Trophy-catfish guide Paul Blackwell said the anchor-fishing technique is highly
effective during January on many lakes when targeting trophy blue catfish.
Techniques for Cold-Weather Catfishing
By Terry Madewell
Fishing from an anchored setup and drift fishing are excellent cold-weather catfish tactics, but employing the right technique to meet the conditions you encounter is the key to success.
Cold weather is a favored time for many trophy-catfish experts to pursue big catfish, and January offers a prime opportunity to hook a trophy blue cat. While success this time of year is good, it’s not a random act of just getting on the water and fishing.
Consistently successful fishermen employ a well-conceived game plan that revolves around locating specific targets with the right combination of forage and fish. Patience is more of a factor to success than many other times of the year in terms of big-fish success, and the choice of what tactic to use to meet daily weather and water conditions is crucial.
Both anchor-fishing and drift-fishing techniques can be highly effective.
Trophy-catfish guide Paul Blackwell said fishing conditions during this time of year often favor his preferred style of fishing.
“I’m primarily an anchor-setup catfisherman, and winter fishing can be ideal for that,” he said. “But patience is the key when water temperatures are near the low for the year. Blue catfish will eat, but with low water temperatures, their metabolism is lower, so patience is a virtue in making a big-catfish connection.”
Blackwell (864-202-3095) has fished throughout North and South Carolina and guides for trophy catfish on the Santee Cooper lakes. He said fishing from an anchored setup can be effective on any lake. He’ll search for fish and forage using his electronics, and he’s willing to invest precious fishing time locating just the right area because the payback on quality fish is worth it.
“Depth is always a key this time of the year, and while I’m open to fishing deep or shallow, often the catfish can be found surprisingly shallow in January,” he said. “But wherever I find them, I’ll anchor and give the big catfish time to bite.”
Blackwell said catfish cluster in large numbers and sizes on specific targets this time of the year, including humps, points and along ditches that course through the shallower flats.
“I don’t get locked into specific depths because frontal systems may push catfish deeper or into the mid-depths, especially when severe weather conditions occur,” he said. “With the right weather conditions, they can be surprisingly shallow, but shallow depths are also a function of the specific water being fished.”
Blackwell said when catfish are shallow, he’ll anchor shallow but near deeper water. On one mid-winter trip, he marked abundant forage and several big catfish in a localized area. He anchored and was patient for several hours, confident the big-fish bite would occur. The payback was several big blue catfish caught in a 45-minute feeding spree.
“This situation confirms that spending time to locate a prime target, then being patient enough to fish it properly, pays off,” he said. “But it begins with identifying an area that has forage and multiple big fish.”
Blackwell said it’s also crucial to give catfish what they want in terms of presentation, and one setup doesn’t fit every situation. He’ll work deeper water based on fishing conditions.
Weather is a crucial factor during wintertime fishing, and sometimes a severe frontal system requires anglers to have a backup strategy to be successful during January.
Winter conditions subject fishermen to frequent weather changes impacting the barometric pressure, plus excessive wind impacts where catfish are found, and whether anglers can effectively and safely fish specific targets.
Spencer Hodges from Winterville, North Carolina is generally an anchor-first catfisherman, but the 55-year-old tournament fisherman and former professional guide on the James River in Virginia and Santee Cooper lakes in South Carolina has a strategy for when the anchor bite slows or isn’t his best option.
“I love fishing from an anchored setup for big catfish in January, but I’ve learned that when it’s tough, I can switch to drift fishing to be successful,” he said. “But, as when anchor fishing, it’s still a highly specific technique for me.”
Hodges said during cold weather, he often locates excellent shallow-water fishing that suddenly slows, usually impacted by a frontal passage.
“I don’t assume anything when a front passes,” he said. “Sometimes that first day with the wind blowing, I can get in the shallows in choppy water and find big blues. But if I fish a couple of targets without finding biting fish, I think the right move is to drift and cover more water.”
Often the cats on the shallow flats will move and scatter into deeper water in post-frontal situations.
“But they often don’t go far, so my first effort is to work areas close to where I’d been catching them shallow,” Hodges said. “For example, if I’ve had success on flats in depths of three to eight feet, I’m first going to work areas nearby that may be in the 10- to 15-foot range. The specific depth number will vary with individual lakes based on water color, temperature and location, but the pattern is similar.”
If Hodges marks forage in that depth of water and sees catfish in a scattered fashion on his graph, he’ll drift that area.
“I’ll have to be patient, but I watch the graph and, if I’m marking forage and seeing occasional catfish, I’ll give them a reasonable opportunity,” he said.
If the action is slow, and as the sun climbs higher on what is typically a blue-sky day, Hodges covers deeper water with his drift profile until he locks onto a pattern. It’s a process that often puts him on a good catfish-catching pattern.
Hodges said his favored targets for winter drifting have the common connection of including underwater topographic changes. Points, humps, ledges and channel junctions are among his preferred targets.
Go catfishing this January knowing the odds of hooking trophy catfish are good. But have a plan that enables you to fish effectively based weather and water conditions.
(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.)