Catfish can be caught year round on Lake Norman. They move freely up and down river & creek channels as water temperatures, food supply and spawning urges dictate. During the spring spawn, catfish are typically found in very shallow water. Post spawn fish tend to stay shallow to medium.
Early summer finds them moving deeper until the summer heat eventually drives them to the deepest water depths. There they swim along the thermocline, the lowest level at which they can suspend themselves during the dog days of summer. In the fall, the seasonal migration pattern reverses. When water temperatures cool, the cats move back in mid to shallow river channels, creeks and coves. With the winter freeze, they go deep again, as in summer, or they find refuge in the warm waters of the power plant discharges.
Fishing with Gus and the Fishing Pros.
Fishing Pro Mac Byrum with a trophy catch.
Migration patterns of catfish and stripers are similar, but different. Cats can tolerate higher water temperatures and lower amounts of dissolved oxygen. Stripers, on the other hand, prefer cool water and require a higher content of dissolved oxygen. Spring thru early summer, and again from fall until early winter, finds stripers and cats sharing common water. On the coldest days of winter, stripers swim throughout the water column, while cats will be deep and will congregate where water temperatures are less oppressive. Catfish don't hibernate as some fishermen do. They eat all year, especially in winter when the shad die. Should water temps drop to extreme high thirties/low forties, they will become inactive until waters begin to warm.
Catfish have been known to eat almost anything, dead or alive, in lake waters. Popular baits vary with the time of year and availability, but mainstays are shad, herring, bream, perch, and various prepared baits. Cut and live baits are effective, but fresh dead baits seem to work best. Artificial baits will take catfish at times. Usually, these strikes occur incidentally when targeting other species. Jigging spoons, however, tipped with cut bait, are credited with catches of large summer flatheads and blues.
Big baits are fine when seeking world records, but small baits will attract catfish of all sizes. A bream head, half of a shad or herring, or a small body section of white perch, will tempt any size catfish. Mussels, bloodworms, nightcrawlers, Vienna sausage, and chicken parts are used by anglers who cast from shores and docks. Popular live baits to use include gizzard shad & blueback herring during spring and fall, goldfish in the summer, and golden trout cut to slowly bleed, during the winter months
Anglers fishing for cats from boats will either anchor or slow drift. Those who anchor, generally use two anchors to prevent the boat from swinging and lines from tangling. Once securely in place, baits are cast in all directions around the boat. Some use as many as thirty rods rigged with a variety of baits. Odors reeking from the large number of baits act as chum and attract fish from far and wide. To find fish, either drift slowly when winds are light, or slow troll with an electric trolling motor.
Terminal tackle consists of a hook, a length of monofilament leader, a two-way swivel, and a slip weight. When slow trolling or drifting, an inline float, positioned between a two way swivel and a hook, keeps the bait from dragging bottom and getting covered with mud or silt.
Long handled light action rods, seven to nine feet in length, are popular with cat fishermen. Most use fiberglass rods and baitcasting reels with smooth drags and bait clickers. Reels are spooled with twenty, thirty or forty pound test line. Large nets will land most fish, but gaffs are more effective on cats that weigh more than fifty pounds. If you plan to release a big fish, lip or shallow gaff it in the back. Better yet, cut the line and allow the fish to swim away.
A catfish takes bait very slowly, so allow time for the fish to ingest the bait. Set the hook only after the rod tip is severely bent. A light hook set is all that's needed if a laser sharpened hook is used. Keep the line taut when reeling the fish to the net and enjoy the tug! Pay close attention to other rods that might go down, as catfish swim together and multiple hook ups are common.
Additional information is available on the Carolina's Catfish Club web site at CarolinasCatfishClub.com. This group of devoted fishermen meets the second Wednesday of each month at Jones Fish Camp on Highway 16 in Denver, NC.
I look forward to seeing you at the next Carolina's Catfish Club meeting.
A quick and inexpensive way to learn the basics of catfishing is to hire a professional fishing guide. Mac Byrum, Chris Nichols and Capt. Jerry Neely are among the best. They have plied Lake Norman and other area waters in search of trophy catfish collectively for decades. Bookings can be arranged on this site.