Just mention flathead catfish and listen to the stories of pole busting, reel stripping, and line breaking action. The feats of Hercules, Ulysses, and Perseus dim next to a yellowed newspaper clipping of a 70 pound flathead. They are the stuff of legends.
I was introduced to flatheads by my friend Richard Nungester. Richard and his son Stanley are known winners in spring crappie tournaments, but as the weather warms they have bigger fish to fry, pun intended. Flatheads are predators, much like bass. A hunk of smelly cheese may catch a small catfish, but the big boys want fresh meat. One of Richard’s most productive methods is to fish after a heavy rain below one of the many dams around the state. The dam keeps the fish from going any farther on their hunts, and as small fish are swept over into the froth they are stunned and are easy prey. This combination attracts huge flatheads like Marines to a USO show. Throw a live bluegill or shad into the mix and hang on tight! While large chubs or other large bait fish can be purchased as selected bait shops, Richard is very adept at using a cast net to catch shad, skipjack, and other roughfish. (Any netted gamefish have to be released. However, any gamefish, like bluegills, legally caught with a hook and line, can be used as bait.
Another friend and fellow flathead addict is Bobby Matt, owner of Tackle Service Center in Mooresville, IN. Bobby is a tournament flatheader (is that a word?) He has a tunnel hull boat that takes him places on rivers that would have other boats ready for the recycling center.
As a tournament fisher Bobby is up against the clock. He has to become the hunter. Using his tunnel hull boat he cruises the river looking for good structure. Log jams, root balls, and undercut banks get hit hard in his quest for money winning poundage. Like many catfish hunters, he prefers cut bait, that’s baitfish cut into chunks. The smell of fresh blood is a dinner bell for hungry cats.
If you need any advice or any tackle that needs repaired, be sure to drop in and swap stories. Don’t let Bobby’s quiet manner fool you; he has pictures of catfish that will surprise you
While Richard’s and Bobby’s techniques may be different, one thing they can agree on; gear to catch flatheads has to be rugged. With fish weighing close to 80 pounds poles have to be able to withstand heavy fighting and casting large weights and full-sized baitfish long distances. Eight to twelve foot surf-style rods are common.
Reels must be able to hold hundreds of yards of 30-pound test line (or higher), plus be able to winch a big flathead upstream against heavy current. Having a bait clicker or bait runner feature is a must.
Many, including myself, think circle hooks are the way to go with catfish. The circle hook is designed to be “self-setting” so flatheads often set the hook themselves as they swim away.
When fishing in creeks and rivers you will want to use a flat “no-roll” sinker, or one of the many bottom grabbing styles to keep the bait from rolling away and getting snagged. When catfish pick up the bait, the line slides through the sinker, so that they don’t feel it. In heavy current sinkers run from three to eight ounces.
Catfish are wary and often are night feeders so plan accordingly. If flooding is turning the water to a muddy slurry, they may feed during daylight hours. Once you hook a flathead, hang on. They fight, twist, and roll like professional wrestlers. It is an adrenaline pumping good time, but please take only pictures and release the big cats back quickly.
If you think tournament flathead fishing is for you, check out http://www.indianacatfish.com/index.htm