"It was 2002 before I knew how much catfish migrate," Smith said. "These things migrate. I didn't think they moved more than two or three miles, but some of the (older SCDNR) biologists who're retired now told me a lot of blues will migrate 100 miles up and down a river system.
"I was used to following migratory stripers. Now I'm just following catfish the same way - for 10 years."
Smith said blues have been monitored coming up the Cooper River, travelling up the fish lift, migrating all the way through Lake Moultrie, through the Diversion Canal, then to the headwaters of Lake Marion and well beyond.
Now Smith pays attention to every fish that comes aboard his pontoon boat.
"I weigh every fish, and that tells me when they're starting to move (upstream in the spring to spawn)," he said. "When my catch starts to drop, I know they're moving and I've got to move four or five miles upstream to keep up."
When the spawn ends late in the spring, catfish turn around and head back down through the Santee Cooper system.
"I follow them back down after I follow them up," he said. "The big fish move up to spawn; then they reverse it. I've seen fish go all the way through Lake Marion, through the Diversion Canal and then through Moultrie all the way down to Pinopolis."
Although Smith's boat is tied up at Canal Lakes Fish Camp most of the year, when blues head up to spawn he puts his pontoon boat on the trailer and follows them.
"You've got to move if you can't run more than 15 miles from your landing," he said. "If you're willing to follow the fish and move with them, you can follow them all year.
"If you're stuck in one place, you can catch them about nine months out of the year."