Anytime fishermen get together, a simple mention of the name Santee Cooper will ignite a discussion of legendary catfishing that is unmatched anywhere in the world. Unlike any other lake in the country, Santee Cooper has dozens of guide services that specialize in catfishing. Just about any large lake has its own share of local guide services. Most of these cater to the bass fisherman (or walleye in northern regions) but very rarely will a tourist find a catfishing specialist. santee cooper catfishing specialists abound.
Catfish in Santee Cooper offer a variety of experiences with three major species roaming the depths in search of an angler’s bait. Two of these species offer the possibility of specimens exceeding 100 pounds. No other freshwater fish in North America can be expected to reach half that weight.
Catfish can be caught in almost all of the contiguous forty-eight states. In most locales catfishing is a local pastime with little attraction to tourists. The Santee Cooper area has a well established catfishing industry focused on providing tourists the most enjoyable angling experience available.
While each species responds best to specific tactics the overlapping behaviors and locations mean you never know what you’ve hooked until you see it. The big blue catfish is an opportunist that will readily attack a struggling bluegill, a fresh piece of shad or a wad of the guide’s favorite stink-bait. One or two powerful runs will strip line off a reel and leave the angler fighting for every foot of line as the fish refuses to go near the boat. No other freshwater fish is likely to match the power of a thirty-plus pound blue cat’s initial run.
The flathead catfish can grow as big as the blue cat in some cases. Experienced fishermen often disagree which can get bigger. The flathead is much more predatory than the other two major species. This makes them harder to catch because they expect a live meal. They can be quite selective about biting – some fishermen say they will watch a struggling bluegill for hours before deciding to eat it. Once hooked, the flathead delivers a strong, relentless slogging fight- refusing to surrender. Thirty-pound flatheads are not uncommon on Santee cooper but not nearly as common as the big blues. On the table, the flathead has a unique texture and whiter meat than other catfish.
The most common but smallest major catfish species is the channel catfish. These fish rarely exceed twenty pounds but fish in the five to ten pound range are very common. The channel cat is a willing biter of just about any live or dead bait including the ubiquitous stink baits commonly associated with catfish.
Restaurants with catfish on the menu are almost always serving farm raised channel catfish. For fast action none of the catfish species can deliver more excitement than a school of channel cats. On a good day a couple of anglers can fill a cooler with five-to-ten-pound fish. Cleaned and bagged for freezing, the fillets or steaks will refresh the memories of Santee cooper catfishing each time a bag is thawed and cooked up.
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