Big cats, especially flatheads, often ­prefer big meals. Offering big catfish baits may tempt the largest fish around and eliminate bites from smaller cats. Presenting live baitfish weighing a pound or more, though, presents problems. More physical demands are on put on tackle, and saltwater rigging techniques usually are required.

When To Fish Big Baits
When targeting flatheads, I usually fish one magnum bait weighing a pound or more. Realistically, though, a bait this size doesn’t get much action. Anglers are allowed two rods on the St. Croix River between Minnesota and Wisconsin, where I do most of my flathead fishing. I tip my second line with a smaller livebait or a fresh piece of cutbait. Even when fishing with a partner, we generally only deploy one large bait.

The Prespawn Period is the only time I fish as many big baits as the law allows. Flathead metabolism is near peak levels, and the fish often feed around the clock. I’m usually on a sandbar on an inside bend, adjacent to a big snag. I’ll catch a few baitfish in shallow water, then deploy the largest baits and wait for sunset when the biggest fish usually prowl. From midsummer to early fall, I sometimes fish two big baits from first light till the sun hits the horizon.

Rods and Reels
Off-the-shelf rods rarely are capable of casting huge baitfish. Even the heaviest rod in St. Croix’s Classic Cat series feels light under the load of a heavy sinker and two-pound carp. Most heavy-power freshwater rods also have small guides, limiting the use of some saltwater rigs. Once I popped half the inserts from a rod by casting a Bimini twist and Albright special combination through the guides.

Many saltwater rods designed for trolling or bottom fishing have suitable guides, but don’t cast well. Inshore rods are better suited to casting, but often are finished like high-end catfish sticks. Top-of-the-line surf rods like St. Croix’s Ben Doerr series are fine for one-pound baits, but not much larger. Anglers who are serious about using oversized baits should consider a custom rod.

For heavy-duty reels, it’s tough to beat star drag conventional reels like the Penn Senator 113 series. For about $100, this reel is one of the best values available—simple and rugged. Several upgrades also are available. Catfish In-Sider Guide Editor Steve Hoffman recommends the Yellowtail Special from Tiburon Engineering, which features a narrower spool for easier casting and an enhanced reel clamp that eliminates the need for a reel seat on custom rods.

Anglers with fewer budget restraints may want to consider Shimano’s Trinidad TN-30. This rugged reel features an adjustable bait clicker, a capacity of 350 yards of 30-pound line, and a 6.2 to 1 gear ratio. The reel weighs less that 21 ounces, but carries a suggested retail price of $400.

An Ambassador Morrum 7700 or Shimano Calcutta 700 is about as light as I’d recommend for big baitfish. With a level-wind reel, you’re also restricted to a leader that’s roughly the same length as the rod. The level wind can be removed to accommodate wind-on leaders, and might improve casting distance.

Lines and Leaders
For heavy-duty work I prefer a braided main line like 200-pound Berkley Whiplash. Begin by tying a Bimini twist on the end of the main line, then connect a 10-foot length of 125- to 200-pound mono with an Albright special. The heavy mono protects the main line from abrasion and adds a bit of stretch to protect against shock. A longer leader can be used, but makes casting more difficult.

For baits up to 11⁄2 pounds, I use a 50-pound-mono main line ending in a Bimini twist as a leader. Thread a sliding sinker snap or fish-finder on the main line, tie the Bimini twist, and then attach a hook to the end of the double line.

Large, active baitfish require a modified bolt rig. Slip a large bead ahead of the sliding sinker clip on the mono leader and anchor the sinker by tying a float stop from one to three feet above the hook. When a baitfish surges, the weight of the sinker limits how far it’s able to move. Use a short leash near heavy cover, a longer leader in open water.

Sinker snaps allow weight changes without retying the rig. I usually use bank sinkers weighing from 4 to 16 ounces, depending on bait size, depth, and current speed. Multiple sinkers, say three 4-ounce weights instead of one 12-ouncer, create more drag.

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