bait, they can provide excellent and predictable fishing and often can be caught right along with the blues. The key to taking channel catfish throughout the hot months is to fish the ledges and drops. Sometimes the fish may be in only two or three feet of water, which was what we found. At times, however, they will be in the deep water, sometimes as deep as 25 to 30 feet.

Lake Marion produces many of the largest blue catfish in the world. Author Terry Madewell has wrestled in many cats, both here and around the state. Photo courtesy of Terry Madewell.

   I prefer the above mentioned Docís Catfish Getter Dip Bait, simply because after several years of experimenting, Iíve found it works better than any other stink-type bait. If you try a spot for 10 to 15 minutes with Docís and donít get a bite, then itís time to move. If the fish are there, they will generally let you know quickly. The odor of the cheese-based bait is distinct, and the gooey substance is certainly something youíll strive to not get on your clothes. But once youíve seen how it produces, youíll agree the smell is small and a fair price to pay for such success.

   Use casting or spinning tackle and tie a special Docís worm on the terminal end of your line. The Docís worm has special ringed ridges that help hold the bait in place. Also, it is pre-rigged with a sharp treble hook. If you donít have the worm rig, than a piece of sponge dipped in the bait and rigged with a 2/0 hook through the middle of the sponge will suffice. Either way, the bait will slowly dissolve into the water and attract the fish to the source and hopefully into your cooler, I recommend 15- to 20-pound test line, although lighter line will definitely result in more strikes. Because there are so many huge catfish finning around in Lake Marion, you will occasionally find yourself at a distinct disadvantage with the lighter equipment. A half-ounce sliding sinker is adequate for casting the rig long distances. Set the rods into quality rod holders and watch them closely. Live night crawlers and shad minnows are also good baits, if you prefer natural baits. Fish them in the same manner and places. The big flatheads require a little different approach than do the blues and channels. These fish are primarily live-bait feeders, and the preferred baits are live white perch, bream, shiners or shad. Shad are a favored forage but can be very tricky to keep alive, or lively on the hook. Most of the professional guides rely on perch or bream to entice the big fish to bite. Fishing for the flatheads is more like hunting than fishing to me. Use a graph recorder or other sonar unit to search the deep-water portion of the lake. Youíre actually looking for an individual fish, hopefully, three or four, to set up on.

   Jim Cope, a highly successful catfishing guide on Lake Marion, specializes in flatheads and likens the sport to big-game hunting. "Itís a real challenge to me to be able to figure where a 30-, 40- or even 50-pound catfish is lurking, then present the bait in the right manner to make it bite. Itís quite a feeling to be fishing with a half-pound perch or bream and see the rod tip bend over into the water. You know youíre about to hook into something that just may be big enough to pull you into the lake," Cope said. Itís the one-on-one hunt for the fish thatís exciting. Sometimes weíll take several big fish during one dayís fishing, but to me, just having the opportunity to do battle with a fish weighing over 30 pounds is exciting. Iím addicted to flathead catfishing and I donít think thereís a better place in the country to fish for these big rascals," Cope added. Cope says that unlike fishing for blues and channels, once he sets up on the flatheads, heíll often give them an hour or longer to bite. "Iíve seen times when I marked fish and set up, and then they wouldnít bite for an hour. But when they did bite, theyíd go crazy and weíd have three, four or even five whopping-sized fish hooked at once or within moments of one another. It seems when one finally decides to feed and gets hooked, it triggers a reaction in all of them to bite. Try getting a handful of big catfish hooked at one time if you want to have word exciting redefined for you," Cope said.

Lake Marion is probably best known for its giant flatheads. Gus Woodham lifts a big Santee-Cooper cat from the net. Photo by Terry Madewell.

   Moving upstate a bit, Wateree Lake is another prime catfish lake, which primarily boasts excellent fishing for flatheads and channel catfish. Wateree is a different type of lake than Marion in that it consists of more rocks and fewer shallow flats and mudbars. Rocky points, humps and channel ledges and drops are the primary spots to focus on during the summer months. Again, not all the action will take place in the deep water, but the vast majority will occur adjacent to, if not in it. The long, sloping rocky points are prime spots to take the channel catfish on this lake. Rigging is similar to that described for Lake Marion, but you should anchor in the deeper water adjacent to a point and cast toward it. I like to position the boat so I can cast baits to various depths on the point, thus checking several water depths simultaneously. Once you locate one specific depth pattern, concentrate your efforts there. Iíve found the fish quite patternable, and if you know where other similar structures exist, once youíve patterned the cats, you can speed from one point to the next and fish the same depth to take fish consistently. I have noticed, however, that the pattern is quick to change on Wateree, and youíll seldom find an entire day with the fish holding at the same depth. The flatheads are more of a deepwater fish and orient to the main river drops through the lake. Again, live bait is the best bet for consistent catches.

   On the western border of the state on the extremely productive Savannah River is Clarks Hill Reservoir, which is rightly noted as a producer of heavyweight catfish. One of the primary keys to fishing this deep, clear lake is to fish at night. One of the best tactics is to locate a deep hole in or adjacent to the mainstream river channel. The beginning or end of a bluff is a perfect example. Anchor and fish big chunks of cut bait downstream. The lake is best noted for tremendous-sized blue catfish, and until the blue catfish were introduced in and grew to outlandish sizes in lakes Marion and Moultrie, Clarks Hill was the spot to go for huge blues in the Palmetto State.

   Although the stink baits work great here for smaller fish, most local anglers will use cut shad or big gobs of shad minnows to entice the catfish to bite. I have, however, discussed this fishery with one angler who consistently catches fish in the 20 to 35 pound class on Docís. My advice is to use whatever youíve got the most confidence in.
Lake Wylie is another catfish producer that is sometimes overlooked. Wylie is heavily fished for bass, crappie, and bream, out olí whiskers sometimes gets ignored. But itís not because there arenít plenty of catfish available for the catching. I first discovered the Wylie catfish population quite by accident. I was fishing for crappie using live minnows around brush in 4 to 6 feet of water. I could not catch any crappie because I couldnít keep the danged catfish off the bait Some of the fish were in the 6- to 8- pound class, quite all I could handle on a fly rod rigged with spinning reel for crappie fishing. I made a return trip with stink bait, worms and minnows to specifically fish for the bewhiskered fish, and I did not come away disappointed. The same basic structure patterns discussed for Wateree will work here. The fish are definitely structure oriented and can often be found in sizable schools. Because of boat traffic throughout the summer, Iíd recommend the nocturnal hours if youíre serious about the catfishing on Wylie. Although good catches can and are made by day, the rule of thumb is that much heavier fish are typically caught at night on this lake.
Recognizing that this listing of catfish hotspots represents merely a smattering of the waters that harbor good catfish populations in the Palmetto State, it is a good representative sample that indicates no one is too far from good water. Arguments could also be made for Lake Greenwood, Lake Moultrie and others to make the best bets list. The rivers must also not be ignored, as the state-record flathead came from the Wateree. To me the best bet for catfishing in South Carolina is to find a hole of water, most any place, and cast some catfish bait into it. Odds are good youíll get your string stretched!
 


 


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