Another big catfish

By Larry Dablemont, Contributing Columnist
Posted 6/21/21

From my home and office on this high ridge, I look down upon a river valley and a stream I have gotten to know well over the years.  My middle daughter went down to a creek tributary to that …

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Another big catfish

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From my home and office on this high ridge, I look down upon a river valley and a stream I have gotten to know well over the years.  My middle daughter went down to a creek tributary to that river, and using her kayak, caught some nice largemouth bass.   One of them was a 20-inch six-and-a-half-pounder.  I couldn’t have floated that small creek in the johnboat or square-sterned canoe I use so I guess I will have to give some credence to the kayak she uses.    It hurts me to do that… as I hate kayaks!

On Saturday I took her and my youngest daughter up the river in my boat, with a dual purpose.  The two of them had caught ten small sunfish out of my pond, so we were going to fish for bass awhile, then set a short trotline with only ten hooks, baiting them with the live sunfish.  As we went up the river I pointed out the spot where I had caught a 45 pound flathead years ago and another eddy where I had caught a 37-pounder. 

The evening bass fishing was slow, a few 12 to 13 inchers and nothing better.  As dusk faded away, we set a trotline and quickly baited it with the live sunfish and then went home.  On the morning of father’s day, we didn’t head back to the river until 9 a.m.  That’s a far cry from the way you ought to do things.  As a kid with my grandpa or my dad, we ran trotlines at first light.  In the heat of summer, big flathead catfish don’t feed during the day, so ideally it is best to run the lines about 1 a.m. and again at first light.  You may catch channel cat or blues at any time, night, morning or evening, and you can catch them on dead bait.  But not flatheads.  They want  live bait.  I have never caught one on dead bait or livers or whatever!

To tell the truth, I had little confidence in catching a flathead that morning.   I was just hoping we might hook a couple of nice channel catfish, and we did.   We caught three, the largest about seven pounds.  But when I picked up the end of the trotline, tied to a log, what I felt was not a channel cat… it was something hefty and strong.  I told my girls we had a really big fish on the first hook and they thought I was joking. Then they saw that broad tail whip across the surface and the water boiling before me as he jerked the line back and forth.

A minute or so later I got my thumb in his mouth, prying up under his jaw with my fingers to still him a bit, as I was taught when I was a kid.  Lordy what a fish…I had trouble lifting him into the boat, so my daughter slipped a big dipnet below him.  She was excited, yelling that the net wasn’t big enough.  Somehow we boated that female catfish, a forty pounder that would have weighed 3 or 4  pounds more if she hadn’t already spawned.  Flathead spawn in early June, so she hadn’t been lighter very long.

After dinner on father’s day, my daughters and I butchered catfish, and we put a bunch of meat in the freezer.  No catfish is quite as good to eat as a flathead that comes from a clean Ozark stream.  Sometimes they are referred to as a yellow catfish. They can be yellow when they come from rivers that are larger and murkier, with different substrates. From clean, flowing Ozark rivers they are usually a deep brown or a speckled brown, as ours was.  You can see photos of that catfish and the big bass my daughter caught on my blogspot… larrydablemontoutdoors.blogspot.com 

Flathead catfish get very large, some from big rivers have weighed 120 pounds or so.  That 40-pounder was the third largest I have ever landed.  I have photos from about 15 years back of my Uncle Norten and I with a 52-pounder caught from the lake.  I’d bet that Bull Shoals and Norfork lakes, and Truman and perhaps another lake or two in the Ozarks, have flathead catfish that will go 80 to 100 pounds and maybe bigger.  The biggest flathead I have known to come from Ozark rivers was a 72-pounder my grandfather caught from the Gasconade River the night I was born.  But I’ll say this, with the number of old trotline fishermen I saw as a kid all dead and gone, the number of fishermen after big flathead catfish in the Ozarks is really declining, so it stands to reason that in deep eddies in all the rivers there are flatheads getting bigger every year.  I think I am still up to another few trotlines and maybe another flathead that will go 60 pounds.  We’ll see!

Write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613 or email me at lightninridge47@gmail.com I love to hear from those who read this column.

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