Lake Norman & Mooresville

Fishing: Catfish keep biting no matter how warm the water gets

Gus Gustafson holds a summer flathead catfish caught on a live white perch.
Gus Gustafson holds a summer flathead catfish caught on a live white perch. GUS GUSTAFSON

There are times during the summer when the lake water gets so warm that fish stop biting. Catfish, however, are the exception. The warmer the water, the more actively they feed.

The reasons are many, but simply stated, catfish have a higher tolerance for warm water than other hook-and-line fish.

Lake Norman has three types of catfish – channel, blue and flatheads. The average channel cat weighs from 1 pound to 3 pounds and is fun to catch on light tackle. Channel cats are frequently caught on heavily scented store-bought baits known as stink baits.

In addition, fishermen have learned catfish eat chicken parts, table scraps and leftover foods. Some of the more popular refrigerator baits are chicken livers, shrimp, cheese and bacon strips. Minnows (dead or alive), night-crawlers and red wiggler worms are also good baits.

Blue catfish grow to more than 100 pounds. The Lake Norman record is 85 pounds. Knowing that a big one can be taken at any time, savvy anglers use heavy tackle, large hooks (3/0-7/0) tied to 50- to 80-pound leader material. While blues will hit the same baits as channels, anglers prefer to use fresh-cut strips of bream, herring, shad and perch.

Some believe the head of a bream or white perch will produce more strikes than a filet strip. The theory is that the head holds more scent and juices, which seems to attract larger fish. Another bait, and one that has that has gained popularity in recent years, is small pieces of chicken breasts sprinkled with garlic powder.

Flatheads, while not as large as blue catfish, do achieve weights of more than 50 pounds on Lake Norman. The state record, however, is a 78-pounder taken from the Cape Fear River in 2005. While other species of catfish are scavengers, the flathead is a predator that stalks forage and game fish. Live shad, herring, perch, bream and goldfish are frequently used by those who target them.

Summer catfish swim close to shore, making them easy targets for anglers fishing from the bank, docks and piers. Since catfish are excellent table fare, you might try this popular recipe.

▪ One 8-ounce catfish fillet per person.

▪ Vegetable oil.

▪ Blackening spice.

Preheat a 10-inch cast iron skillet until very hot. Brush each fillet with vegetable oil. Sprinkle blackening spice evenly on both sides. Place fillets in a hot skillet and blacken each side for 6 to 8 minutes or until the fish is firm. Use a spatula to turn the fish and to remove it from the pan.

Tips from Capt. Gus

There is no size or creel limit on catfish taken from Lake Norman, with one exception. The daily possession limit is only one blue cat longer than 32 inches.

To learn about catfishing on Lake Norman and other area lakes, visit the Carolina Catfish Club’s website at

Upcoming event

Fishing seminar: Frequently Asked Questions about Lake Norman Fishing: Jake Bussolini and I will answer your fishing questions 6:30 p.m. June 17 at Gander Mountain, Exit 36, in Mooresville. This free session will be of interest to those new to lake fishing and interested in catching bass, cats, crappie, perch and stripers. Details: 704-658-0822.

Hot spots of the week

Spotted bass are schooling on creek channels and river points. Try catching them on top-water lures, swim-baits and soft plastics rigged drop-shot or with a shaky head jig. For largemouth bass, skip-cast soft plastics under deep water docks during the heat of the day.

Summer has arrived because white perch fishing is excellent. It’s not uncommon to land two, three or more on a single drop when fishing with Sabiki rigs. Anglers trolling the river and creek channel edges with Alabama rigs are landing a mixed bag of white perch, spotted bass and an occasional striper. Cat fishing is also excellent.

Lake conditions

The surface water temperature varies by location but is mainly in the 80s in open waters not affected by power generation. The water level is about 2.5 feet below full pond on Lake Norman and 3.3 feet below full on Mountain Island Lake.

Gus Gustafson is a freelance writer and a professional fishing guide on Lake Norman. Have a story idea for Gus? Email him at