Here are some of the best flathead catfish locations to consider in the United States.
1 Arizona Oases
Bartlett Lake on the Verde River is about an hour'™s drive from Phoenix. In April last year, 'œFlathead' Ed Wilcoxson caught the state record 76.54-pound flathead, camped over one of Bartlett'™s deep rockpiles with a live 2-pound carp. Bartlett is one of several good flathead waters in the Grand Canyon State. East of Phoenix, San Carlos Lake has produced 70-pounders, as has Pleasant Lake and the Lower Colorado River, in which an 89-pounder turned up in a net set by Arizona Game and Fish in 2008. Fine fishing for big flatheads exists from Lake Havasu south to the Yuma portion of the Lower Colorado. Statewide, peak fishing occurs in March through April and in November, while night-fishing produces flatheads all summer.
Contact: Flathead Ed Wilcoxson, flatheadedadventures.com
, 623/256-7245; Arizona Game & Fish Department, azgfd.gov
2 Nebraska Reservoirs
Spread across the Nebraska plains are moderately sized flatland reservoirs, each with healthy populations of flatheads and channel cats. At 1,800 acres, Branched Oak Lake near Lincoln is catch-and-release for flatheads and kicks out 15- to 40-pound fish. Biologist Daryl Bauer is a fan of this lake'™s flathead fishery, and spends many May and June nights trolling or casting shad imitating crankbaits and soft-plastic swimbaits, focusing on rock points and jetties that intersect creek arms near the main lake.
About 130 miles to the west of Branched Oak lies Sherman Reservoir, a 2,845-acre impoundment that produces plentiful flatheads over 30 pounds. Near the Kansas border is Harlan County Reservoir, which hosts good populations of flatheads and channel cats.
Contact: Branched Oak Marina, 402/783-3311; Nebraska Game & Parks Commission, 402/471-0641; Biologist Daryl Bauer, 402/471-5005.
4 Fox River > Wisconsin
Dozen-fish nights are possible on the Fox River. Guide Jason Gaurkee says 20-pounders are common with a top-end size of around 50. The 30-mile reach from Appleton to Green Bay offers potentially incredible fishing, yet the Fox rarely shows off the look of a classic catfish river. Heavily developed in this reach, it lacks natural woodcover. Feeding cats roam over shallow hard-bottom areas with light to moderate current, including current seams in 6 feet of water and less. Dams, spillways, discharges, and lock areas also attract fish. The prespawn bite begins around Memorial Day and lasts into the first few weeks of June.
Check regulations about bait restrictions due to invasive species. Most reputable bait shops offer VHS-free suckers, while sunfish, bullheads, and other river-caught species also work. Gaurkee'™s largest flathead last year ate a live bluegill. Wisconsin state regs require the use of a non-offset circle hook for any livebait over 8 inches.
Contact: Captain Jason Gaurkee, ariverguide.com
, 920/851-6655; Green Bay Area Visitors Bureau, 920-494-9507.
5 Michigan Monsters
In Michigan, relatively few anglers target flatheads, but in several rivers, as well as lakes Muskegon, Manistee, and White, accidental catches are common, particularly for anglers trolling crankbaits. On the Grand, St. Joseph, and Manistee rivers, summer fishing with live bluegills, bullheads, or suckers in woodcover produces flatheads in the 20- to 30-pound range. On bigger riverine lakes, trolling plugs over thick timber piles yields outsize fish. The woodpiles are remnants of Great Lakes logging operations from the late 1800s, and the biggest piles lying along drop-offs hold most of the flatheads.
Most of Michigan'™s Master Angler entries for big flatheads come from Lake Manistee, though large fish also come from unexpected waters. In January 2014, the 52-pound state record was caught on Barron Lake. Other top spots include the east end of Muskegon Lake and the lower stretches of the Muskegon, Grand, and Saginaw rivers. Peak fishing occurs in summer through early fall. Catfish guides are rare in the area, and local bait shops can point you in the right direction.
Contact: D & R Sports Center (Kalamazoo, St. Joseph River), 800/992-1520; Solberg'™s Marina (Manistee), 231/723-2611; Frank'™s Great Outdoors (Bay City, Saginaw River area), 989/697-5341; Michigan DNR, michigan.gov/dnr
6 Susquehanna River > Pennsylvania
Though native to western Pennsylvania rivers, flatheads didn'™t appear in the Susquehanna in significant numbers until the early 2000s. Today, a terrific bite occurs from midsummer through fall, with September and October offering prime fishing for larger flatheads. Plenty of 20-pounders exist, with fish to 40 pounds possible.
Captain Dave Shindler'™s favorite stretches lie on the lower sections from York Haven downstream to the dam in Conowingo. During the day and in fall, he targets fish in 30-foot-plus holes with adjacent woodcover, while most of his night-fishing focuses on shallow water and shoreline trees and snags. Live chubs and sunfish on slipsinker or float rigs are effective.
Contact: Captain Dave Shindler, jstfishin.com
, 717/324-5769; Jaime Hughes, breaklinecharters.com
7 Kanawha River > West Virginia
Formed by the confluence of the New and Gauley rivers, the Kanawha River flows 97 miles before feeding the Ohio River near Point Pleasant. Twenty- to 50-pound flatheads are common from June through August. Ten-fish days are possible, with blues and channels mixed in. Check dam tailraces in summer, particularly the Winfield area. The Buffalo region also offers large flatheads in deeper holes and pools on major riverbends. Live suckers, shad, and cut skipjack work, on set rigs and drifting. A recent Cabela'™s King Kat tournament accounted for dozens of fish up to 40 pounds, most taken on cut skipjack and shad.
Contact: Charleston WV Tourism, charlestonwv.com
; New River Trophy Outfitters, newrivertrophyoutfitters.com
; West Virginia DNR, wvdnr.gov/fishing
8 Tennessee River Reservoirs
Touted for their tremendous blue cat opportunities, many of the impoundments and tailwater sections of the Tennessee River offer excellent potential for trophy flatheads. Tailrace areas and adjacent riprap hold big fish from prespawn in April through June, when night-fishing with live bluegills or shad becomes a primary tactic. Many monster cats are also caught by bass anglers casting crankbaits around flooded timber. Downriver, flatheads hold near barges, bridge pilings, and downed trees on outside bends. From Watts Bar and Chickamauga lakes in Tennessee, west to Guntersville and Pickwick lakes in Alabama, goliath flatheads are available in modest numbers, yet remain largely underfished.
Contact: Guide Mike Mitchell, tnriveroutfitters.net
; Captain Jason Bridges, wheelercatsguideservice.com
9 Apalachicola River > Florida
The first documented flathead in the Apalachicola River was caught in 1982 below Lake Seminole'™s Woodruff Dam. Whether the result of illegal stocking or migration from other rivers, flatheads are now permanent, prolific residents of the Apalachicola'™s 112-mile scenic flow to the Gulf of Mexico. While the river record stands at 49 pounds, many flatheads in the 50- to 60-pound-class are caught on trotlines and limblines every year.
Woodcover is abundant, with snags near deeper bend holes gathering the most fish. In the river'™s upper reaches, shallow rocky stretches include wing dams and associated holes. April to early July heralds fine fishing, with a dozen or two flatheads on the best nights and plenty of 20-plus pounders. Late fall also provides excellent daytime fishing, once water temps drop into the low 60s. Live bream and bullheads account for most of the action.
Contact: Flathead Catfish Hunters, flatheadcatfishhunters.com, 850/607-6898; Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, myfwc.com
3 Upper Mississippi River > Minnesota/Wisconsin
Impressive numbers of sizable flatheads are in Mississippi River pools 3 and 4, from Minneapolis/St. Paul south to Wabasha. In early to midsummer, great night-fishing occurs around shallow wood snags, as well as on top of wing and closing dams in 5 to 10 feet of water. Side-imaging sonar is helpful for identifying submerged cover and structure adjacent to the main river channel. Anchoring upstream from these spots, a live bullhead tethered to a no-roll sinker and set rig accounts for multiple-fish nights, with cats in the 50- to 60-pound range.
Contact: Brian Klawitter, brianksworld.com
, 651/307-8326; Everts Resort, evertsfishingresort.com
; 4 Season Sports, 651/388-4334.