Flatheads for Beginners
By Glenn Flowers
“Night Time is the Right Time”
Flatheads will put the most seasoned flathead fishermen to the test, time and time again. Make no mistake flatheads are not a fish for the weak at heart. Each year many flathead fishermen give up way before they land their first trophy fish.
People are discovering the beauty and complexity of this shrewd predator as they spread like wild fire across the United States. More and more anglers are seeking them out. Whether it’s for food, or sport, this fish has it all.
Many anglers prefer to fish at night. Those nights can be long and cold at times with few, if any, fish to show for your efforts. On slow nights time seems to crawl as you start to doubt your new hobby and question if it’s even worth it. Other nights the bite can be fast and furious with double and triple hook ups.
With fish commonly running more than 20 pounds, the thrill of the hunt is quickly making catfishing one of the most addicting types of fishing one can do. With their ability to live in a wide range of habitats and conditions there are no limits to where catfish can be found.
Flatheads stand out noticeably from other members of the large catfish clan. Their unusual shape makes them easily identified. The flat shovel like head and large mouth makes the flathead unmistakable.
Flatheads vary from high yellow to jet black depending on water conditions. Their ability to change colors rapidly makes them even more remarkable. These fish can blend in with their habitat like no other fish. That ability makes them the ultimate predator.
They are given many names depending on where they live. Yellow cat, mud cat, shovel head, shovel nose and appaloosa cat are some of the more common names.
Flatheads are ranked best of the best as table fair among freshwater fish. They rank higher than channel cats and blue cats. They also make the top of the list when compared to saltwater fish like grouper and snapper. Given their high protein diet of live fish the flathead’s meat is a prize worth hunting and learning how to catch them is a skill worth pursuing.
The Right Rod and Reels
Flatheads of average size can destroy cheap tackle with ease. Be prepared for some heartaches if your tackle is not up to task. I suggest a good solid 7-foot 6-inch rod, with a fast tip for bait and strike detection. My rod of choice is the Big Cat Fever Medium Heavy Action. They are very reasonably priced and have the sensitive tip needed to detect light bites that often happen with cunning flatheads.
In most cases spinning gear can and will work for flatheads, especially in lakes and reservoirs. Heavy casting reels may be needed when fishing fast rivers with lots of snags. Abu Garcia Ambassadeur C3-5500’s are a great reel to start out with. They are light weight yet still have the power needed to pull out flatheads from heavy timber. If your target is larger flatheads, you may want to scale up to an Abu Garcia Ambassadeur 7000 C3. Casting reels in general give anglers more torque for extracting flatheads from their snaggy holes.
Rigs and Bait for Flatheads
The slip-sinker and three-way rigs are angler favorites for flatheads. Your lead size will be determined mostly by current speed. These two rigs have been around for ages and consistently produce. A large live bait hook, such as a Kahle style, is at the top of my list for hooks. In my experience, circle hooks tend to miss more strikes from flatheads. I have a higher hook-up ratio with the Kahle style, possibly due to circles having smaller gaps.
There are times when flatheads will readily accept cut bait, but as a generally rule, flatheads prefer healthy, kicking, live fish most of the year. Bluegills and bullheads are the two most used live baits for flatheads.
Flatheads literally go through a transition from night to day. Once you understand the changeover it will simplify the way you hunt for flatheads.
During daylight hours, flatheads will be hunkered down, generally in deeper water. Flatheads will also hide under log jams and other dead timber during the day. The majority of the fish will be found in bends and holes in most rivers.
These fish won’t move much at all during resting periods, so in order to trigger a strike you have to get the bait right in their faces. This may involve vertical fishing or actually tying directly to a pile of structure. This will allow you to put baits right on top of the fish.
If you find a pile of fish in a resting area the bite will happen very quickly. As soon as your bait invades the space of a territorial flathead he will strike it violently. If you don’t get a bite in 5 to 10 minutes reposition your baits. It may only take a few feet to find the fish and get the bite.
Night-Time is the Right Time
Anglers say night time is the right time for flatheads, and I think that is correct. You can catch flatheads during the daylight, but if you want a spectacular fishing trip you should hunt them under the cover of darkness.
The flathead’s intelligence is top notch and should never be underestimated. Once the sun starts to set, flatheads will begin roaming in a circular motion. They move in and out of their resting areas looking for quick meals. This is called the twilight bite, the period in-between day and night. Generally, this period will be when you get your first few fish. Flatheads will spread out over a good distance, up to a mile from their home. They don’t normally return until daylight, after a long night of hunting.
Flatheads will start to move up on sandbars and in feeder creeks where small fish can be found resting. They will use channels and edges to travel. Think of them as highways as the fish move between feeding grounds. These hungry flatheads will be on heightened alert so stealth is a big factor in catching big, old, smart trophy fish.
Wood is always a top choice for flatheads. They are a structure orientated fish, they will move from one snag to another, always keeping a low profile as they feed. The larger the wood pile the better chance a big flathead will occupy that area. Set up in front of log jams, the head of deep holes and creek mouths to intercept these fish as they move and feed. Creek mouths and rock piles are a close second to wood when scouting out flathead locations.
Flathead fishing can get very complex very quickly. By understanding the behavior of these whiskered critters you can match your fishing trip to patterns that will increase your chances of success. Granted a flathead can be caught anywhere at any given time, but set your trap in his path and you’re sure to get bit in a hurry.