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Flatheads on Artificials

In my opinion, flathead catfish have to be one of the most badass species of fish on the planet. Their camouflage skin blends in perfectly to almost every environment they are found in. They fight twice as hard as any Blue Catfish near their size. And lastly, they are the ultimate predator. They have a massive mouth that can vacuum up any fish that is smaller than them, and they have no problems hunting their prey. Whether they are actively patrolling a flat at night or laying in wait on the bottom in heavy current, one thing is for sure, if you get near that head, it is game over.

Flathead Catfish tend to be more carnivorous than their cousin the Blue Cat. Blues will act opportunistic and eat anything that gets in their path, whether that’s a live fish, a rotting carcass, or floating grass. While Flatheads will take cut bait on occasion, they typically prefer their meal to be alive and kicking. While other anglers are participating in the age-old task of gathering live bait for a night of Flathead hunting, there is a growing contingency of fishermen who will take out after flatheads with no baitfish at all, living or dead!

Casting lures for Flathead Catfish is on the rise across the country. It is an anomaly that both makes perfect sense and no sense, all at the same time. While the sport of catfishing is evolving and growing at a rapid pace across the board, fishermen are participating in this new angling discipline that many would not expect. Anglers are taking advantage of the flathead’s predator nature by throwing crankbaits, swimbaits, and jigs at fish that are on the prowl for their next meal. Flatheads have a long lateral line and elongated whiskers that allow them to feel the slightest vibrations in their ecosystem. Lure casters take advantage of this by throwing baits that have rattles, or large paddletails helping to imitate the movement of an unsuspecting baitfish. Those features paired with various scents such as Gulp or Powerbait help a fish find the lure, strike, and hold on long enough for a hook set.

As we all know, flatheads live in a variety of different ecosystems and environments. In this article we will discuss two scenarios in which flatheads are caught in this manor. Starting off will be my home waters here in Virginia. Flatheads were introduced here in the 70s and while you typically associate the species with muddy, slow-moving water with an abundance of log jams, our fisheries are quite the opposite. In my state the majority of the waters Flathead are found in are fast moving, rocky rivers that are on average fairly clear. Our fish use the underside of boulders as cover instead of log jams and they utilize eddies next to fast flowing water as opposed to mud flats. The fishing here can be quite intense as big fish are often hooked very close to heavy current. Your gear has to be stout, and your hooks have to be not only sharp, but also very strong. Usually, you are fighting these fish with little to no leeway in you drag. It's more of a tug of war than it is a fish fight!

Our flatheads are best targeted in deep pools next to rapids or the slow-moving water just below a dam. They will migrate upriver in the springtime following our flows of shad and herring on their annual spawning runs. They work themselves into these slower deep pockets, engorging themselves on the abundance of baitfish. If you're careful, anglers can typically wade fish in these fish and do battle with the giants in their own arena. Nothing gets the blood pumping quite like fighting an angry predator, waste deep in its own living room! These fish are generally preparing for the spawn by getting their fill of the fish around them. So as the water warms it is imperative that anglers do their best to keep the fish in the water and get them released as quickly as possible to ensure the longevity of the species. With proper fish care this type of angling may produce a new state record some day!

Next up are the fish of the mid-west, and the man that chases them, Keith Severns. Keith targets flatheads in the state of Kansas using artificials as well. But the ways in which Keith gets to the fish is why his situation is one of the most interesting methods you’ll hear of. He treats fishing for flathead more like someone would treat a largemouth bass. Keith goes on the hunt. He utilizes a float tube like one that might be more familiar in the fly-fishing world. Launching in the inner-city of Wichita, Kansas, he uses this float tube to not only cover water, but to also get up close and personal with his prey.

Like a bass angler, he methodically flips his baits into all of the prime cover he comes across as he floats downstream. Instead of the traditional catfishing style of setting up and waiting, Keith gets his baits into every fallen tree, rock pile, and ambush point along the miles of water he is able to cover in a day. For gear Keith prefers a James Burke Customs rod rated at 50lbs. It is a medium-heavy casting rod with a fast action tip. This allows for pitching both lighter baits at 3/4oz, all the way up to the heavy stuff at 5oz. It is paired with an Okuma Cold Water baitcasting reel that sports a line counting function. The line counter comes in handy as Keith doesn’t run any sort of depth-finder on his float tube. This allows for accurate depth readings straight from the reel. He fishes 80lb Power Pro braid tied to a 50lb Ande leader.

Although he has caught flatheads on every style of bait other than topwater, his favorite thing to throw at them is soft plastics. Dragging soft plastics lathered in special scent blends is Keith’s go-to. He likes to throw large crawfish imitating baits into heavy cover and coax big flatheads out of the wood, trailing what they think is an unsuspecting prey. He jigs the baits sharply and allows them to flutter back down. According to Keith, a big Flathead will hit on the drop 9 times out of 10. Keith has caught huge flatheads in this method weighing up to 50 pounds! Needless to say, fighting an apex predator of that caliber from a float tube gets the adrenaline going!

In closing, there is more to the world of catfishing, and specifically flathead catfishing, than the angling scene regularly shines a light on. If you are willing to think outside of the box and embrace new and unique tactics, your next personal best may be waiting for you somewhere out there. Catching large Flathead Catfish is exhilarating in its own right. But feeling the “thump” that these fish deliver to a bait, and then battling them while immersed within their own arena is second to none!

Josh Dolin

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In late may and June I jig for them in the Mississippi, so much fun. Biggest one I caught was 70lbs and I plan on getting one bigger. All on artificial.

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