When literally one of the world's best catfishing holes is in our own backyard it is hard to think about fishing any other place for Mr. Whiskers. Truth be told, monster catfish swim elsewhere in the state and some anglers think the next state record catfish won't come from the Lowcountry.
The Santee Cooper lakes and associated waters are no stranger to state record fish. Currently, the system lays claim to three of the catfish records in the state, including the former world record blue cat pulled from the Tailrace Canal by Summerville's George Lijewski in 1991 that weighed 109 pounds, 4 ounces. Mark Bollenberg of Bonneau Beach recently boated one that weighed more than 100 pounds from the Tailrace Canal.
But anglers across the state have been catching some nice catfish elsewhere, including a brute recently landed from a lake just up Interstate 26.
On a Saturday morning in late April, Ron Cotney, a 39-year old Prosperity resident and manager at the Wal-Mart in Newberry, set out with his brother and niece for a day of fishing on 7,000-acre Lake Monticello in Fairfield County just up the road from Columbia.
"I've been fishing Monticello off and on all my life," Cotney said, "but I have been fishing it hard for the last five years because of the catfish."
Cotney admits he used to be a pond and river fisherman but was bitten by catfishing a few years back.
"We launched the boat at about 6:30 in the morning," Cotney said. "It had been daylight for about 45 minutes, and my niece had just caught a little catfish."
Cotney was drift fishing with a rod and reel and catfish rig that he had bought at where else, Wal-Mart. The rig consisted of 25-pound Pline fishing line with a bottom-bouncing lead, 24-inch wire leader and circle hook.
His bait was chicken breast soaked in WD-40, something he had read in SC Game & Fish magazine.
"I soak the chicken breasts for a few days before I go fishing," Cotney said. "I've caught a lot of quality fish using the stuff."
Cotney was fishing in about 65 feet of water around 7:30 a.m. when his rod bent over. His brother, Mark, saw it gradually bend and told Ron he thought he was hung since it bent over so consistently.
"I grabbed the rod and snatched it, thinking it was hung," Cotney said. "It started zinging and my brother said 'you're not hung,' which was easy to tell at that point. I fought the fish for about 30 minutes and during that time the fish was pulling the boat around at 5 miles per hour according to the depthfinder.
"We had a big net but when we got the fish to the surface it wouldn't fit in the net. So we sort of put it in backwards and grabbed its head and just rolled it into the boat."
The big blue catfish measured four feet long and after some running around they confirmed its weight at 89 pounds.
"The DNR doesn't keep official lake records," Cotney said, "but talking to them and asking around tackle shops and locals no one can recall a fish this big being landed from Monticello." Cotney's previous best from Monticello was a 56-pound blue catfish.
"I think the new state, or even world record, catfish could come from Lake Monticello," Cotney said. "People consistently catch 30- to 50-pound fish. The lake's water stays warm throughout the winter because the nuclear power plant uses it to cool the reactors. I think that's a big plus that helps the catfish."
There's no reason to abandon Santee Cooper. But if you are in the neighborhood of Lake Monticello for vacation or just want a change of fishing scenery, you might find some find pretty darn good catfishing there.