How To Catch Spring Flathead Catfish


How To Catch Spring Flathead Catfish

Spring is just around the corner and so is the flathead spawning season. There’s a growing number of flathead catfish anglers around the country and many enjoy chasing big flathead catfish in the spring. These tips will help you learn how to catch spring flathead catfish and put more and bigger flatheads in the boat.

  • Check out the smaller bodies of water first for springtime flatheads, they warm up quicker.
  • Locate good ambush spots along the shore where a flathead catfish might sit to gorge on prey preparing for the flathead spawning season.
  • Use smaller baits during post spawn. Big flatheads are exhausted from the flathead spawning season and don’t feel like chasing big baits.
  • Go up the creek in search of springtime spawning flathead catfish. You might be surprised how far up they will go to spawn.
  • Fish along bluff walls where flathead catfish love to feed as well as spawn in the many undercuts along these bluffs.

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You can extend your springtime flathead fishing fun if you focus on small bodies of water first. The smaller lakes and streams will warm up a lot faster than larger bodies of water. Keep track of water temps on your area waters and when the surface temps reach the 50’s the catfish begins to feed-up for the upcoming spawn. This is the best time to fish for spring flatheads. These small waters is your best bet early and they can warm up weeks before larger waters. Extend your season with this tip and remember as the small water flatheads begin to spawn and refuse to bite those big waters are just getting warm enough for more fishing action.

Springtime Flatheads Love Ambush Points

Springtime flatheads are known to be buried in thick cover but during early spring they love to sit in ambush points to gorge on baitfish and worms and any other food that washes by. Look for flathead catfish to position themselves in current breaks behind boulders or around channel swings in the creek, river or stream. A real good spot to find early spring flatheads is at the mouth of incoming creeks. Flathead catfish will hang in the slack water next to this moving water waiting to engulf any type of food that washes by.

Small Baits For Big Springtime Flatheads

During the early spring flathead catfish have much slower metabolism. Flathead catfish, like other fish, know from instincts how much energy it will use to first catch the prey and then to also digest that prey. You can increase your bites during the early spring by downsizing your bait. Cut-bait will also work on early spring flathead catfish. It seems that the best way to present cut-bait to flathead catfish is throwing into moving water allowing the bait to wash into slack water where the flathead lies in wait to ambush its prey. Flathead catfish, that are in these ambush spots, will engulf the cut-bait without knowing it is dead so take advantage of this during your early spring trips.

Look Up The Creeks For Springtime Flatheads 

Flathead catfish, more than any of the other catfish species, seek calm water. If you hunt flathead catfish on big rivers they will migrate up smaller tributaries to get out of the turbulent flow from the snow melt and early spring rains. These tributaries may be flowing strong but they will have less turbulent water and more ambush points to hide behind. There have been many big flathead catfish caught in very small tributaries during early spring. They are there you just have to be patient and believe they are there. It is a lot of fun pulling a 30 pounder out of a small creek. 

Steep Banks

During your hunt for early spring flatheads look for steep banks. Flatheads will move up to feed-up in preparation for the spawn and they will do this near spawning areas. Flathead catfish spawn in holes that they can protect. Steep banks that have large boulders, root wads and mud is where flatheads like to spawn. Flatheads will spawn in brush in shallow water. However, the steep banks with a lot of cover will attract a larger number of flathead catfish. Fish these banks or nearby flats where dead shad, from the winter kill, wash in during early spring. This is another reason cut-bait will work on flatheads in the spring. Catfish focus on dead shad this time of year.
These are just a few tips on catching more springtime flatheads during the early spring season. I hope this helps you think outside the box when it comes to hunting flathead catfish. These tips are just a starting point to help you think about the possibilities. I love to hunt flathead catfish. It took these tips from better anglers than me to help extend my season. Good luck this spring. Get out there a little sooner this year and let me know how you did.

Springtime Flathead Questions From Rambling Angler Readers

Are Bullheads Good Bait for Flatheads

Yellowbellys or Bullheads as we call them are great for spawning flatheads or anytime for that matter. The bullheads stay alive much longer and will seek the same areas to hide as their flathead cousins which is right where you want them to go. Be careful though or they could lodge themselves in those hiding spots so keep them moving. Yellowbellys/bullheads are not mentioned as often as other baits I think because they are not as readily available to most flathead anglers but if you can get bullheads then I would say use them all season long for some great flathead action.

Should I Use A Bobber Or Fish On Bottom For Flathead Catfish

This is a great question and one I get a lot. I use a bobber nearly 100% of the time when fishing for flatheads. For one thing I like to watch my bait working so I know it isn’t hung up. I also use the bobber to keep the bait above the gnarly habitat that flatheads love. As far as a lighted bobber I have mixed feelings about those. Some anglers feel that catfish are actually attracted to the light but in my experience the light works great for attracting channels or at least they don’t mind the light but flatheads seem to not be attracted and maybe scared away by it. Just my opinion and when I am fishing at night I am usually fishing in 2 to 3 foot of water where flatheads like to prowl for food.

If you’re fishing deeper with a slip bobber the light would be less of a deterrent. I have actually watched big flatheads swimming a couple feet below my bait and would not come up to get it so I blame the light but I’m not positive. I don’t use a light for flatheads and if you keep a bow in your line and all the line above the water you can see (if you use a blacklight) the line jerking from the bait moving or if you have a good sensitive catfish rod then you can actually feel the bait moving. This allows you to maintain a working bait so it can attract those giant flatheads. Hope this helps.

What Water Temperature Do Flatheads Spawn

I have heard, read and witnessed flatheads spawning at various temps. I have a friend that noodles for huge flatheads and this is how I know that flatheads will spawn from 65 to 80 degrees while 70 degrees seems to be the target temp I would start your search when the water is approaching 65 degrees. It’s sort of like the rut when deer hunting. They say the rut will be the first week in November and usually it is but there is some rutting activities before and after this time frame and you can bet I am in the woods for it.

Another good reason to find early spawners is because you can mark that spot. I can assure you there will be a flathead there the next season. My friend keeps a few of the flatheads he noodles. He can go back within a few days and there’s usually another flathead in that hole. Even if there are eggs in the hole another flathead will lay her eggs with them. Flatheads like to spawn in certain size and types of holes. They look for areas where they can protect their eggs. If that hole is the right size and in the right place there will usually be flathead in it.

What Tackle Is Best For Flathead Catfishing

Due to the flathead catfish aggressive nature, raw power, and potential size having a proper rod and reel can determine whether you land a monster or are left standing there with a broken rod or reel in your hand. A heavy rod, 6-7 feet in length, a heavy duty spinning or baitcasting reel, is a great place to start.  Spool the reel with 50 lb mono or 65-100 lb braided line.

Slip rig with a no roll sinker is very popular. This rig is very simple. A sliding sinker on the main line, a bead to protect the knot, a swivel with a heavy leader and a good hook.  This rig presents the bait to the catfish on or near the bottom. Float rigs work very well for many flathead anglers. Floats rigs allow you to suspend your bait at any depth. It also can decrease the odds of getting snagged and you will get snagged. Snags are just part of flathead fishing.

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About Ken McBroom 307 Articles
Ken McBroom is an accomplished outdoor writer and photographer. Growing up in Lynchburg Tennessee allowed him many opportunities afield as a boy and young man. Later in life, after Desert Storm, Ken’s wanderlust took him to Alaska to live and work and experience the last frontier. Married now with two beautiful children, Ken now calls Kentucky home where he continues to communicate our American outdoor traditions and the lifestyle it offers.

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