Guide Rodger Taylor said the Catawba Chain of catfish are
fat because of the excellent shad forage base in the lakes.
Carolina Destinations for Blue-Ribbon Winter Catfishing
By Terry Madewell
Three lakes on the lower end of the Catawba River—Wylie, Wateree and Fishing Creek—offer excellent catfishing for blue, flathead and channel catfish from December through prespawn.
For catfish anglers searching for new opportunities, I have three great reasons to fish the lower end of the Catawba River chain of lakes covering parts of North and South Carolina.
Three lakes along the lower end of the Catawba River—Wylie, Fishing Creek and Wateree—combine to create a myriad of opportunities for prime winter catfishing. From the confluence of the Catawba River with the South Fork Catawba River in the upper portion of Lake Wylie, the Catawba River flows southward from North Carolina into South Carolina, offering outstanding catfish action for quality and quantity of fish along the way.
Along the Catawba’s course, the largest of the man-made lakes form a trio of catfishing opportunities for blues, flatheads and channel catfish.
Their proximity to Charlotte, North Carolina and Rock Hill, South Carolina make these lakes prime destinations for wintertime anglers. This urban location ensures excellent accommodations and restaurants nearby, significantly enhancing the destination profile. Access to all three lakes is easy via Interstate 77 from Charlotte south to Columbia, South Carolina.
Lake Wylie is the most urban of the trio, lying almost in downtown Charlotte. Fishing Creek Lake and Lake Wateree are only a short drive from Rock Hill.
Lakes Wylie and Wateree are moderate-sized lakes, with Lake Wylie encompassing 13,443 surface acres and Lake Wateree 13,864 acres. Fishing Creek Lake is a smallish 3,112 acres but packs a big catfish one-two-punch. Local anglers know it as a sleeper catfish lake that outsiders don’t hear much about.
Combined, anglers have a total of 30,000-plus surface acres of water to fish, encompassing three different lakes that provide tremendous diversity in habitat and catfishing opportunities.
Lake Wylie lies partially in both states and offers outstanding catfishing opportunities throughout its length.
Rodger Taylor is a 61-year-old catfishing guide specializing in Lake Wylie catfishing, but he also fishes the other two lakes. Taylor has fished Lake Wylie most of his life and resides adjacent to the water.
“Winter, and through pre-spawn, is my favorite period to fish Lake Wylie for multiple reasons,” Taylor said. “First, the catfishing is excellent, and it’s big-fish time. Second, the numbers of fish caught are high with lots of “teener” sized blues. Another is while the warm season produces a tremendous amount of non-fishing recreational boat traffic, winter brings low recreational boat traffic, enabling anglers to fish how, when and where we want.”
Taylor (803-517-7828) utilizes two techniques during December and into the spring. He’ll fish from anchored setups, or he’ll drift fish, depending on weather and water conditions.
ylorTa’s preferred fishing is anchored setups on specific targets. Forage is always a major player in winter setups because shad typically cluster into tight pods. Favored anchor-fishing targets include points, humps and ledges in the mainstream Catawba River. He’ll anchor in and around deeper water but ensures ample forage is marked on the graph.
On warm, sunny afternoons, he’ll fish shallow water in the back of creeks and coves from an anchored position.
“Shad will congregate in the back of creeks and large coves, and the blue catfish flood into these shallower areas to feed as the water warms during the day,” he said. “Another shallow-water fishing opportunity is when a big rain event occurs, and the back of the creeks and coves can offer short-term, high-volume catfishing success.”
Taylor said another go-to tactic for winter is to drift fish over the tips of points as well as around humps and ledges.
“In the mainstream area, the best depths vary based on water conditions, but typically the 25-to-29-foot depths are a good range,” Taylor said. “Based on results, anglers can then explore shallower or deeper, but until I get a daily pattern, I may drift anywhere from 12 to 30 feet deep. Gizzard shad and white perch are my prime winter baits.”
Taylor said he’ll catch more blue catfish in cold weather, but big flatheads are in play, too.
“Lake Wylie is an excellent flathead factory, and at certain of the year, I offer specialized trips targeting big flatheads,” he noted. “Channel catfish are abundant and provide good action but not in particular large sizes.”
Taylor said Lake Wylie is loaded with quality access points throughout the lake.
Fishing Creek Lake lies downstream of Lake Wylie and while more remote has good launching access. It’s a small lake, but the channel ledges, coves and points offer a diversity of underwater targets for anglers. Blue, flathead and channel catfish are all caught in good numbers.
Jason Wolfe, out of Fort Lawn, South Carolina guides on all three lakes. He said Fishing Creek Lake is “Flathead Central,” and noted that flathead fishing on lakes Wylie and Fishing Creek ranks among the best in South Carolina. During winter, flatheads are caught in reasonable numbers, but the blue catfish is the go-to species.
Wolfe (803-487-3690) said drift fishing the main lake is a prime tactic during December, but by spring, he’ll begin to fish from anchored setups more frequently. He prefers fresh-cut gizzard shad or perch and catches the occasional big flathead along with quality blues.
“Fishing for flatheads can be good all winter but really perks up during April at Fishing Creek Lake,” he said.
Lake Wateree produces outstanding fishing for blue catfish and numbers of channel catfish during the winter and through the early spring. Both Wolfe and Tayler guide on this lake.
The upper end of the lake isn’t developed as much as Lake Wylie, but the lower end has numerous private residences along the shoreline.
Wolfe said wintertime is big-fish time at Lake Wateree. The lake has stabilized a bit from the big-fish boom of the past, but Wolfe said plenty of quality fish are still caught.
“My personal best from Lake Wateree is a 72-pound blue catfish,” he said. “I’ll be fishing both the mainstream river and the creeks targeting big catfish. During late November and December, I’ll fish the mid- to lower-lake area. But as water temperatures fall, I’ll tend to fish more from mid-lake, around June Creek, and uplake to the headwaters.
“Wylie and Fishing Creek are excellent flathead lakes, but I seldom catch flatheads in Wateree, and I fish it often,” Wolfe continued. “But big blues are abundant and make up for it.”
Wolfe said fishing from anchored setups becomes more of his go-to tactic as the water temperature cools during winter.
“I’ll work points, humps, channel junctions and ledges at various depths until I determine the pattern of the day,” he said. “I’m willing to move frequently when searching for fish.”
Within this three-lake triad, anglers can fish mainstream rivers, major creeks with defined channels and large shallow flats as well as having options for fishing river settings where the current flow dictates strategy. Opportunities for most any catfishing preference exist, and these fertile waters are chock-full of forage and catfish.
Both guides can recommend local accommodation locations.
For excellent visitor information about the area around these lakes, visit the Old English District Tourism site for South Carolina. You’ll find various lodging options, and can download the Olde English District Destination Guide. It’s full of useful information including local eateries and activities.
Visit North Carolina has information for the Charlotte area. Fishing license information and purchase options can be obtained online with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, or the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. The states do not have a reciprocal license agreement.
(Terry Madewell of Ridgeway, S.C. has been an outdoor communicator for over 45 years. He holds a degree in Wildlife and Fisheries Management and has a long career as a professional wildlife biologist/natural resources manager. He’s passionate about sharing outdoor adventures with others.)