April is when the last vestiges of winter become just memories, the days get longer and the water temperature rises into that magic range in the low 60s that puts the catfish in Lake Hartwell on the move. That’s when the fishing starts to get good, according to guide Seth Owens of Anderson, S.C.
Hartwell is home to three major catfish species, and Owens has developed strategies to catch all three during the month of April.
Blue catfish. “Depending on the sunlight and temperature, the fish may be anywhere from 3 to 30 feet of water. The males will move in first, then the big females,” Owens said. “If I am confident there are fish in a certain area, I will cast bait on the bottom but only (let it) sit there for about 45 minutes before moving. If I am searching for fish, I will drift bait with planer boards, moving the boat .5 to .7 mph, usually starting in the backs of the creeks where there is a flat and fishing out toward deeper water, crossing the channels as we go.”
The fish will be feeding mainly on gizzard shad, herring or perch, he said.
“I use 30-pound monofilament with a 2/0 or 3/0 Kahle hook. For drifting large baits, I use the same hook with a No. 6 treble stinger hook crimped on with 60-pound steel leader. I may also attach a spinner above the swivel or a rattle to attract fish.”
Channel catfish. Late in the winter and early in spring, channel catfish can be caught in the main river channel in 60 to 80 feet of water, but as the water warms in April they will move up to the 20- to 30-foot range, Owens said.
“The easiest way to catch them is to pull up on the bank and fan cast into that 20- to 30-foot depth,” he said. “You can use cut herring, worms, or my favorite: Hoss’s Hawg Bait stinkbait. We cut small pieces of swim noodle to hold the bait with a No. 2 to No. 4 hook and a half-ounce of weight.”
Owens borrows from bass fishermen’s arsenals for a different tactic on channel catfish.
“Another fun way to catch them is to cast along riprap, dragging nightcrawlers on the bottom like fishing a plastic worm. I like to use a spinning reel with 12-pound monofilament on an 8-foot rod for this.”
Flathead catfish. “Flathead fishing starts to pick up about mid-April, and the hotter the weather gets, the better it will be,” Owens said. “As the water heats up, the flatheads will move up into the shallower water, sometimes just 2 feet deep.”
Flathead fishing is best at night, he said, either anchoring, pulling up on the bank and fan-casting baits out around the boat.
“We use the same tackle as with the blues, but they prefer live bait. The hardest part about chasing these big fish is having live bait big enough to entice them to eat,” Owens said. “You really need a bream, perch, crappie, maybe even a spotted bass that is at least a pound or bigger.”
Lake Keowee, upstream from Hartwell, is a prime place to fish with a spotted bass simply because they are everywhere, according to Owens (864-909-7388).