Runnin’ and Gunnin’
By Glenn Flowers
Finding flatties on the run
Most people’s idea of flathead fishing is long waits with big baits. In most situations this is generally true, especially if targeting trophy class flatheads. However, running a guide service with young kids and impatient client’s, this way of slow fishing was not always the most productive strategy to keep customers interested. I needed a technique to put lots of fish in the boat very quickly. Keeping client’s rods bent was a must to ensure that they got the biggest bang for their buck.
The strategy has come to be called, running and gunning (R&G). It took many years of time on the water to develop and master this rod-bending flathead strategy that I use so often today. When exercised properly, it’s a technique that’s hard to beat.
The idea behind R&G is to move as quickly as possible, from spot to spot, keeping fresh baits in front of active fish. I never remain on a spot for longer than an hour. Often, we will move in fifteen minutes or less, especially if we aren’t feeling that location to be very productive.
The strategy is best at night, so when you arrive make sure there is enough sunlight to scout the area’s you plan to fish after dark. When scouting locations a good rule of thumb is to mark two spots per hour to fish.
The most ideal locations are fallen trees, wood piles and log jams. Avoid deep holes and drop offs, since these are generally long wait locations. If you plan to fish for ten hours mark twenty good pieces of structure.
Once you have your course laid out, with all locations gathered and set to your chart plotter, you can begin your R&G strategy. Four rods is all you need and a minimum number of rods will help conserve baits.
The technique requires more baits than a typical flathead trip. A good rule of thumb is ten baits per hour, this will ensure you have enough baits to endure the entire trip. Large baits are not necessarily needed. A 4- to 6-inch bluegill is plenty to get the job done.
Pull up to your first hole as quietly as possible. Preferably you would tie off to some sort of timber, rather than dropping anchor. Sometimes dropping anchor is the only option, but do so as stealthy as possible. You do not want to spook any nearby flatheads.
Once the boat has settled you can start to deploy baits. Begin with the rod closest to the bank and work outward. I prefer a Big Cat Fever medium-heavy rod about 7-foot 6-inches long. Their fast tips make bait and strike detection very noticeable.
Using a good live-bait hook, I generally hook my baits behind the dorsal fin. If the current is swift I nose hook the bait. Bluegills and sunfish are my bait of choice for flatheads. Using my flathead rig tied to a 9/0 HD Charlie Brown hook gives me and my clients the highest hook up ratio possible.
After the baits have been deployed, I expect the first strike within minutes. I give this spot 30 minutes tops, sometimes even less. After catching or not catching a few fish I roll up the lines and hustle down to the next hole where I deploy the same techniques. Put your baits back out, give it 15- to 30-minutes, then move on. I do this until I have worked my way back to the ramp.
I have found that R&G will often produce the largest number of flatheads possible on any given trip. Many nights this technique has put thirty-plus flatheads in the boat. Anglers can expect nice fish, some running well into the forty-pound range.
R&G is a strategy to use on rivers, not reservoirs or large lakes. No matter what river you fish, this tactic will work and will out produce most other methods for sheer numbers of flatheads.
This pattern works best as temperatures start to rise. Once temperatures get to where the catfish feel it needs to be, many will begin their migration in search of spawning areas.
The flathead migration period will differ depending on what part of the country you live in. Generally, flatheads will begin to migrate, upriver, starting around 60- to 65-degree water temps. Spawning will take place once temps reach 73- to 78-degrees in most cases.
Spring often brings high waters that flatheads will take advantage of. They leave the rivers to enter the flooded forest where they gorge on crayfish, lizards, birds and snakes. The high water makes it difficult to reach them at times.
Flatheads will start to gather in large numbers around log jams and heavy structure as they scout for nesting areas. They will begin to feed very heavily in an effort to put on weight that they lost through the winter. As they start fattening up, getting ready for the spawn, everything will be on the menu, even dead fish.
Don’t be afraid to use cut bait while jumping from spot to spot. Flatheads’ sense of smell is generally heightened during the spring. Always use fresh cut bait, never frozen. Flatheads seem to prefer the head section over all else.
With such large appetites flatheads are easy targets during the pre-spawn period when they become very aggressive. Depending on your location that could be April through May, or maybe June through July. Skilled catfishermen that figure out the local timing can use R&G methods to catch 30-plus fish on good nights, while rod and reel fishing.
R&G will work right up until the flathead spawn. At that point you may want to pull that throttle back, since fish won’t be traveling nearly as much as they were. Once flatheads nest they may go weeks without a meal. This is why they are gorging so heavily during early spring.
R&G will yield lots of small fish, less than 10 pounds. Cull and keep as many of these smaller fish as needed to catch back up on those freezers. Flatheads spawn incredibly fast and juvenile fish are abundant.
However, keep in mind that those big fish are in great demand for the next generation’s spawn. Big flatheads don’t grow over night. Decades will pass as a flathead grows to 75 pounds or more. A flathead over 100 pounds maybe more than 30-years of age.
Fish smart, run hard and catch some flatheads now.