Missouri's BIG Game FISH

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Published on: Feb. 2, 2004

Last revision: Nov. 16, 2010

fish fillets. None of the parents knew how to process the meat, so I demonstrated how to remove the red portion, leaving just white meat.


In recent years, I have turned my attention to setting trotlines on the Missouri River. The best time to fish for flatheads on the Missouri River is mid-April through May. Fishing success during the summer is not as predictable.

On the Missouri River, I set my lines on the downriver side of wing dikes. These rock structures extend from the bank into the river and divert the current away from the bank. Often the wing dikes have a notch that allows current to flow through. The notch usually has a deep plunge pool on the down river side.

I tie the trotline onto a big rock at the edge of the notch. I then set the line parallel to the flow of the current through the notch and drop the other end of the line with a 10- to 20-pound weight on the river bottom.

Typically, my line has five to six hooks spaced at 6-foot intervals. Baiting with live fish seems to work best, although I have caught flatheads on beef liver, cut shad, chicken hearts and smoked sausages. I was going to eat those sausages for lunch, but I used them when I ran out of other bait.

Two years ago, I asked the former Director of the Department of Conservation, Jerry Conley, to help me check my Missouri River trotlines. We caught a 32- pound flathead.

As we were cleaning the fish, Director Conley, who started his conservation career as a fisheries biologist, opened the fish's stomach. I was surprised to see five of my bait fish inside. I routinely hooked the bait fish near the tail because somebody had once told me to do that. It was apparent that this flathead had moved down my line and pulled the fish off the line head-first. Now, I hook bait fish under the dorsal fin so the catfish will have the bait fish and the hook in the mouth at the same time.

Learning how to fish for big catfish has taken me years of experimenting and talking with other fishermen. Last year I met a flathead fisherman on the Missouri River who had years of experience. We had never met before, so I was surprised to learn that he lived less than two miles from my house in rural Moniteau County.

We swapped stories, and then he offered to inspect my lines and gear. His best suggestion was to abandon the J-shaped hooks I had been using and switch to a hook with the tip pointed back to the shank. These hooks are more difficult to bait, but they prevent twisting and rolling catfish from pulling the hooks out of their mouths.

He also showed me how to attach my stage lines and hooks to the main line using a key ring. This allowed me to space the hooks at whatever intervals I wanted to take advantage of the best underwater cover and habitat conditions. When my new friend and instructor was done with his advice, he reached into a big tub, gave me a 30- pound flathead and told me to pass on what I had learned.

I usually try to camp overnight on a Missouri River sandbar when I am fishing for big flatheads. After dark, I have the river to myself. Pole and line fishing for channel catfish on the down river ends of sandbars can be excellent at night. Each time I camp on the Missouri River, I am awed at how isolated, wild and quiet it is only 10 miles from my house. The wilderness atmosphere of the Missouri River is grand, and there is always the chance of pulling up a flathead catfish, Missouri's big game fish.

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