Right now, late January, the cold is setting in for a little while; water temps are down into the mid-to-upper 40s. This is an excellent time to catch Blue Catfish on the lakes system. The Flatheads and Channel catfish have slowed down, but the Blues love this weather, when they can cruise the lakes and gorge on baitfish. This is a short explanation of the way I like to spend some of the winter days. While I primarily fish the Santee Cooper System of Lakes Marion and Moultrie, these tactics can be applied to many large impoundments across the country. Winter catfishing has really taken hold over the past few years, and the cold-water catfish can be caught in several different ways. These methods may have to be changed up a little from day to day to adjust for changing conditions, but the savvy catfisherman will make the right decisions. Vertical Fishing: When the shad school up tight due to the cold water conditions, a favorite method for many is to fish vertically over the schools of baitfish. Feeding birds can be a sign of baitfish, usually with actively feeding fish below, but dont just look for birds. Use your sonar to look for the schools of shad. Once you find them, you will usually, but not always, find those telltale arches of large fish around the edges or underneath the schools. Sometimes the bait schools are so dense that the big fish may not show, but trust me, they will be in the area. They will follow these bait pods around, waiting for an easy meal as shad die and drift to the bottom. Rig a simple Carolina rig with a 1-2 oz. egg sinker above a swivel and leader about 2 long, drop to the bottom, then reel up a couple of turns to keep the bait 1-2 above bottom, or suspend it a little below the baitfish. The Blues and Stripers are primarily feeding on shad kill, so naturally fresh or live shad is the bait of choice. However, herring, menhaden, and other fish such as bream or perch will work. If your bait is small, thread 2 or 3 on a hook at the same time. Drifting: Rig a Carolina rig with a sinker ahead of a swivel and 3 leader. Place a 2 crappie float on the leader, about 6-10 above the hook. Peg the float on the hook side, to keep it from sliding down the leader. The float will keep the bait off the bottom and in the zone for a big fish to home in on it. Set up to let the wind carry you across areas that have contour/depth changes, as you keep the lines behind you at a 45-degree angle or so. Try to maintain a slow drift speed of .2-.5 mph; slower is better in this cold water. This is where I really love circle or kahle style hooks, because the fish will almost always hook themselves, and I just love to see the tip of that rod quiver as the pull it down to the water. If the wind is too calm, a trolling motor will help you make these drifts at a controlled speed and direction. Some will use their trolling motors even when the wind is adequate, to keep on the course they want. Drifting can cover a lot of water in a relatively short time. This works especially well on Lake Moultrie, where there is much less standing timber than on Lake Marion, where vertical fishing will often be the best method. Anchoring: Set up to fish depth changes, on humps or structure. Place the baited hooks on bottom around the boat with some in deep water and some shallower. The fish may be at different depths from one day to the next, so be willing to move around until you locate them. If you arent getting bites, be ready to try a different area. Look for drops and ledges or humps that give easy access to deep and shallow water. A Carolina rig is great for anchoring, although the drift rig with float will still work just fine as long as you are casting away from the boat; you may want to slide the float a little farther up the leader, no more than halfway. These methods work really well on Lake Marion and Lake Moultrie, but they can be adapted to virtually any open water lake. The same methods will also work during the warmer months, although the preferred bait may shift to herring, bream, perch, etc. When drifting, some baits tend to stay on the hook better than others, and you may want to use several different baits until you see what is working best. A good way to prepare shad or herring is to filet one side from near the tail to just behind the head, then fold back over the gill plate; next, run the hook through that filet and both eyes. This will expose a lot of body juices and blood (smell) to the water. These methods work well for me, and I hope some of you can use the same tactics or some variation to help improve your winter fishing. Its inviting to stay indoors during the cold, but theres a lot of great fishing to be had out on the lakes .