Anglers that view the flathead catfish as a worthy adversary, but one best pursued on dark, steamy, mid-summer nights are missing the boat, literally, on what might well be the best shovelhead bite of the year.
"During the summertime it's usually necessary to fish at night to catch river flatheads," noted Koinonia Guide Service owner Rod Bates, who targets big cats on the lower portion of the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania. "But by late fall and early winter big flatheads are migrating to deeper wintering holes, and can be consistently taken during the daytime. This is especially true during cloudy, rainy days."
I can attest to Bates' comments. A few years ago I fished with him and fellow guide Dave Neuman on the Susquehanna River, on a stretch downriver of Harrisburg. During our fall trip, which started at dawn and concluded late-morning, Bates, Neuman and I boated 18 flatheads, including two over 35 pounds. Half of the fish took the bobber rig, including one of the 35 pounders.
"One of the real keys is being mobile," noted Neuman. "When things slow down, reposition the boat."
By moving, Neuman doesn't necessarily mean motoring miles to a different spot. Simply moving 20 yards upstream or down, or to one side or the other, gives the fish a different look at the bait. It was uncanny how quickly fish would bite when we adjusted the boat position. Rarely were all four rods out before the clicker was sounding on one of them.
Want a big flathead for Christmas? Bates said he catches river flatheads until the water temperature drops into the mid 40s, which means river cattin' well into the early winter in much of the species' range.