Hunting Flathead Catfish

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Published on: May. 2, 1997

Last revision: Oct. 26, 2010

18 inches up the line. Create a 4-inch loop for the hook by tying an overhand knot.

Tie on an 8-ounce sinker 8 to 12 inches below the loop, at the end of the line. Cut off the excess line and bait the hook. Lower the weight to the bottom, cut the line from the spool and tie it to the free end of the inner tube.

The weight should be firmly on the bottom with a tight line going to the inner tube. The 4-inch loop will allow the bait to swim around the tight line. Slack in the line will allow the bait to be too close to the bottom and make it easier for the line to get tangled.

Location for Flathead Sets

Flathead sets are limb lines that have been modified exclusively for fishing log jams. Unlike the springy branches that limb lines are commonly tied to, logs provide no flexibility. The inner tube compensates for this flaw. The inner tube not only aids in hooking the fish, it provides flexibility. Fish are less likely to get off when pulling against something flexible. This modification allows flathead sets to be placed in prime locations like brush piles, log jams and single trees.

Large brush piles or log jams will be the most consistent locations for catching flatheads. These areas often provide room for multiple flathead sets.

When fishing large rivers, cut banks immediately below dikes are the best place to find large log jams. On smaller rivers, tight bends often collect woody debris.

Single trees or logs farther out in the channel provide good locations for single flathead sets. Often, when flathead catfish aren't actively feeding in brush piles, they are moving through the channel to other feeding areas.

Flathead sets are effective because flathead catfish prefer the cover provided by a brush pile, so each hook is in a prime location. There are drawbacks, however. Flathead sets get tangled at times, but experience and an oar with an eye bolt (bent to provide a gap) in the end that can be slid down over the line will get them free. But with only one hook and one bait you have only one chance to catch a flathead.

General Information

Other methods, like trotlines, limb lines, bank poles and jugs, will catch flathead catfish, but throwlines and flathead sets will consistently catch more. Good bait is also important. Flathead catfish are finicky and will only consistently accept live bait. Goldfish, common carp, bluegill, green sunfish and bullhead are all good choices. If you have trouble keeping bait alive, try a well-insulated cooler and a frozen milk jug of ice to lower the holding water temperature.

Flatheads spawn in late June and early July and generally don't bite well during that time. They can be caught throughout the day, but the larger fish are generally more active at night. Flatheads can be difficult to catch, but they are among the most palatable fish, so the effort is definitely worth it.

Flathead catfishing is a lot like hunting. You must try to outguess your opponent. Try to figure out where catfish rest and where they may feed. Set your lines and begin the waiting game.

Flathead Fishing Tips

  • Live bait and good habitat are the most important ingredients for catching flatheads.
  • Bait will stay fresh and lively longer if kept cool.
  • Larger bait catches larger fish. Small bait may catch large fish, but by using big bait you exclude fish that are not large enough to take the bait.
  • Checking and rebaiting your lines once or twice during the night will net you less sleep but more fish. Bare hooks do not catch fish, and many times a large portion of your bait will be gone by midnight.
  • Lots of cover combined with deep water often produces larger flatheads.
  • Flatheads will use brush piles in slow or little current, however the odds of catching gar and other rough fish increase in calm water.
  • A full moon generally means poor fishing. Large flatheads are primarily nocturnal feeders and do not move well during the near daylight conditions of a full moon.
  • In smaller rivers and streams, flatheads generally will not bite well if the water level is falling, but may bite more readily with rising water levels.
  • Flatheads often feed heavily before and after spawning but seldom feed while actively spawning. In north Missouri, they generally spawn between the last week of June and third week of July.
  • Tag each line with your name and address.
  • Experience and experimentation will teach you much more than words from even the most experienced catfish angler.

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