Flathead catfish is a native species to the United States. Although they originally came from the Mississippi River and the big rivers that drain off of it, flatheads have been transplanted and can now be found in waters across the nation due to their popularity as a game fish and food. Flatheads can be found in slow-moving water such as large rivers and streams, and also in lakes and ponds. They prefer to reside in deep water with objects like fallen logs that provide good hiding places.
Flathead catfish are so named for their long, distinctly flattened heads. Their eyes are flat and oval shaped, and their lower jaw protrudes past their upper jaw. They come in shades of mottled browns and yellows. Forty- to fifty-pound flatheads are often caught in rivers and lakes. Flathead catfish that are over one-hundred pounds have reportedly also been caught.
After hatching, flathead catfish grow quickly. They are mature when they are about fifteen to nineteen inches long, and can live for over twenty-five years. They grow continuously throughout their life time. Flatheads will eat just about anything they can get in their big mouths, but they prefer fish. Bream are one of their favorite foods. They also love to eat live perch and sunfish. Flathead catfish can destroy the population of some kinds of sunfish, especially in smaller bodies of water, or water where they are not native. Some smaller rivers in Georgia have lost almost all their redbreast sunfish after the introduction of flatheads. Flatheads tend to feed by sight, and will feed at night as well as during the day — even though most catfish tend to be more active at night. You can lure flatheads with light. They’ll come to feed on the baitfish that are attracted to the light.
Flathead catfish like deep holes with cover on the outside edges of river bends. Look for large logjams, tree stumps, and rocks where they like to hide. Cast under the edges. Let your bait drift in, and then hang on. If the outside bends are too strong to fish, find some inside bends with less current. In large lakes and reservoirs, look for the big flatheads in areas with lots of cover — like submerged brush piles. Flatheads often travel in old river and creek channels in these lakes and reservoirs. At night, they’ll travel these channels and emerge at the edge of shallows to feed. Position yourself along these areas and wait for them to arrive.
You’ll have better results fishing for flathead catfish in the early morning, early evening, and after dark in the summer months. Although flatheads will take bait during the day, they won’t go far to do so. You’ll have to become familiar with the body of water you’re fishing in and where flatheads are in order to get the bait close enough to them. Keep your catfish bait on the river or lake bottom. Flathead catfish feed off the bottom most of the time.