How Do You Catch Flathead Catfish?

Updated on September 7, 2019
HhaosThorngage profile image

I grew up fishing in Northeast Ohio and have since gone back to my roots, with fond memories of days spent on Lake Erie with my father.

Flathead, shovelhead, whatever you call them, these bruisers are a hard-fighting fish with promise to reach up to 100 pounds.
Flathead, shovelhead, whatever you call them, these bruisers are a hard-fighting fish with promise to reach up to 100 pounds.

Location, Location, Location

The first thing to do, when you are looking to get a hook into one of these large whiskered fish, is to find suitable habitat for these bruisers. Flathead catfish tend to be the biggest predator in their own environments. Weighing up to 100 pounds, these bruisers are always looking for their next meal.

Structure and current are the two main things to look for when targeting a flathead catfish, and it's not all the same from lake to river. In a river environment, you may find the fish below wingdams, under a log jam, underneath large rocky undercut banks, or anywhere that there is a small current break: a place where fish can quickly transition from their hiding spots to where they can ambush their prey.

The mouth of a tributary is a great place to fish for these monsters; double bonus if there is submerged timber.
The mouth of a tributary is a great place to fish for these monsters; double bonus if there is submerged timber.

In a lake or reservoir, finding a flathead catfish might pose a bit more of a challenge. While current is still very relevant, as is access to their food source, flatheads tend to congregate near rocky outcroppings such as dams or causeways. As with most predatory fish, quick access to baitfish, especially if they are able to hide and ambush their prey, are most important. Deep holes or old roadbeds are great areas, especially if they are known structure for holding baitfish. River channels subverted by rock reefs and long-standing beaver dams are great as well, as these apex predators are not too picky.

Bridges and their suppprt structures serve as awesome current breaks to catch flathead catfish. The fish will tend to hold closer to the actual current and wait for the forage to move into the break to swoop in and feed.
Bridges and their suppprt structures serve as awesome current breaks to catch flathead catfish. The fish will tend to hold closer to the actual current and wait for the forage to move into the break to swoop in and feed.
Spillways are great places for the boatless angler to find a flathead catfish. Deep holes and current seams are great places to place a lively baitfish.
Spillways are great places for the boatless angler to find a flathead catfish. Deep holes and current seams are great places to place a lively baitfish.
Trickin It Fishing member Jenna Bowser showing off a good catch. This is why in most cases bigger bait is better.
Trickin It Fishing member Jenna Bowser showing off a good catch. This is why in most cases bigger bait is better. | Source

What Do I Use to Catch a Flathead?

The key to flatheads is live bait. They are predators, preferring their meals to be live, unlike their scavenger cousins the channel catfish.

When talking about live bait, but we are not talking minnows or worms. While many fine fish have been taken on these offerings, these behemoths of the depths tend to feed on larger offerings. Bluegill, goldfish, bullhead, carp, chubs, and various other rough fish tend to make the best bait.

Before you take off to the nearest pet store to stock up on goldfish, make sure to check your local regulations and make sure it is legal before venturing out and making a costly mistake.

Ugly Stik Catfish Spinning Combo
Ugly Stik Catfish Spinning Combo

When it comes to rod choice, I personally prefer the Ugly Stik Catfish line of rods. Strong, durable and able to withstand the raw power of these fish, these poles can take a beating and keep on catching. Rods in the 7-9ft range tend to be preferred when fishing from shore as the added length gives you a better casting distance and more power to steer the flathead away from cover.

 

As for hook choices, circle hooks 6-10/0 are the way to go. Because these fish take many years to reach these sizes, its important to take as much care as possible with a flathead catfish that is not headed to the dinner table. Circle hooks are best for this, as they almost always catch fish in the side of the mouth. Simply let your rod load up with tension from the fish and just a couple cranks of the reel and you are set for one heck of fight!

We may need a bigger net!
We may need a bigger net!
Power Pro 31500300300A SSV2 30 Lb 300 Yd Blue
Power Pro 31500300300A SSV2 30 Lb 300 Yd Blue

For a main line, I prefer to use a superline like Power Pro. The smallest test I would ever use is 30, and that's in a lake or reservoir environment. Zero stretch and ultra-thin diameter make this line my go-to for this style of fishing. A flathead can make a reel-burning run taking out line at break-kneck speed, the thin line slicing through any debris like a razor.

 

Questions & Answers

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      • HhaosThorngage profile imageAUTHOR

        Jeremy Richmond 

        3 weeks ago from Hubbard

        Flathead catfish are opportunity feeders at a younger age, but I've heard of ol' timers around my parts even using whole bullfrogs in the rivers to catch the bigger fish so I definitely can see crawfish being a successful bait on either size. Just like a single cracker probably isn't enough to satiate your hunger I'm sure your crustacean offering was just the right size for the fish that you caught. Tight lines!

      • HhaosThorngage profile imageAUTHOR

        Jeremy Richmond 

        3 weeks ago from Hubbard

        @Ken Burgess, thank you. River fish are a completely new beast over the lake or reservoir fish but my ocean fishing experience, as of yet, has been rather limited. In rivers I've noticed most fish congregate around structure or current changes, perhaps you should give it a try some time around one of the recommended current breaks. Anyways, tight lines, and remember, a good day fishing is any one that you make it to the water.

      • Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

        Wesman Todd Shaw 

        3 weeks ago from Kaufman, Texas

        I'm no fishing pro, but I've had some very successful days before. It was because I was fishing with someone who'd, more than anything, love to get paid to be a freshwater fisherman.

        He'd get very angry when I'd catch more fish than him. Very angry. I'd not went fishing to be in some sort of competition. LOL

        So I'd heard of these flatheads. I'd always heard of them as yellow catfish. I'd been told they were far and away the best tasting of catfish, but I never heard why. I think you explained why that may be, however, when you said flatheads prefer live meals over scavenging.

        Well, I did catch a yellow catfish, and though I don't recall exactly, it was probably using live crawfish as bait. The fish, however, was too small to keep.

      • Ken Burgess profile image

        Ken Burgess 

        3 weeks ago from Florida

        Great read, I definitely remember these river fish, much harder to catch than ocean water fish, either very crafty or picky about what they eat, was never quite sure.

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