Hunting Flathead Catfish

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Published on: May. 2, 1997

Last revision: Oct. 26, 2010

The silence of dawn was interrupted only by the last calls of a whip-poor-will and the drone of the outboard motor powering the boat down the muddy Grand River.

No one spoke as the boat glided into the brush pile. A hand reached forward to retrieve a line that descended into the water. The angler slowly pulled and a tug of war was on.

He brought the monster to the surface three times, only to have to give ground to the fish's power and stamina. Finally the angler was able to hook his thumb over the lower jaw of the fish and lift. Leaning backwards, he slid the 28-pound catfish over the gunwale and into the bottom of the boat.

Fishing for flathead catfish is a hunt, a game of strategy. Patience is an absolute necessity. If you hate waiting hours for a couple of bites or sitting around a campfire telling tall tales and waiting to check set lines, then flathead fishing is definitely not for you. However, everyone may want to try it once. A word of caution, however: Flathead fishing may get in your blood and become an obsession.

Where to fish

Look for flathead catfish in Missouri's two large rivers, the Missouri and the Mississippi, and most of their larger tributary streams, like the Grand and Osage rivers. If you're looking for a good flathead stream close to home contact your nearest Conservation Department office for advice.

Once a river is selected, take a couple of days and float different sections to see what habitat is available. Flatheads use both swift water and calm water, but they will almost always be near some kind of cover. Large brush piles, log jams, single trees and large rocks provide good feeding and resting locations for flatheads.

Find a section of river with the most habitat or diverse habitat and fish that area several times to give yourself the greatest opportunity to learn. You can fish a familiar section with the methods that worked on a previous trip, while saving a few hooks to experiment with new locations and depths.


For the beginner, $60 will buy the supplies and $15 a year will keep them replenished. Hooks should be stainless steel. A large catfish will straighten anything else. The size should be 7/0 or 8/0. I know this sounds too large, but with the characteristically wide mouth of the flathead catfish, even a small fish can be caught

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