Guide Keith Wall of Buffalo Junction, Va., has been concentrating his efforts near Bluestone Creek and Buffalo Creeks, two of the lake's best regions for big catfish, and he's been catching blues and flatheads ranging from 15 to 30 pounds.
"I catch catfish all-year long on this lake," said Wall (434-738-5994) "Buggs Island always has had huge catfish."
The world-record blue catfish, a 143-pound behemoth, was caught in Kerr Lake in June 2011, but there's no question that late fall and early winter are prime times to catch bragging-sized cats.
Locations, lively baits, timing and water temperature are the keys to catfish bites. But catfish can be finicky, biting one day and ignoring baits the next. Sometimes they'll hit only one kind of bait and ignore others, and anglers often don't always know catfish menu requirements.
"The best places in winter I've found to find catfish seem to be in 10 to 12 feet of water off the mouths of creeks, such as Bluestone or Buffalo, and all the way to where the Dan River and Staunton River join," Wall said. "If you can find a rocky point that extends out near the river channel, the rocks will hold baitfish, and catfish usually will be around them."
Once he finds such a place, Wall likes to anchor and fan cast live baitfish around his boat, throwing to underwater slopes of river-channel drop-offs. He varies his baitfish depths from 10 to 17 feet, using a Carolina rig with 18 inches of leader, a 10-0 Kahle hook and a 1½- or 2-ounce lead weight to keep his baits on the bottom.
For bait, he prefers live bream or crappie, and he often obtains his baitfish from a pond near his house. It's illegal to use a cast net to land gamefish, such as bream and crappie.
When actively feeding, both varieties of catfish aren't finicky and also will hit cut baits. Wall hooks bream and crappie, which usually will remain alive from 30 minutes to an hour during winter, just below their dorsal fins. Once baitfish expire, Wall cuts them into chunks of meat and casts them again.
"Buggs Island catfish hit all-day long when they're hungry, but the best times seem to be from an hour before dark, then all night long," Wall said.
Winter catfish hunters at Kerr Lake should wear warm outer garments, gloves, headgear to keep ears covered and insulated footwear may come in handy at night. Food and a thermos of hot beverages are good to have on board a catfish boat as well. Temperatures drop quickly once darkness falls in winter.Blue cats will bite during any water temperature, but flatheads seem to go dormant after the mercury dips below 50 degrees.