Sep 10, 2014

Flatheads and Catfish

 By: Quinton Kautzer

Picture this: I am sitting, silently waiting for a fish that is so strong and big that, if caught, will hook you forever to the sport of fishing. The flathead and channel catfish are so allusive to hook-and-line fisherman, with many fisherman only landing one a year. However, that one is enough to get you hooked for life. I was fortunate enough to catch 20 last year, with 98% of them being released even though they were of legal size limit. The legal size limit is 30 in. to 36 in. and 42 in. and up. I have had various people in the boat with me this year and twice we landed legals.

So where do these fish like to stage? What type of habitat do they like? When talking with “old-timers” the best habitat is in stick or log jams. They are considered log jams because they are trees that fell into the river. One thing to look at when considering if it is a good log jam, is it sitting in water that is deep enough? Flatheads usually like deep holes under log jams due to the colder water temperatures. Another habitat to look for is outlet streams off the river that have a significant drop offs that lead to the main river. Flatheads will stage there waiting for baitfish, such as bluegills, bowfin, also known as dogfish and bullheads to venture out in the main current to feed. To find the best spots to try, look for depth, trees and outlet streams that lead to the main river. These suggestions will put you in a great starting place.

Let me tell you what it was that hooked me into fishing for these species of fish. I have always been the kind of guy to try different things and try to figure out new ways of doing things. I got into fishing first during the winter. Ice fishing on Lake Winnebago for whitebass, walleyes, and perch. Over the years, I have learned how to make them bite.  That being said, it’s a key turn when trying to be great at fishing rather than just average.

These fish usually bite on a reactionary bite, not when feeding. Seeing and understanding that on Lake Winnebago made me try to make those ways stick on other bodies of water. I tried it on the Fox River with channel catfish first. You are probably asking yourself, how does one make catfish bite on a reactionary bite rather than a feeding one? Well. Placement is everything. The majority of the fish are under the jams, right? Then I decided to cast so that the line goes under the tree. When a catfish senses or sees a piece of cut bait flashing in front of its home, it will bite it. No matter what. That’s what is meant by a reactionary bite. They are biting it to keep it away or because it’s close and it doesn’t have to move too much for food.

Relating that to flathead fishing now, it’s the same way. If you want fish, think like a fish! I’ve learned that flatheads aren’t really travelers. They like staying in their holes and under cover. So relating what I said before about casting these in the right area, cast where the fish want to be not where it’s easiest for you. When fishing for these flatheads, 80 lb. test Power Pro is the line of choice. You are fishing for the giant of the river and in order for these fish to get this big they have learned to become pretty crafty. After setting the hook on one of these monsters, the first thing they like to do is wrap themselves around the logjams and fray the line. Therefore, a superbraid line such as this is one way to catch a higher percentage of them. The flathead is a very unique species. When you look at the Winnebago system, there is not even a size limit on walleyes, which is by far the most sought after species in the system, but the flathead has a slot limit on it. Due to the over abundance of set-liners, which is a line that has 25 hooks on it and are placed in almost every good habitat on the river, and has to be checked once every 24 hours, the slot limit has become necessary. The flathead catfish is the halibut of the river. The meat is very firm and snow white. If you have never eaten one, you are definitely missing out! It also is a fish that you need to have a lot of respect for.     

There are three F’s that really make life enjoyable and they are Friends, Family and Fishing. Friends are always there for you, and like seeing you happy. Family is about the same with the addition of love and connection, and fishing is the absolute best way I have found to enjoy the outdoors with people you love and like to be around. I love taking my friends and family out with me because I see that not only does it mean a lot to me but I get to see them enjoy it as well. Spreading knowledge of the sport is a very interesting way to share my interest. Cody Murkley and Jacob Smith are two of my best friends and they really love going fishing with me. Not because we catch fish but it’s enjoyable time with each other. Flathead fishing is extra special because you have to sit and wait. When you wait, it’s a great time to talk laugh and enjoy each others’ company. When a fish is on, it’s hectic, and when it’s over and the fish is in the boat, it is all about the high fives and laughter. That’s what makes it all worth it.

In conclusion the 3 things that are very important when flathead fishing is habitat. Look for stick and log jams. Secondly, look for deep spots, and outlet channels that feed the river. Think like a bait fish and where they are going to be hiding. The third and lastly is the 3 F’s, Family, Friends and Fishing. Nothing is more enjoyable than spending time with them and watching them enjoy the same things that you do.