Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

June 24, 2012

Flathead catfish: The modern-day Hoosier Jaws

Local fisherman hooks a 35-pounder on Wabash River

By John Martino
Outdoors columnist

— Just mention flathead catfish and stories flow of rod-bending, reel-stripping, drag-screaming action.

George Hunter, a devoted cat fisherman, landed a 35-pound flathead on the Wabash River last week. The 43-inch monster was his best catch that day which also included another flathead topping out at 16 pounds along with a couple of decent blues and channels weighing between five and 10 pounds. Last year he hauled in a flathead straining the scales at 51 pounds.

“It took me about 20 minutes to land the biggest one,” Hunter explained about his recent catch. “It always seems a lot longer when it’s happening.” On that particular day he was using stiff rods married to medium sized spinning reels spooled with 50-pound spider wire. His bait was live bluegills. Circle hooks seem to be the rage with cat fishermen, mainly because they tend not to gut hook fish.

For Hunter, nothing beats setting the hook then watching his heavy action rod double over under the throbbing strain of a heavy fish. “I’m not sure who hooked who,” Hunter said with a laugh. “I caught my first really big flathead 20 years ago and have been addicted ever since.” In Indiana there is nothing more powerful than a huge flathead.

Retired Kokomo police officer Jim Cook is another who spends countless hours fishing for flatheads. “There’s nothing like tying into a 40, 50 or 60 pound fish,” he explained.

There is a certain art to consistently catching these monsters. Fishing for them is a hunt, a game of strategy. Patience is an absolute necessity. I used to think night was the best time to fish but Hunter says most of his giants were caught in early morning or before sundown. Some anglers say you can catch big catfish anytime, but the truth is most come when the sun’s angle is low on the horizon.

Baits for big catfish are as varied as the people who fish for them. You can buy all types of processed bait, cut bait and homemade concoctions. But when it comes to the really big fish, nothing beats a live bluegill, creek chub or shiner.

Indiana is home to four types of catfish. They are flathead, blue, channel and bullheads. Even though they can reach several pounds in weight, bullheads are the smallest of the clan and are found mostly in smaller creeks and streams.

As their name implies, flatheads have a flat head, smooth, scaleless skin and whisker like barbells around the mouth. They sport a projected lower jaw giving them a noticeable under bite. These fish can reach over four feet in length and can exceed 100 pounds. They prey almost exclusively on live bait and make their homes in undercut banks and logjams close to deep water. Taken from the White River, Indiana’s current state record stands at 80 pounds. But many people believe the record will soon be broken because those fishing specifically for huge flatheads is rapidly gaining in popularity.

Blue catfish have a forked tail and are very similar to their cousin the channel cat. They can also reach gargantuan proportions. Coloration is usually slate blue on the back shading to white on the belly. Blue catfish are usually found in larger rivers with a good current.

Channel catfish closely resemble the blue cat. They both sport deeply forked tails. However channels have a rounded anal fin and scattered black spots running along their back and sides.

Almost every body of water holds catfish and the bigger the water the bigger the fish. Catfishing in Indiana can be a memorable experience. If you’ve never tried your luck trying to catch one of our state’s largest fish, you may want to give it a shot. But be warned. When you see your line moving off and you rear back on that rod, make sure you hang on tight!

Tournament Results

Bob Rose and Wayne Nolder came out on top after last Tuesday’s Delphi-Delco team bass tourney held on Mississinewa Reservoir. They swept the event with five largemouth bass totaling 9 pounds, 3 ounces. A 2-pound, 12-ounce fish also gave them the weekly event’s “big bass” trophy. Terry Thor, fishing alone, grabbed second place with three fish weighing 5 pounds, 12 ounces. Third place went to Mike Harrison with two fish dropping the scales at 2 pounds, 14 ounces.

• John Martino is the Tribune’s outdoors columnist. He may be reached by email at jmartinooutdoors@att.net.