Looking for tips to help catch more flathead catfish

Looking for tips to help catch more flathead catfish

The Flathead, or Yellow Catfish (Pylodictus olivares)is the largest species of catfish native to North American fresh waters, and the second largest freshwater fish in the United States. They can reach lengths of more than 5 feet and weigh over 100 pounds. They can live for 20 years or more.
The natural range of Flatheads is north from the Great Lakes south to Northern Mexico, and from Arizona in the west to the Eastern Seaboard, however, their range has been artificially increased and in many areas they are considered an invasive species. They are benthic feeders (meaning they prefer to feed off the bottom), and active predators. They differ from most other species of catfish in that they do not scavenge, and will not eat dead bait, dough bait, or other common catfish foods. They only eat live fish, preferring sunfish over all others. They prefer to hang out in deep pools near structure, with shallow water and some current near by. As long as these conditions are met, they can be found in some surprisingly small waters, often sharing small streams with trout. Flatheads spawn in late May thorugh August, whenever the water temperature is between 75?F and 80?F. Males build nests in hollow logs, caves, against undercut banks, in brush or sunken timber, and other areas of dense cover. The males will defend their nest aggressively, attacking anything that comes near.
Flatheads can be moody, and often ‘sulk’, refusing to bite anything unless it is almost in their mouth. This usually happens in fall, when they are tired, and a little depressed from the rigors of spawning. They are also very cantankerous during the day, preferring to feed actively at night. In daylight, they will not move very far to take a bait, so your location is very important. You will almost always find them near some kind of cover such as brush piles, rock piles, sunken timber, etc….
Your gear for Flatheads needs to be pretty stout. These are big strong fish, and will destroy marginal equipment. I would recommend a minimum of a Medium-heavy action 7′ rod, a large spinning, or better yet, a good bait-casting reel such as those made by Penn and Ambassadeur. Your hooks should be no smaller than 4/0. This may sound large for freshwater, but Flatheads have a very large, wide mouth, and your baits will be large as well, such as whole live sunfish (where legal), large shad, goldfish, or 7- inch shiner minnows. And you should only use stainless steel hooks. A Flathead will straighten out anything less. Since you will be fishing right on the bottom in heavy cover, it is best to use many larger size (1/8 oz. or bigger) splitshots on the end of your line so that if they hang up, you can simply pull them off without losing your fish, or entire rig.
The best rig to Flatheads is to use a Medium-Heavy spinning, or bait-casting rod with a large spinning or bait-casting reel spooled with no less than 15-pound test line. On the terminal end of the line, use 6 -8 pinch-on spit shots (or however many it takes to get the weight you want). !2 to 18″ above this, make an 8″ dropper loop and attach a 4/0 stainless steel Kahle hook. Bait this with at least a 4″ live minnow, shad, goldfish or sunfish, hooked behind the dorsal fin, and gently lob this into likely places. If you don’t get a hit in 15 minutes or so, try moving the bait a few inches. If you still don’t get any bites after another 15 minutes or so, try repositioning the bait one or two feet to the left or right.
Another good rig is a Grouper Rig. Slide a ? oz. or larger slip sinker onto your line, then attach a large swivel to the end. Make an 18″ leader and attach a 4/0 or larger stainless steel Kahle hook to the end of the leader. Bait with a good-sized live baitfish, cast it into likely places, and leave some slack in the line. This allows the Flathead to pick up the baitfish without feeling any resistance from the line, or sinkers. This rig is especially good for ‘moody’ fish. But be prepared to re-rig quickly. You will loose a lot of rigs in the brush.
Other good rigs are jug-fishing (where legal) and trotlines. Flatheads become active at night, cruising the shallows for suitable victims. You can drop jugs up-current from good holding areas in slow moving streams, or lakes where there is a light wind, and allow the to drift through the good spots. Jug lines have accounted for some of the largest catfish ever caught.
However you catch them, Flathead catfish are the tastiest of all species of catfish. They are great fried, broiled, sauteed, or baked.

Happy Fishing


Dan Eggertsen is a fellow catfish fishing enthusiast to the point of obsession. :) He's been providing solid advice on catfish fishing since 2004.

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