Finding Summer Flatties

by Ron Presley

Daytime strategies that produce trophy flatheads

Pounders’ and Gallop’s techniques work all over flathead country. These flatties came from the Alabama River near Prattville.

Pounders’ and Gallop’s techniques work all over flathead country. These flatties came from the Alabama River near Prattville.

His personal best (PB) 77-pound flathead came at two o’clock in the afternoon, so he knows that trophy catfish can be caught during daylight hours. Joey Pounders is a B’n’M prostaff angler from Caledonia, MS. He claims the Buttahatchee River, a tributary of the Tombigbee Waterway, as his home fishing waters.

“My PB came during the afternoon hours on a November day,” recalled Pounders. “Flatheads will bite all day. It’s just at night they tend to shallow up and bite in areas where there is a high concentration of shad. Many people that run trot lines and set poles do very well at night because of this. These methods are usually used in shallow water; therefore, people believe the ‘night bite’ is better, but in truth it’s just better for them due to their strategy.”

Jay Gallop, Pounders’ tournament partner, hooked his biggest flathead at night, but feels it was more chance than the fact that it was at night. “I have heard flatheads feed at night all my life,” added Gallop. “I have caught a few at night, but I don’t think the bite is any better than during the day. They will eat when they get ready. But, I will say that one of the biggest flatheads I’ve ever hooked into was at night. He broke the line after a short fight.”

Put the odds in your favor. Catch fresh bait the same day you use it and you are likely to catch more fish.

Put the odds in your favor. Catch fresh bait the same day you use it and you are likely to catch more fish.

The Caledonia, MS team is known in catfish circles as expert flathead anglers. They do not believe the old adage that flatheads must be fished at night. “People that ‘interview’ these flatheads, say they are like vampires,” joked Pounders. “They only come out at night. This obviously is not true, but what I have learned is that when we first start fishing in the morning we can fish anywhere from 15 to 40 feet deep. Later in the day, if the sun is bright, we fish 30 to 50 feet. We always save deep holes for later in the day. If it is overcast or raining, then all spots and depths are on table.”

“If they aren’t coming to you, then you have to go to them…”

 

Pounders and Gallop have targeted flatheads for many years, for a very practical reason, and their efforts taught them much about flathead behavior. “We would love to fish for big blues,” explains Pounders. “However, here on the Tombigbee the numbers of big blues are just not as good as the number of flatheads. To put it simply, there tends to be a bigger and better flathead bite on the Tombigbee than blues.”

“Growing up fishing on the Tombigbee River, flatheads were the more predominant fish,” added Gallop. “So, naturally that’s what I started out learning to target and catch. Now, years later, they are still the most fun fish for me to catch. I think flatheads pull harder than blue cats.”

Pounders restated the importance of water depth when looking for flatheads. The summer search for flatties begins in water depths in the mid-teens. “Fishing from the anchor, I tend to spread poles out a little further in the summer due to fishing shallower water,” explained Pounders. “Fishing early morning and late in the evening tends to get better results. I’m not sure if they are shallow because of the shad or because of the thermocline. Either way, if shallow doesn’t work I usually try to find something a little deeper. Regardless, fishing near cover is a must.”

An adequate livewell, that will accommodate a limit of flatheads, is a necessity for tournament anglers and anyone else that practices CPR.

An adequate livewell, that will accommodate a limit of flatheads, is a necessity for tournament anglers and anyone else that practices CPR.

Gallop agrees completely. “If they aren’t coming to you, then you have to go to them,” declared Gallop. “You may have to change how deep your fishing. If you’re not getting any action, try a lot of different depths. I have caught flatheads anywhere from 10 to 60 feet of water.”

Summer fishing conditions usually include lack of current, warm water temps and stagnant water, all hindering the bite.  “If the fish aren’t active than you have to be twice as active,” advised Gallop. “Don’t spend too much time in the same hole. Normally, we spend 15 to 20 minutes in a spot, depending on the situation. If the bite gets really tough you may want to back off a little and only give 10 to 12 minutes per spot.”

“Summer time flathead fishing is also tough because of the spawn, but it can be done,” offered Gallop. “Flatheads start the spawn around the end of May and continue thru July. You still target them the same way, structure, structure, structure! Flatheads always like cover, whether it’s trees, ledges, rocks, debris, old fallen bridges – anything they can get under or lay up against.”

“One of the most eye-opening things you can show someone is the catfish tank at the Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid,” said Gallop. “There is a hollow log in that tank. On my last visit, there were two flatheads inside that log and two blue cats that were all over the tank from top to bottom.”

Spend time on the water to find heavy structure. When you find it, fish right in the middle of it. Give each spot no more than 30 minutes without a bite, before moving on.

Spend time on the water to find heavy structure. When you find it, fish right in the middle of it. Give each spot no more than 30 minutes without a bite, before moving on.

Equipment

Pounders and Gallop agree, when targeting monster catfish, that a good heavy action rod with a soft tip is a must. Their choice is the 10-foot B’n’M Silver Cat Magnum. “I like using a long rod,” explained Pounders. “I throw a lot of live bait and you can use the length of the rod to toss the bait, instead of having to sling it like you would with a 7-foot rod. That soft presentation translates into longer bait life and more fish.”

“I prefer a softer rod tip than most due to using live bait most of the time and needing to see it move,” continued Pounders. “A catfish bite on the smallest live shad can come from the biggest catfish in the water. They need to feel very little resistance when they bite.”

 

“I like the Silver Cat Magnum for its heavy action back bone,” added Gallop. “You gotta’ have it to haul in that trophy fish. The soft tip is just as important, because it will allow you to see the bite a lot easier and, if you’re using live bait it gives some peace of mind to know that your bait is still alive when you see that tip wiggle. Flatheads are a slow biting fish and the soft tip will allow you to see the bite soon enough to get your hands on the pole before he leaves with the bait.”

For reels, the Mississippi team has zeroed in on a vintage model Daiwa Silver Series saltwater reel that they buy on eBay. “You can’t get any simpler or cheaper,” said Pounders. “I was using baitcasters until I lost a massive fish two years ago that cost us the Cabela’s Southern Championship. The line got knotted up in the reel due to me backlashing from throwing various size weights and different size shad. Jay gave me a motivational speech about the reel never being allowed on the boat again, so we decided to change them all. With the spinning reels, you don’t have to make adjustments to the reel based on the weight of what your throwing. Just hold the line, flip the bale and let it go. We haven’t lost a fish in the same way since, so I guess it’s working.”

“They don’t make the Daiwa 4000c and 7000c anymore,” added Gallop.  “You can still find them on eBay for about 30 or 40 bucks. Rigging your reel with a good braided line will help tremendously with making a smooth cast, it’s a lot more free and flexible. If you have to throw your rig pretty hard to get it where it needs to be you stand a chance of killing your bait or just slinging it off, so the easier you can make that cast the better.”

“I use anywhere from 80 to 100-pound test braid,” continued Gallop. “The line strength is not necessarily for the 80- and 100-pound fish, but for the durability. If you’re fishing in trees and structure, like we do, your line can take some beatings. The line can get caught on a lot of things before you get that fish out of the water. Anglers should also keep a check on the line throughout the day. If it looks frazzled you may want to cut off a few feet and re-tie your rig.”

 

Bigger Bait, Bigger Fish

Everyone has heard the old saying, “bigger bait, bigger fish.” Pounders and Gallop believe it, and they believe it needs to be lively. “My Favorite bait is big live shad,” instructed Pounders. “I mean 10 to 12 inches or longer if I can get them. Any catfish will bite a live shad, but big live shad is a very productive way to catch the big flatheads. Bigger bait equals bigger fish.”

“We spend a portion of our tournament day looking for large shad,” continued Pounders. “We work really hard to find live shad because we want to offer the fish something that nobody else is offering. In turn we are hoping the fish would rather have the live frisky shad as oppose to the cut skipjack most of our competitors are using. The whole idea is to offer a different bait, a different technique, and a different presentation, than anybody else. Jay and I rarely get more than one day on the water prior to tournaments so this is really our only play to stay competitive.”

Neither Pounders or Gallop use scents as an attractant. “I don’t want anything on my bait that seems unnatural to the fish,” explained Pounders. “If we are forced to use cut bait, we do try to let it soak up the blood that comes out when you filet a bait fish. I know that if your put rock salt in your bait tank it will help your shad live longer, but we don’t even do that. I just rather not take chances when I can offer all natural bait and blood.”

“Attractants are not something I’ve used,” added Gallop. “I can’t knock a product that I haven’t used. They may work great. If they didn’t work at all they wouldn’t be making it. Personally, I feel that using a natural bait, that they are used to seeing and eating, is hard to beat.”

 

Summer Strategies

Anglers new to the flathead game would be wise to follow Pounders’ and Gallop’s practices.

“First, find some heavy structure and fish directly in the middle of it, advised Pounders. “Don’t worry about getting hung, just worry about what may bite. Second, use a good 7/0 to 10/0 hook so you can have plenty of room for bait on it and have enough hook left to get the fish. Third, change your depths 10 feet at a time until you find the best bite. Fourth, only give a spot about 30 minutes at most, because if there’s a big cat in there, chances are he will take the bait in that amount of time. Don’t spend all dang day in just a few spots.”

“I know that you can’t always plan your trips around the weather,” added Gallop. “But, any time you can catch the river on a rise is a good time to go. All catfish will feed when the water is rising, and if you can catch the water on the rise, in the summer, it can only help.”

Finally, understand genetics and the importance of putting the big ones back. Take a few photos, record the weight then put him back. Today everybody has a camera on their phone so there is no need to kill the fish by trying to show him off.

“Catching a trophy catfish is a great moment,” added Gallop. “It’s what you’re always after. Every time you break your personal best it’s one of the best days you can have as a fisherman. It’s important to enjoy the moment, while keeping in mind that releasing these fish is what keeps these moments coming.”

“It is all about genetics when it comes to the big ones,” explained Pounders, as he repeated a lesson he learned from a marine biologist friend. “The age of a 40-pound catfish may vary from 10- to 25-years old. We have big people in this world and small people. If we kill all the big people only the small people will reproduce. It doesn’t matter how old something gets, because it will only grow as big as its genetics allow. So please put these big boys back in the water for the future of the sport.”

 

Pounders and Gallop are sponsored by B’n’M Poles, Driftmaster Rod Holders, Vicious Fishing, Betts Nets, Team Catfish/TTI Blakemore, Bottom Dwellers Tackle, Harvest Clean Soap, Krusher Marine Products and

Barnes Marine.

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