There is one way to just about guarantee putting catfish in the boat during July and August on South Carolina’s Lake Monticello, according to guide William Attaway of Pomaria, S.C.

“The best bite I know of is free-lining. It pays off good this time of year for numbers of fish and sometimes big fish,” he said. “You can anchor and catch a big fish, although you might only catch one or even none, but this pretty much guarantees you will get fish into the boat.”

Free-lining works in the summer because fish are usually suspended from 5 to 20 feet below the surface, he said. They get active because of the pump-back operation pulling water back into the lake from the Broad River for the operation of the nuclear plant, and that stirs up the bait.

The hottest bite, he said, occurs when freshwater mussels, which are common in the lake, die due to the heat and float to the surface. The catfish gather in packs to feed on the mussels.

“It’s not complicated. I use cut bait, chicken thighs mostly, cut in small chunks to simulate a mussel floating in the water,” said Attaway (803-924-0857), who prefers fresh chicken and likes the thigh meat better than the breast because it is a little tougher and dispenses a little natural oil in the water. Sometimes he spikes the flavor with garlic salt or garlic powder and even soaks it in cherry Kool-Aid.

“I think this bite is based on sight. Not to say the scent hurts it, but I think it is based on sight because it is so shallow,” said Attaway, who also uses cut gizzard shad, white perch and bream for bait.

Attaway threads chunks of bait — an inch square of smaller — on 8/0 Gamakatsu hooks with a 50-pound leader tied to 40-pound line on his reel. Six rods drift bait behind the boat, with the longer lines out pulling a little deeper beneath the surface.

“The fish like it slow. If they are down deep I try to go slower and if they are up close to the top I go a little faster,” he said. “A lot depends on the wind. If there is a 5 mph wind, I put out two 6-foot drift socks and use the trolling motor, and if there is no wind, I just use the trolling motor.”

The best times to fish, he said, are early morning, late afternoon and at night.

“When it is hot, I prefer to fish at night. Most of the time I will be in 100-plus feet of water over trees, but at nighttime I go up in the shallows, 30 feet of water or less and fish the same way,” he said. “We are mostly catching small blues, and on a good night we will have anywhere from 20 to 50 fish.”

The average-size catfish runs from 11/2 to about 3 pounds, he said, but sometimes the catch will be supplemented with a bonus fish of 20 to 30 pounds.

The best fishing is when the mussels are dying, Attaway said, but when there is a major die-off and the top of the lake is covered with them, the catfish gorge themselves, and in about a week or so, the bite goes away.