When you can actually get on flowing sections of this river, that are true river and not lake, they can be pretty productive. The problem is the river system creates so many lakes that it has more lake shoreline than river on its way to the ocean. If man had not disturbed much of the true river by creating lakes, this may have been one of the most scenic rivers in the country coming out of the mountains and into the piedmont. Even though it is a big river, it is one of the most used water systems in the country and therefore runs lower than ever these days. You may find yourself scraping the bottom in many shoal areas, especially during the summer. However, the good news is that there are still bass living in the river!
More About The River:
The Catawba River begins its decent towards the Atlantic Ocean near the base of Mount Mitchell, flowing past the town of Old Fort near the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. It then travels some 150 plus miles over six dams in the Piedmont region of North Carolina. After crossing into South Carolina it then flows through the Lake Wylie Dam and continues its piedmont trek. The river then flows through three more dams as it crosses the Fall Line and into Lake Wateree. Below Lake Wateree the river changes names to the Wateree River and finally joins the Congaree River, which eventually becomes the Santee River before entering the Atlantic Ocean. Many rare and endangered species still inhabit portions of the Catawba and 30 miles below Lake Wylie is considered a wild and scenic section of river. The Landsford Canal State Park contains the rare spider lilly, which blooms in May each year. You’ll see numerous bird species, river mammals and reptiles calling this river their home as well.
The bass fishing reputation of the Catawba River is good, and seems to be relatively unpressured due to difficult access and the fact that people are fishing in the many lakes the river creates. Creel surveys on the river have encountered 39 fish species among anglers. Redbreast and redear sunfish, Largemouth Bass, and several species of catfish were consistently the most abundant fish caught in terms of numbers and total weight. One rare note about the river is that the largemouth bass is the only black bass species present. The only slight exception is the fact that smallmouth bass are found in Lake James, the first lake in the system found in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The smallmouth are mostly found in the Linville arm of the lake and up the small river. Below Lake James, smallmouth are a rarity and are mostly found in the last few remaining mountainous tributaries. Today, so many river systems will hold several different species of black bass, whether native or introduced. The fact that this system (95% of it) still does not have an invasive bass species is impressive – especially considering how many lakes are impounded by it. Lakes are usually how invasive species enter a river system due to livewells on bass boats keeping fish alive during transport and then released in the new lake.
Rapids/Obstacles To Be Aware Of:
There are no major rapids to beware of unless you are fishing above Lake James in the headwater creeks of the river. The river is peppered with shoals that contain class I and occasionally a light II rapid. River basser’s should be fine on any section of the Catawba or Wateree. The only main obstacles are the large dams that create the big impoundments. There are no overflow type dams on the river system.
Black Bass Species Present:
Like I mentioned above, except for waters upstream of Hickory, largemouth bass are the only black bass species present. Smallmouth are most commonly be found in the headwaters above Lake James and in Lake James – and in a good fishable population by the way.
Check the South Carolina USGS river gauge site, under Santee River Basin, to find Catawba gauges. Or, if you are interested in upper Catawba gauges, check the North Carolina USGS river gauge site and simply scroll down until you see Catawba. A good rule of thumb is to go fish a new section of river when it is running below the median level (assuming at least 5 years of data have been collected on that particular gauge).