Overview

Flathead Catfish - Pylodictis olivaris

Also known as: Bagre, Pintontle

The flathead catfish is native to the large rivers of the Mississippi, Missouri, and Ohio basins from southern North Dakota, south into northern Mexico, and east as far as Lake Erie’s southeast coast and the western most tip of the Florida panhandle. It occurs broadly over this entire area and has now been widely introduced outside its native range.

The flathead catfish is very distinctive in appearance and not easily confused with any other species. It is one of the largest catfish in its family, second in size only to the blue catfish (Ictalurus furcatus). It has a square, rather than forked, tail. Its body is long, and its head is wide and is a distinctly flat-looking, oval shape. The lower jaw further accentuates it by protruding beyond the upper jaw. In general coloration, the flathead catfish is mottled with varying shades of brown and yellow.

This popular food fish has an excellent flavor. It frequents deep sluggish pools with hard bottoms in large rivers. It seems to have a distinct preference for fish, but it is omnivorous.

Habitats

Gradual Shores

Like any structure that tilts gradually down and into deeper water, a gradual-sloping shoreline can provide plant food, attract fish and create a path out of and back into deeper water. However, a really gradual slope will create a large expanse of shallow water that will not attract fish.

Freshwater Lakes and Ponds

Lakes and ponds are great places for fish to live. They produce abundant plant food and offer plenty of cover for fish to hide. Shoreline structures like docks, logs, stumps, brush and rocks provide shelter, shade and protection for fish, which means that they also provide great fishing opportunities for the anxious angler. You can fish lakes and ponds from the shore or from a boat. You can, also, find fish in shallow or deep water, in open water or near natural or near man-made structures. In lakes, you can catch freshwater fish like largemouth and smallmouth bass, pike, pickerel, perch, panfish, trout, and even salmon. Get to know your lake’s structure. Points, inlets, holes, sunken islands, dams, submerged objects (manmade or natural), reeds and weeds are all considered structure. You should always fish in and around structure. It’s a simple formula: 1.Structure creates shallows. 2. Shallows create plant growth. 3. Plant growth attracts baitfish. 4. Baitfish attract game fish.

Current Edges

A current edge is a place where natural or man-made objects slow the current. When the current slows, the food that travels with it also slows. So fish rest at current edges and wait for a nice, slow meal to come by. Current edges can be created by natural or man-made structures like bends, merging currents, drop-offs, rocks and islands.

Drop-Offs

When water flows over a drop-off, it slows down and sinks, taking the food it carries with it. A drop-off is a great feeding place because it has food, deeper water and it’s away from the current, allowing for a more relaxing dining experience for the fish.

Rock and Boulder Pockets

When flowing water hits rocks and boulders, it splits and goes around the obstruction, creating an area of calm water on the downstream side of the obstruction. Fish will rest, facing upstream, on the downstream side of a rock. These pockets are small, but a handy cast could land you a fish.

Undercuts

Undercuts are considered the perfect hiding spot on the river. They occur where the current has cut out a cave-like hole in earth or rock along the shore. If there’s a tree above the undercut, all the better. Undercuts provide protection from above-water predators and the sun. And easy access to deeper water for feeding or escape. The biggest, baddest river fish live in undercuts.

Dams and Falls

When water continually drops off a dam or falls, it creates a big hole or drop-off. Fish will sit at the bottom of these holes to get away from the current and to eat sinking food. Fish can get trapped in these holes if they are going upstream to find cooler water or to spawn.

Riparian Zones

Riparian zones are the middle strip of vegetation between the river and the flatter land beyond the shore. These zones serve as a natural biofilter to protect water from excessive sedimentation, polluted surface runoff and erosion. And they supply shelter, food and shade for fish and other aquatic animals. A thriving riparian zone is a sign of good water quality and good fishing.

Rivers and Streams

In a lake or pond, fish have to move around to find food. In a river or a stream, the food comes to them. So moving-water fish find hiding places and travel anywhere from a few feet to up to several hundred feet, several times a day to eat.

You have to decide if you’re going to fish where the fish are hiding or where the fish are feeding. Either way, you’ll have to learn about river and stream feeding and hiding structure.

Hiding structure include undercuts in the banks, eddies, sunken trees and overhanging trees and bushes: places that provide protection from the current and above-water predators.

Feeding places include the outside of bends, merging currents, drop-offs, feeder brooks and springs: places where the current slows down and food collects or sinks.

In general, fish found in moving water tend to be a little smaller than lake fish. But they’re fighters, strong from battling the currents.

Fishing Methods

Drift Fishing

Drift fishing allows you to fish over a variety of habitats as your boat drifts with the currents or wind movement. You can drift fish on the bottom or change the depth with a bobber or float. Natural baits work very well but jigs, lures and scented artificial baits will produce good results, too. When drift fishing with multiple baits and rods, it is always a good idea to set out each bait at a different depth. This allows the angler to cover more of the water column.

Spin Casting

We won’t say it’s foolproof, but spin casting is an ideal fishing method for beginning anglers. Spin-casting equipment is easier to use than bait casting. You can use it to cast both light and heavy lures without tangling or breaking your line. Basic equipment includes a 7-foot rod, a spinning reel and 6–10 pound test line for casting 1/16- to 3/4 ounce lures. You can use an open-face, closed-face or spin-cast reel for spin casting.

Still Fishing

Still fishing is a versatile way to go. You can do it from a pier, a bridge, an anchored boat or from shore. And you can still fish during most seasons and during any part of the day. Your equipment and the size of the hooks and bait you use depend on what kind of fish you’re after. Your best equipment for still fishing is patience. You have to wait for the fish to bite. A great method for still fishing is to use one rod with natural bait that will soak or sit on the bottom as well as a casting rod with an artificial bait or lure. While you’re letting your natural bait soak, you can keep occupied and cover more ground while taking casts with a lure.

Bait & Lures

Bread or Dough Balls

Bread and dough balls make for excellent baits for bottom feeding fish. The bread or dough leaves a nice scent trail in the water that can be detected by bottom dwelling fish suck as catfish and carp. Any bread or dough will work but if making your own dough, make sure the dough is nice and firm so that it will remain on the hook when submerged in water. When using a piece of bread, add a little bit of moisture to the bread by chewing on it or splashing a small amount of water over the piece. Shape the bread or dough into a compact round ball and bury your hook in the ball so that only the hook tip sticks out.

Cut Bait

Using fish cut into pieces attracts fish in a different way than whole, live bait or lures. Fish that are attracted to scent are more likely to hit on cut bait. You can use just about any baitfish to make cut bait as well as other fish species. Before using any fish as cut bait, always make sure the fish you plan on using is a legal species and meets the minimum size requirement, if there is a size limit on that species. All size and species regulations can be obtained at tackle shops or your state’s fishing law enforcement website.

Jigs

Jigs have weighted metal heads and a tail made of animal hair, soft plastic, feathers or rubber. Anglers sometimes add a minnow or piece of pork rind to the jig's hook. Jigs can be used to catch nearly every kind of freshwater fish

Minnows and Nightcrawlers

Basically, minnows are baby fish and a good all-around freshwater bait. They're readily available from bait and tackle shops or you can catch your own if it's legal in your area. Minnows come in different sizes. Use larger 'shiners' for bass and pike fishing.

For cast and retrieve, trolling and drifting, hook the minnow vertically through both lips or through the tail.

For still fishing with a bobber, hook the minnow through the back just in front of the dorsal fin. Take care not to damage the spinal cord. The key is to keep the fish moving on its own.

Tricks and Tips for Minnows

For really good action, hook the minnow upside down on a light jig. It will struggle to regain an upright position

Store minnows in a minnow bucket using the same water from which they were bought or captured, and take care not to crowd them.

Worms are a good bait for nearly all freshwater fishing. You can find enough worms for fishing from a few shovels of dirt in your garden or from a shaded, damp area. Worms can also be purchased in fishing tackle stores and bait shops. For walleyes and bass use earthworms or night crawlers.

For pan fish, sunfish and trout use smaller manure worms. You can find them in cattle and horse pastures.

Trick and Tips for Worms

To prevent smaller fish from nibbling the worm without biting down on the hook, you can use just a piece of the worm.

If you have small worms, thread the hook through the side of the worm at several places along its body. For bait-stealing fish such as sunfish, thread the worm on the hook until the hook is completely covered.