Smoke a Flattie: Tactics for Big Flathead Catfish

Leave the bait at home. June is prime time to slam huge prespawn flatheads on lures

flathead catfish

Flathead

F&SKevin Hand

When you think catfish, you probably think bait—live, cut, or stink. But a big flathead will smash an artificial lure, and according to Kansas guide R.R. “Catdaddy” Shumway, this month is prime for casting to these ugly giants. June is the prespawn for flatheads in most parts of the country, and the fish are in attack mode, he says. “You can pretty much drag a dead sock in front of a flathead now and it’ll hammer it.”

These cats are also notorious for digging into the thickest snags. If you want to feel the jolt of a monster cat stopping your lure, and you want to put him in the boat, you need to hit the heaviest cover with some heavy-duty casting tackle. Here’s how “Catdaddy” gets it done.

  • Meat Stick: Shumway likes a long rod with a strong butt and forgiving tip. "It should be good and tough like an old mule, with a finesse tip so the fish won't feel the pressure."
  • Tighten Up To maximize strikes, run your lure tight to the structure, and bang it against wood or rock when possible. Still, you don't need to be perfect, says Shumway. "Anything that comes within 10 feet of that fish will probably get slammed."
  • Drop Shots: To get lures near the bottom in current, slip an egg sinker on the main line above your barrel swivel. It's not uncommon for Shumway to use 8 ounces of lead. No-roll sinkers are another good option for keeping baits in the strike zone.
  • The Thick of It: Look for flatheads holding tight to rockpiles, logjams, and stumps. On the Kansas River, Shumway targets huge flooded brushpiles. He calls them "haciendas," or flathead hotels. "The bigger the hacienda, the bigger the fish," he says. Slack water behind brush or jams will also hold flatheads.
  • Crank and Yank: When you get hit, lean into the rod with heavy side pressure and keep cranking. The goal is to get the fish away from its lair fast.
  • Fake Out Any: artificial that mimics a shad or other baitfish will fool flatheads. Shumway's favorite is a big swimbait.