Live bait key to catching tasty fish for table
Arkansas Game and Fish
Of the three species of catfish in Arkansas, the flathead may rank at the top among anglers.
Flatheads aren’t the most numerous. Channel catfish hold the lead there. Flatheads also aren’t the largest. The blue catfish holds the state record at more than 110 pounds. But flatheads hold a special place in many anglers’ hearts, mainly for their hard-fighting nature and their delicious table quality.
Flatheads are identified by a broad, flattened head that gives the fish its name, a square instead of forked tail and a mottled yellowish-brown color in contrast to the gray color of blue ‘cats and channel catfish.
They’re found in reservoirs and large rivers. Anglers use three methods to catch them: rod and reel; jug lines, limb lines and trotlines; and hogging.
Catfish hogging means setting large barrels under the water or digging holes into an undercut bank and reaching in with bare hands to pull the unwilling fish out.
Flatheads are usually caught with live bait, but not always. Many anglers seeking flatheads bait up with small bream including “ricefield slicks,” more formally known as green sunfish. Gizzard shad in bigger sizes are frequently used for flathead work.
Anglers using live baitfish should be sure the bait comes from the same lake where they are fishing, as it is illegal to transport live baitfish between bodies of water. Catching bait for flatheads can be an adventure of its own, throwing a cast net for shad, or fishing with tiny jigs to net up a bunch of sunfish.
Use large, strong hooks for flatheads and pick out a good-sized bream or a big shad for the bait. The weight should be heavy enough to get the bait and hook to the bottom of the water quickly.
Like other forms of catfishing, patience is an asset. Flatheads feed by both sight and smell, and fishermen usually toss out the baited hook, let it sink to the bottom and wait. Bobbers are used, and so is the tightlining method. When the line begins to move, the fisherman waits. Catfish of all species have a habit of moving off with the bait in their mouths for several feet before swallowing.
Daily limit for catfish set by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission is 10. This is for any species or a combination of species. A few waters in the state have more generous daily limits, but for channel and blue catfish, not flatheads.