Often overshadowed by the Santee-Cooper lakes and other excellent South Carolina catfish waters, Lake Wateree can provide anglers with outstanding action at times.
The relatively small, somewhat isolated lake covers about 13,700 acres of Fairfield, Kershaw and Lancaster counties near Camden, S.C., about 30 miles northeast of Columbia. Impounded in 1920 where the Catawba River merges with Wateree Creek to form the Wateree River, one of the oldest reservoirs in South Carolina offers anglers more than 242 shoreline miles. Lake Wateree averages about 7 feet deep, but some holes drop to more than 75 feet deep in places.
The Catawba River flows down from the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina into South Carolina and runs approximately 220 miles before it hits Lake Wateree. Below Lake Wateree, the Wateree River flows another 75 miles until it merges with the Congaree River to form the Santee River. The Santee River flows through Lake Marion, one of the Santee-Cooper lakes, before entering the Atlantic Ocean.
“The whole lake fishes more like a river,” advised Eric Jenkins, a professional catfish angler from Catawba, N.C. “Halfway up the lake, the terrain gets hilly. A dominant river channel runs through the majority of the lake. The upper section is primarily a narrow, rocky river.”
The lake contains excellent populations of blue cats with some topping 80 pounds! It also harbors a thriving channel catfish population and a few scattered flatheads. Both the Catawba and Wateree rivers hold big flatheads, but anglers don’t usually catch that many flatheads in the lake itself. However, anglers seem to report more flatheads each year.
“People catch 60- to 70-pound blues on a fairly regular basis,” Jenkins advised. “Blue cats in the 30- to 50-pound range are about average during the right conditions. The lake has a lot of 15- to 20-pound catfish. Lake Wateree has never been known for flatheads. The biggest flathead I’ve heard about weighed about 19 pounds and it was caught in 2014.”
Much of the lake contains large stretches of open water, but the state established numerous fish attractors in Lake Wateree. In addition, several islands, humps and coves provide good catfish habitat. The lake contains excellent bottom structure with plenty of sandbars, stumpy flats and humps. People can also fish around numerous docks and rock piles. Many huge catfish hang near the dam. Anglers often fish deep holes along the river channel near the dam or humps in the lower lake. Any of these areas could produce a giant blue cat.
During the 2014 King Kat Eastern Championship, held October 3-4, Kelly Godbolt of Conway, S.C., and Ron Howard of Eutawville, S.C., won the two-day event with 10 fish weighing 204.58 pounds. The winning team fished 17 feet of water in a big flat at the mouth of Rochelle Creek and caught their catfish on cut white perch, a native forage species in the lake. Their biggest blue weighed 31.64 pounds.
“The area had a lot of bait and brush piles,” Howard said. “We had a lot of other baits, but white perch about as big as a hand worked best. We fished big baits for big fish. If we had fished small baits, we probably could have caught 100 fish.”
Many catfish anglers prefer to fish the main river channel at the upper end of the lake since that mostly riverine section of Lake Wateree generally runs with more current. Hungry predators often lurk behind cover and look upstream to wait for the currents to bring food to them. Some big cats patrol the edges of the river channel in 15- to 20 feet of water. From the channel edge, they can rise into stumpy flats to hunt for food or quickly drop back down into deeper water as conditions or their moods dictate.
“I fish Lake Wateree about two to three times a month, more in the winter,” Jenkins said. “It’s a great lake to fish, but sometimes, it’s tough. Some days, we can catch 200 or 300 pounds of catfish in a couple hours. On other days, we may only catch two or three fish all day.”
At any time, the lake can give up a giant catfish for persistent anglers. For targeting monster cats, use big baits and drift through deep holes with large baits. Any strike could produce the fish of a lifetime.
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(Top Photo: Kelly Godbolt shows off a blue catfish he caught while fishing at Lake Wateree near Camden, S.C.