I don’t know if dog owners eventually begin to resemble their favorite pets, but I do believe that many fishermen begin to adopt the personality traits of their favorite fish. I’ll skip my observations about finicky walleye anglers and pugnacious bass fishermen for fear of offending anyone who fell upon this page by mistake.
My point here concerns flathead fishermen. The boys who play this game know that their quarry demands a hefty price — time. Part of the bill is paid catching and caring for the bait, usually big lively baitfish like bullheads, chubs, or sunfish. The balance is due when that bait is put to use, at a time when the rest of the world is fast asleep.
Most flathead anglers believe the price is reasonable, or they start fishing channel cats or some other species that can be caught at a decent hour. Some of them even adjust their own internal clock around the flathead’s natural cycle — staying up later at night and sleeping long past dawn, hitting their stride at about the same time flatheads begin prowling.
Truth is that most of these guys think the bait deal is pretty cool, too. My fish aren’t scavenging around on the bottom looking for decomposing morsels, they’ll tell you; flatheads hunt big, lively baitfish. This predatory mindset is tough to break — both their perception of the flathead as a pure predator, and their perception of themselves as some kind of nocturnal warrior.
But there’s more than one way to play this game. Flatheads can be caught on deadbaits, and they can be caught during the day. We shared the beginning of this story a year ago in a piece about Ryan Wassink and his brother Vaughn, a couple of nontraditional flathead anglers from Hull, Iowa, who catch lots of big fish every summer on cutbait from the Minnesota River.
Then we heard from Dean Opatz (952-492-3720) a flathead guide and deputy sheriff from Jordan, Minnesota. We’ve known Opatz for several years, and spent several nights on the river with him in search of flatheads. But we didn’t know how far he’d ventured from the flock until last fall, when he could no longer hold his secret: “I don’t like fishing at night anymore.”
To some that might not sound like a big deal, but to a flathead fishermen, it’s like a soldier confessing during the middle of a battle that he’s chosen the wrong side. But Opatz, or Opie as he’s known around the sheriff’s office, hasn’t given up flatheads; he’s just stopped losing sleep over them. According to his fishing log, he caught more flathead catfish during the day last year than at night during his previous best season.
A DAY AND NIGHT DIFFERENCE
We’ve said before that flatheads occasionally eat a fresh piece of cutbait intended for a blue or channel catfish, particularly when their metabolism is in high gear toward the end of the Prespawn Period. Few flathead fishermen, though, would recommend targeting flatheads with cutbait throughout the season, especially during the middle of the day. But that’s exactly what Opatz does.
“The best bite usually occurs between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.,” he says. “Flatheads usually cover a large area when they’re prowling after dark. They might move onto the flat in front of a big snag, then move out to the river channel, and finally circle downstream behind the snag before finally returning to the safety and comfort of their lairs.”
The problem anglers face is deciding where to set up to intercept these actively feeding fish. “Every area has one or two high-percentage spots,” Opatz says, “but it’s impossible to know when a flathead will use that spot. Maybe they’ll move in a different direction, or maybe they’ll eat a big baitfish before they find your bait. The only way to know for sure is to sit and wait.”
Continued – click on page link below.