Angler holding a flathead catfish.

How To Catch A Flathead Catfish 2020

Flathead fishing is not the easiest thing in the world. When you ask others how to catch a Flathead Catfish, they either catch them all the time, none at all, or will pull one up by accident.

In the meantime, one must understand that these potential giants are nothing short of a blast to reel in. This is especially if you after them on lighter tackle. Those huge, beast-like Flathead love to rip small fishing rods apart, just because they can.

How do you catch one though? They seem to be so elusive and intimidating. Regardless of who you ask, any good catfish angler will tell you that they are the meanest and toughest of the bunch. You can actually catch them in a few different ways with a few different techniques. Ultimately, it just depends on how good you are at reading the water, the conditions, and everything else around you.

The key to success is that you go where the fish are at the right time and put something in front of them that they cannot resist biting at. You will need need to make it worth their time. They are extremely lazy. Don’t go out thinking that you can tempt them with a single worm either. They don’t get to be over 40 pounds for no reason. They love to hunt down live prey. Fish meat is what they are after. It is what they are looking for. Live fish is what fattens up the Flathead. You should take advantage of it.

Decide If You Want To Catch Numbers Or Trophies

Before you try to catch anything, understand something first. It can be a numbers game or a trip to hunt down huge trophy flatheads. Either or. Choose one. It cannot be both. Your smallest flathead will weigh anywhere from 10 to 15 pounds. That is a small one too. Why is this so important? The size of the bait you will use will have a heavy influence on what size fish you catch. This is just how nature works.

Smaller baits often equal smaller catches, although not always.  Most people target these just for the size. The very huge females will be a pain in the reel to land, especially if you o not have the proper gear. The drag will likely scream for a while before you land it. Smaller individuals are usually more prevalent in numbers. Huge fish that are 10, 15, and even 20 years old or older, exist in very few numbers. You need to decide which one you want to go after. Decide on it before everything too.

Many water bodies do not have extremely huge fish to catch. This is when you must settle for something smaller. If you are after something worthy of a picture, understand before your trip that you may not catch anything at all. Those big girls did not get so big by accident. They have likely been caught a few times already. Sometimes, it is better to take a charter or fishing guide to land some gigantic monsters. Doing it by yourself is some very advanced level fishing and you need to really know what you are doing to be successful. If you try this as a beginner, a big cat will likely break your line.

Use The Right Tackle For The Intended Species

Spinning rod resting inside a rod holder.

What setup does one use to catch Flathead? You want a thick, stout, stiff, rod with a heavy baitcasting or heavy-duty spinning reel. Baitcasting rods are generally more common and are by the result, more popular. Tradition warrants that one must use a very heavy braided line, primarily for the strength.

Visibility does not matter because they are not shy around the fishing line anyways. What you should look for is a professional catfishing rod or a saltwater rod. Yes, they actually get that huge. No light tackle, please! Although there is always the story of someone catching sailfish on some Crappie line because they set the spinning reel’s drag correctly, try to do your best and avoid a light tackle setup.

Usually by the time light tackle can bring in huge fish, it is tired, out of energy, and has a rough time recovering. You want to be able to bring in the fish very quickly and cause as little stress to it as possible, especially when you are dealing with an older one. Big fish still have a ton of fights in them but they wear out quicker and take longer to regain their energy. They can even die if their blood pressure gets high enough. Appropriate sized tackle is more efficient, more humane, and more versatile.

Make Sure To Fish At The Right Time Of Day

If being in the right place at the right time is important to other fish species, it may be that much more important for Flathead. There are so many different opinions on the subject of when one should fish for them and why. Individual anglers that catch them often will let you know something. If you can catch huge females in the heat of daylight, you can often catch another one of them at night.

In the season of winter, fish are out wandering in search of baitfish because it is more scarce. In the heat of daylight, they will roam around and come to you. They will not be near as secluded. The same applies to fall and any other times where the sun is not shining. In warmer months, however, they will not prefer to roam around. You must be very particular about where you choose to cast and when.

Night fishing is always preferred for catching the most numbers as well as sizes. If you cannot get a good catch in daylight, your best bet would be to go night fishing for catfish. You probably cannot see anything at all when it is pitch black outside but this is why it is helpful. The Flathead cannot either. This means that they will not be able to see your bait and will use their taste buds to hunt. This can help.

Find The Right Location To Cast

There are so many places where Flathead love to inhabit. A good rule of thumb is that these are predators and chase the baitfish around. Wherever there is Shad, Bluegill, Herring, baby Carp, Qwilback, or Buffalo, the fish tend to chase them around, clean them out, and sit there until they are hungry again. They like to hang out in many places and where depends on the body of water being fished.

They no doubt love to inhabit and hold right near to the bottom of the water body, regardless of what abrasive brush may cover it. If you can find places with structure, shade, and the like, you will be much more likely to find any huge fish that is hanging nearby. They absolutely love to tuck themselves deep inside the mud, away from the sun. This is why bottom fishing can be extremely productive.

Look to cast near rock pilings, dropoffs, and very deep channels that house baitfish. Big Flatheads do not eat every day either so its best to make sure you are in the right spot. Some fish will not hit a bait if it is mixed in with the rest of the bunch. Instead, hook it and let it swim down to flutter across all one billion of the fish’s taste buds. Any meal that does not need to be worked extensively is welcome.

Use Very Lively Bait For The Best Results

Redear Sunfish being held inside an anglers hand.

If you want to catch the biggest of big cats (or any at all), many professional catfish anglers hugely recommend that you try live bait fishing before you go insane casting lures, cut bait, or dip bait. They are so attracted to live baitfish that this is what they prefer to eat almost exclusively. The diet and natural forage species is what you will want to use on your hook first.

If it is not legal to do so, you want another legal species of fish that closely resembles it.  Baitfish like Shad, Bluegill, Pumpkinseed, Redear, Rock Bass, Green Sunfish, Madtoms and Bullheads are what one would generally use. Live baitfish is the best Flathead Catfish bait out there. As for the size to choose from, it just depends on what size catfish you are after. Yes, the size is a factor too.

While few would think of fishing for trophy Flathead with a 4 pound live carp is even a thing, it is done. If you know how much fish is in the water where you are fishing as well as the size of those fish, it is easier to make a fishing rig that will work. On a very rare occasion, you will get a small one on cut bait, worms, dip bait, or canned meat. It is not as often but it does happen. Rig live bait behind the dorsal fin using a 4/0 to 8/0 circle hook and make sure to remove any scales on the hook barb. The best Flathead rigs include the Carolina Rig. Rig them on a Carolina rig with monofilament or braided mainline for the best results.

Using An Artificial Lure

A lot of assorted crankbait lures.

Although hugely unpopular, there are those people that choose to use artificial lures to catch a trophy and smaller Flathead. Call it what you will, there are some situations where it can be effective. How often is this? I think it is purely dependant on the experience of the angler. Choosing lures can be effective.

Anglers with a lot of knowledge of how they behave can actually become successful with many different artificial presentations. Techniques like vertical jigging, swimbaits, and crankbaits are usually the most effective. Nice options to consider are Shad or Sunfish colored swimbaits, chrome crankbaits, and bass jigs tipped with pieces of cut bait. Put the lure right in front of their face and leave it there.

If nothing hits, reel back in and repeat the cast once more. Using good fishing scents on your lures are always welcome too. You must always be careful never to overdo it though. If you do, they will be off into the deep and you will never see them again. Because weather affects fishing, make sure to use very natural, slow-moving lures in cold weather and faster, more aggressive ones in warmer weather. Realism is always key. The more realistic it looks and moves, the better.

Putting It All Together

To summarize, learning how to catch a Flathead Catfish is not very easy to do if you are a beginner. Before you do so, you have to make sure that the place you are fishing has them to start with. if you are sure it does, you need to have tackle that is strong enough to reel in such monstrosities, regardless of size. After that, you may not get hit at all unless you begin your searching at night.

They are just too finicky sometimes. Also, you have to know where they like to hide and take refuge from the elements. Once this is figured out, you need to choose a live bait in the right size and rig it in a way that the fish will not spit it out when it grabs it. If you want to choose a lure, it will be that much harder. Once everything is done in that order, you will have to set the hook and hold on tightly for the fight of a lifetime. All in all, it is difficult. It does get easier but the key concept is to practice, practice, practice!

What do you think? Is Flathead fishing easy for you? What is your favorite way of getting them to bite?

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