How to catch flathead catfish

Flatheads are the red-headed stepchild of the catfish world. The flathead has some negative connotations to them, and there’s not a good reason for it.

These are a great fish to chase after, as they put up a big fight and can grow very large, sometimes weighing over 100 pounds.

On top of that, the meat is wonderful to eat and, when prepared right, can rival the popular channel catfish in flavor. So, no need to be upset when you catch an ole’ shovelhead catfish because these flatheads are a great species.

Think Like a Flathead

Flathead catfish waiting

Flatheads are ambush predators. They will not be swimming around actively looking for food or for anything. Instead, they will be hiding in the shadows. They’ll be around fallen trees, drift piles, or other shady shore covers. 

When fishing from one of these spots, you’ll need to use heavy tackle. That way, you can get them out before they tangle themselves around one of the logs and break off your line.

So, make sure your line and reel are strong enough to handle it. 

Do they swim in schools?

Unlike channel and blue catfish, flatheads are very aggressive and will attack other flatheads. So, a good piece of flathead real estate will usually only hold one big fish.

Once you’ve taken one, it’s best to move on to a new spot so you can find other fish that are lying in wait.

So, if you want to catch them all day, then keep moving. Sitting in one spot all day will do you no good if targeting flathead.

It can be tempting, but it is crucial that after you catch the first fish that you move down to the next area.

How to Catch the Big Ones

Smaller flatheads will feed on just about anything. Pick some of your favorite catfish bait, and chances are a small flathead is going to eat it.

Worms, chicken livers, crawfish, and stinkbait will all work just fine if you want to catch a large number of juvenile fish.

If you want to catch the big guys, then you need to be using live bait. These big flatheads will be keying in on other live fish swimming around. They won’t even look at your chicken liver or stink bait.

That meal is just not big enough for them. If you want to catch a big one, you need to use large live bait to entice a big flathead to come out of its hole.

Also, flatheads can detect toxins in the water. So, if you’re outboard is leaking fuel, or you’re throwing cigarette butts into the water, you’re lowering your chances of catching these fish. Keep it clean and increase those chances.

What Seasons are Best to Catch them?

Unlike channel and blue cats who feed actively during the winter, flatheads remain dormant and basically hibernate.

They will lay on the bottom of the lake or river and wait for the water to warm up to over 45 degrees before actively pursuing food again.

So, if you’re reading this in the wintertime, then I’m afraid you’re out of luck until Spring. However, in Spring, the fishing really heats up. These fish will begin to gorge themselves after spending months not eating anything.

Once that water hits above 45 degrees, you should get out on it as soon as possible, and be ready for a full day of catching catfish.

What Kind of Tackle to Use?

Most of the time, you will want to use heavyweight gear. Large rods and reels along with heavy line will be the ticket in order to reel in these large fish. However, there are a select number of anglers who only chase these fish on light tackle. 

Look to use a medium to a medium-heavy rod. The little bit of extra sensitivity from not using a heavyweight rod will allow you to feel those subtle strikes better.

Look to use a baitcasting reel as well. These are more durable and allow for more cranking power when pulling up these fish.

Using 30-50-pound line will be ideal. However, if going after the really big fish, you could even use 60-130-pound test.

Braid is going to be your best bet. It will help prevent fraying and is very strong. The fact that it does not stretch also means that you will feel strikes better than with mono.

A 5/0 or 6/0 hook is best when using large live bait. If you use bait larger than six inches, you should be using an 8/0-12/0 hook size. After you have baited your hook, ensure that the point and barb are exposed.

Where to Find them in Rivers

where to find flathead catfish

Once you’ve located some good structure, you need to make sure the current is favorable. Look for any type of cavities or areas of rotating current. These fish will sit there and wait for something to float by, and then they will strike.

How to Cook Them

Flatheads taste great and can be prepared in a number of ways. They can be baked, broiled, fried, sauteed, or grilled. The mild and flaky meat allows for all of these ways to be used and will make a bad cook look good.

If you’re not sure what you like, then grilling or frying will be the best tasting options. When grilling, you can lay the filets on the grate or on foil.

From there, you can season with anything. Classic salt and pepper and a sprinkle of lemon juice will work great.

When frying, it’s best to use peanut oil and cornmeal flour breading. You’ll need to remove these filets from the oil once the outside is golden brown. Serve with hot sauce, ketchup, tartar sauce, or cocktail sauce.


Flatheads get a bad name, but they can be great fun, as well as great eating. They are strong, mean, and big, making them perfect for sport or food. So, make sure you don’t sleep on fishing for flatheads.

If you decide you want to get out and try to catch some, then use the information above as your jumping-off point. You may find that something works better for you than what we put down, so don’t be afraid to try something different.

Overall, flatheads are a great sport fish. They can be a challenge to catch, especially on light tackle, and can be found in most areas. So, head on out to your local lake or river and see if you can find any!

string(10) "freshwater"
Scroll to Top