Summer catfish are better than hot dogs

Jun. 15, 2013 @ 05:51 PM

A boat anchored in an eddy drifts a bit, no matter how well it’s anchored.

My nephew’s line moved along the gunnel with the same kind of subtle motion that comes from the boat taking up the strain on the anchor lines. But this time, it was Robbie’s line that was moving, not the boat. There was something carrying the line downstream and it was more than current. When Robbie raised the rod and met the resistance that 22 pounds of blue catfish generates, I saw concern in his 10-year-old eyes. This was clearly the biggest fish he had felt on a line.
It was just getting dark on Badin Lake on a warm, early-summer evening. I’d taken my nephew from Wisconsin and my grandson Phoenix out for an evening of fishing for catfish. Ten or 15 minutes later, the two boys had the fish in the boat. Robbie’s excitement level didn’t return to normal for the rest of the evening. When I asked him on the way home if the catfish was the biggest fish he had ever caught he replied, “It’s the biggest fish I’ve ever seen.”
There comes a time in summer when the list of fishing options gets short. Most forms of fishing are only effective early in the morning or late in the afternoon, not that you’d want to fish in the middle of the day anyway because of the heat. While some times work better than others, catfish are there for you almost any time of day or weather condition. The other thing that cats offer is size. Few freshwater fish can match a big blue or flathead for size. Add the excitement of night fishing and that they’re great on the table and you have a formula for summer catfish fun.
The Yadkin River chain lakes all have great cat-fishing but they also have different characteristics, High Rock is known for flatheads and good channel cats. Badin is known for blues, though it holds a lot of channel cats. The state record blue catfish was landed on Badin in 2006 at 89 pounds. Hardly any blue cats occupy Tuckertown or High Rock. Tuckertown was overfished at one time but recovering now with lots of channel cats and flatheads.
Bait always gets a lot of discussion when talking about catching catfish. For cut bait, shad is probably the best you can get. Blue and channel cats respond well to cut bait. Flatheads prefer live baits like bream or perch. Of course, there are lots of commercially prepared baits that work with varying degrees of success. While I haven’t used it on catfish, a great alternative to bait you don’t have to keep fresh is Berkley Gulp. Gulp works like live bait for every species of fish I’ve used it on and can be stored in your tackle box to use if you don’t find live bait.
Bream and perch must be caught on line and normally it’s not too hard to find a blowdown and pick out as many small bluegills as you need. Remember that big fish like big baits. Use light spinning tackle with slip bobbers for this since it’s a lot easier to manage a slip bobber.
In summer look for fish on flats near deep water or close to creek channels or the river channel. Moving water is always better. Muddy water is a great excuse to fish for cats; muddy water means lots of flow and a lot of stuff churning around. The best trips are often in murky water that looks more like chocolate milk than good fishing water.
Flatheads are likely to be in holes under brush piles or submerged logs. A pile of logs on an outside bend of the upper regions of High Rock is almost certain to produce flatheads. A great spot that’s easy to find is just below the Buck’s Steam Plant at the I-85 Bridge. There’s a channel on the left side that’s almost always a winner. On Tuckertown, try up close to the High Rock Dam. This isn’t fishing for the faint hearted, though, there are some real rocks up there.
Blues and channel cats are going to your best bet on Badin. In summer, the fish are in flat water near creek channels. The Old Whitney area is particularly good. The state record fish came from that area in 2006 at 89 pounds.
While you can catch catfish in the middle of the brightest day, there are times when your prospects are better. As with almost all kinds of fishing, late and early work best. With cats, the very best time is the time between late and early. Catfish tend to be nocturnal and night fishing in summer is one of my favorite things to do.  While catfish are considered to be bottom feeders, they will bite almost on the surface at night, so don’t just limit yourself to bottom fishing. You’ll be surprised at how much better you do in the light of the moon.
Catfish are prolific enough that there’s little guilt factor in keeping a mess. In fact, because there is concern about the number of bait fish flatheads consume, the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission recommends keeping flatheads. According to Dr. Tom Kwak of the a biologist for NCWRC, “Anglers should definitely practice catch-and-keep when they get a flathead catfish,”
Catfish are among the tastiest freshwater fish and we often take advantage of that by carrying a small one burner stove on the boat. I roll the fillets in a bag of House Autry cornmeal and fry them in olive oil right there on the boat. It’s really simple to do and you’ll never have better fish than fish you cooked right there on the boat. It’s true that hotdogs are a traditional summer treat, but I’ll take a plate of fresh catfish over a hotdog every time.
Dick Jones is an award winning freelance writer living in High Point. He’s a member of the board of directors of the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association. He writes about hunting, fishing, dogs, and shooting for several NC newspapers as well as national magazines and websites.  If you’d like to have him speak to your group, he can be reached at or