Top Spots For South Carolina Cat
by Terry Madewell
South Carolina waters abound
with flatheads, channels and blues, and quality catches can be
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.
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.
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
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
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!