Archive for the ‘Flathead Catfish’ Tag



To the casual observer bank fishing can amount to just sitting in a lawn chair, sipping a soft drink and listening to the ball game on a radio or stealthily working the shoreline in search of feeding fish. Regardless by following a few simple rules one can have a great day in the outdoors.

The key to fishing from the bank is finding structure and/or vegetation in the water. Fish follow pathways along and around structure.  They will follow one kind of structure until it intersects with another.  Seldom do they cross large expanses of open water.  It makes they feel vulnerable.  If an angler eliminates those large expanses of water from his pattern, he cuts down the amount of water he explores thus improving the odds that he will find fish.

It is smart to fish areas with two different kinds of structure intersecting. This can be where weeds meet a fallen tree or rocky area.  Areas around rocky points, dam faces, or jetties can also contain vegetation that attracts fish.

Other promising locations are where feeder creeks or canals bring warmer water, oxygenated water and washes in insects from flooded areas upstream. Creek channels provide pathways between structures.  Fish often use old creek channels as they move from weeds to brush or shallow water to deeper water.

Deep water drop-offs are popular with fish. It provides them security of deep water yet allows the opportunity to move up into warmer water of flats to feed.

Additional locations along the bank include such areas as those with partially submerged trees or trees that have fallen into the water from the bank. Vegetation such as water willow, cattails, weeds and lily pads also provide food, shelter and a safe refuge from predators finny or on two legs.

For those in search of smaller species, such as crappie, sunfish and bluegill live bait is best. The bait can be small minnows and pieces of nightcrawler.

The amino acids in live bait are an attractant to fish coming out of a long winter of minimal activity. They also feed on zooplankton and insects found in and near vegetation in the water.

The larger predatory fish, such as bass, artificial lures are popular. When working a lure through an area it is important to work it thoroughly.  Fan casting a dozen or so times is a popular method to cover lots of water.  However the most productive areas tend to be closer to shore as opposed to those out further.  The water closer to shore is warmer and more likely to have structure.

When working artificial lures it is wise to vary the speed or the retrieve and the depth at which the lure might run.

It is important when working water from the bank to remain flexible and portable. If a given location is not producing any strikes or bites in 15 minutes, it is time to try another one.  You have to be where the fish are located.


Blue Catfish 6-inch

For an urban lake, Lake Springfield is large, well-developed and well stocked.

This capitol city lake is a 3,866-acre lake with 57 miles of shoreline. There are few lakes in the state of such size that boast such a high population of largemouth bass.  The density as well as body condition of the fish is good creating an excellent fishery.  The bass are typically more heavily bodied per length than is found in other bass populations statewide.  Bass in this fishery average 16-inches in length while statewide the average is more like 14 to 15-inches.

The City of Springfield and the IDNR work together in managing the fishery. The lake is located on the south side of Springfield.  Shore fishing is available in public fishing areas, rip rap areas and there are a number of boat ramps.  There is a 25-hp motor restriction.

Large populations of gizzard and threadfin shad provide the bass with an excellent supply of forage. In the colder weather the warm water areas of the lake provide excellent fishing.  Spring is a good time to fish the lake as the summer season means heavy recreational boating, skiing and wave runner use.  The warming water of this power plant lake provides action earlier in the season than other Illinois lakes as well as an almost continuous feeding season.

In addition to the large amount of riprap there is a considerable amount of underwater structure and vegetation. In addition the water quality in the lake is better today than in the past 25 to 30 years.

The bass most often will take plastics or jerk baits.

The lake’s channel catfish and flathead catfish fishery is near the top in ranking statewide. Anglers report catches of channel catfish of 1 to 10-pounds.  Angler reports fish weighing up to 50-pounds are common.  Blue catfish supplied by a local catfish organization are doing well in the lake with fish of 3 to 57-pounds caught.

Additional fishing for such species as white bass, bluegill, sauger, walleye and crappies is available.



Ancient map makers placed a statement on their maps to justify why they had no information about tan area. The statement was “There be dragons.”

Time was Illinois fishermen could use such a statement might to cover what they knew about fishing the Rock River. Today it is a popular catfishing river as well as for other species like smallmouth bass, muskies and carp.

Although other species are present the September bite on the Rock River, near Rockford is for channel and flathead catfish. The channels bite all day long but the flathead action is best in later afternoon, evening and early morning. Channel catfish action seems to be best in low light of either morning or evening or on an overcast day.

There are any number of catfish locations along the 155-mile length river between the Wisconsin state line and the Mississippi River near Rock Island. Perhaps the most popular is the tailwaters below the Oregon Dam in Oregon, Ill. There is a boat launch above the dam on the eastern shore and another to the south on the western shore in Castle Rock State Park about 2 miles south of Oregon.

A free brochure on the Rock River entitled “Fishing the Rock” is available on the IDNR website (

Channel catfish are around fallen trees, root wads, stumps and log jams. Bank fishermen use minnows to catch catfish with a slip bobber in late afternoon. Slip bobbers make it possible to suspend them at different depths.

In the main river stink baits, blood baits, cut bait and chicken livers are popular with channel catfish fishermen. An aroma flows with the current down river to the location of the fish. Catfish follow the scent back up river to the location of the bait.

Big flathead catfish prefer fresh bait as opposed to the smelly concoctions that appeal to channels. Bluegills fresh caught are the best bet. Bluegills are legal in Illinois as bait. Flathead anglers catch them in farm ponds and then use them for bait. It is illegal to sell bluegills as bait.

Hook the bluegill through the back and allow it to swim free. If you clip one front fin it will move erratically attracting the catfish.

The flatheads hang out in deep holes like the ones below dams. Cast the bait to the upriver side of the hole and allowed to drift down. Preferring deep water, the flathead will hole up in these deep water locations during the day and move up into more shallow water as the air cools in the evening.

A large fallen tree in an area of deep water also can hold flatheads.


DSCN4255Located six hours downstate from Chicago and 2 hours east of St. Louis on Interstate 57, Rend Lake is 18,900-acres of fishable water with 162 miles of rugged shoreline.  The latter is of interest to catfishermen and in particular “Hoggers.”

Reaching into an underwater den and pulling a big flathead catfish out by the lower jaw is probably a rude surprise for the catfish.  It is great fun for the angler.

The origin of the sport is lost in antiquity.  It most likely was the invention of some hapless angler needing food and without any other means of catching fish.

Known locally as hoggin, it also is referred to as under banking.  Practiced throughout the Mississippi river drainage, in some areas it is also known as noodling or grabbing.

Flathead catfish inhabit mostly larger waters such as lakes, reservoirs and major rivers.  Different from other subspecies of North American catfish they have a wide flat skull with prominent eyes set high on the top.

Flatheads have a square tail and their overall color is brown with a white tip of the upper lobe of the tail.  Illinois flatheads generally are 15 to 35 pounds with some exceptional ones up to 50 pounds.  However the state record is 78 pounds.

Although catfish hide in dens at almost any time of the year, the prime time tends to be in spring as water warms into the 65 to 75 degree range.

Most dens have two or more entrances.  Some dens can go back under the shore or other structure six to eight feet.  In Rend Lake they may be under old foundations, slabs of concrete, old roadways, rip rap, piles of rock or concrete dumped in the lake at the time of construction.

Hoggers find an active den by sliding a foot along the bottom in search of an area clean of mud or debris.  For deeper dens in water chest deep they may have to dive down.  These dens are usually the least pressured and most productive.  The best months for hoggin are June and July.

Hoggin is not for the feint-hearted and is not for the lone angler.  Guide services such as Rend Lake Crappie Masters ( and Crappie Predator ( specialize in hoggin at Rend Lake.  It is an adventurous part of our fishing heritage worthy of conserving for the future.


SUMMER ON THE ROCK   Leave a comment

Edit 0001The 155 miles of Rock River that flows through Illinois from the Wisconsin state line to near Rock Island on the Mississippi River divides into three basic habitats for fish.  They are tailwaters below dams, lake or sloughs above dams, and the main channel or side channels.

A very comprehensive booklet on “Fishing the Rock” is available from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources offices in the area or on line at

Below each of the seven dams, the tailwaters are accessible for fishing.  The various parks, both state and local, also have boat launches and bank fishing with most having handicap piers.  The water is usually rough and turbulent due to the flow over the dam.  Fish congregate in the oxygen rich water.

In the channels is the deep, swift water that lacks structure other than large rocks and deep holes.  Between the main channel and the side channel is that part of the river containing debris and stumps.

Above the dams are the lakes and sloughs with their slow running water.  The oxygen level is lower and the fishing usually not as good.

The best fishing locations seem to begin at Oregon Dam.  A bait shop in Oregon, Illinois at the dam is a good source of tackle, bait and information about the river.

There are several boat launch areas on the western side of the river in Castle Rock State Park and on the eastern side at Lowden State Park.  The river yields such diverse species of fish as northern pike, walleye, bluegill, white bass, smallmouth and largemouth bass.  It is renowned for the ample population of channel and flathead catfish.

Camping and picnic areas are available in the state parks.  The various towns and cities along the rivers course also have motels and cabins available.

As you travel further south the river widens and as a result it is often rather shallow.  The shallows still have deep holes where fish seek refuge from the summer heat.  They are often the home of some big catfish.

“Fishing the Rock” is a great idea from mid-May to the snowfall in the beginning of winter.




Probably the most basic type of angling in the Midwest is bank fishing for catfish.  Most people have done it at one time or another and some are returning to it now.  It is a peaceful and rewarding experience.  Gone are daily stresses and one can catch a meal for the family.

Lake Sangchris is a 2,165 acre power plant lake in Christian County, IL about 14 miles southeast of Springfield.  It is a year around catfishing location.  The warmer water contributes to a longer growing season.

An abundance of threadfin shad probably contribute to the excellent growth that the catfish enjoy.  Coupled with the warm water conditions, the small fish assist the catfish to attain nice size.

Bank fishing comes in a number of areas along the 100-miles of shoreline.   Cast toward islands and stumps.  If hung up, the next time you just cast short of that point.  On windy days, the wave action causes the mud to churn up downwind near the shore.  The action stirs up crayfish and insects upon which the catfish will feed.  Cast into that water.

Anglers often fish for those large channel catfish after work on warm summer days.  Reports are that the average size of cats is 8-to 14-pounds.  Some of the larger fish can run up to 37 pounds.

One must fish hard and move around a lot. Knowing where the stumps are is necessary for the larger fish.

Catfish move up to shallower water in the summer to feed at night.  During the day they are in the deeper water but as the evening comes on and the water cools, they move into the flats to feed.  In the morning they will stay under lily pads in the shade until the water warms.  Then they are back to the holes.

For tackle a dip worm with a hollow core and holes to allow the bait to seep out is best for the channel catfish.  Substitute a #4 hook for the #6 that usually comes with it.  Check the points of the treble hooks by sliding your fingers down the worm.  You should be able to feel all three hooks the same.  Sometimes one of the hooks protrudes more than the others.  Just adjust it with a pair of pliers.

At the end of you main line, place a swivel with a one ounce sliding weight above it.  A plastic bead between the swivel and the weight protects the knot where the line and swivel come together.  Below the swivel attach the worm rig.  The worms usually come with a leader of 18- to 22-inches, thus holding the weights that far or more above the bait.

Because the worms come pre-rigged, you can disconnect the worm rig at the swivel and attach another one in minutes. This is helpful when a cat has taken the lure deep and time is required to get him unhooked.  While you are working to get the hook out, the line with a new rig can be out in the water tempting another fish.

Clear blue line from Berkely in the 25 pound test is a popular choice.

Choose a rod that will handle at least a 2 ounce lure.  The ones rated from 3/4 ounce to 3-ounces are best.  The combination of the bait and sinker requires the heavier rod.  For reels, I prefer spinning reels.  They too must be larger and heavier to handle the long cast of a heavy bait.

Generally, loosen the drag on the reel so that the lure falls quickly when released.  In windy conditions tighten the reel so that the lure falls more slowly.  This procedure will help to avoid birds’ nests.

Cast as far out into the lake as possible, as much as 100-yards.  Then check your watch for the time.  Hold onto the rod securely and wait for 15 minutes.  If there is no bite in that time, retrieve the bait and clean it off.  After drying the worm with a towel, re-bait and cast again.

Repeat the process three times.  If you get no bite move to another location and begin once more.  Keep trying.

When first approaching an area look for shady spots where you can enjoy yourself and have an anchor for your pole.  It should be open enough so that you can cast well out into the water.

In still water, use a large float.  The ones in the class called “cigar floats.  First probe the bottom area of a hole.  If the fish are not biting there, put a float on and fish in the upper water of the same hole until you find the right depth for the fish.  Fish are either on the bottom or just about a foot below the surface.

The secret to catfishing on Sangchris Lake is to cast, watch the clock, and move if no fish are present. Sooner or later, one will find fish.



To catfish anglers Baldwin Lake offers some prime water.   A cooling lake for the power plant, the lake provides an active growing season all year.  Home to channel, blue and flathead catfish, it also contains a good population of bluegills and crappie upon which the larger fish feed.

Recently it was closed due to a valve being accidently left open and affluent being dumped into the lake.  However today word has been received all is OK and the lake is open again.

Located about an hour southeast of St. Louis in St. Clair and Randolph counties, Baldwin Lake is about 3-miles north of Baldwin, Ill.  Prime fishing location is near the levy at the hot water discharge.   Most of the south half of the lake closes in the fall as a waterfowl refuge.

The average depth of the lake is about 8 feet.  It is a perched cooling lake actually owned by the Illinois Power Company and leased to the IDNR for management of the fishery.  The lake is 2,018-acres in size with 15 miles of shoreline.

A perched lake is one that is higher than the surrounding countryside.  As such it is susceptible to windy conditions in winter and spring as weather fronts pass through the area.  Anglers need to get off the lake in such conditions, as the waves can become quite a problem.

The access to the lake for bank fishermen seems to be very limited and probably not really the best of fishing locations.  Bank fishing is limited to the west and north sides of the lake.  Most of the shoreline appears to be in control of the power company and off limits.  Boaters have more flexibility to choose locations around the lake.  Boat motor restriction is a maximum of 50-horsepower.

The warm water is home to an extensive shad forage base.  Both threadfin and gizzard shad are present.  Illinois lakes experience heavy die off of shad in the fall as temperatures fall below 47-degrees.  The burgeoning shad population in Baldwin Lake provides great forage for the predator fish of this lake.

The blue catfish are abundant with an average size of 8-pounds.  Channel catfish are extremely abundant with the average fish weighing a half pound.  The flatheads average 4.5-pounds.

Other fish located in the lake are largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, hybrid bass and longear sunfish.



Wabash River Catfish


Les Frankland, Region V Fisheries Biologist for IDNR is the expert on the Ohio and the Wabash River.  His recommendation is Smithland Pool for catfish.  Fishing is available in the other two pools and the open water at the lower end where the river joins the Mississippi at Fort Defiance.

Smithland is the largest pool running some 72 miles from Uniontown, KY down to the dam.  It contains some 27,000 acres of water plus small embayment that hold fish.  An embayment is a small tributary impounded when they built the dam.

Frankland reports that the main channel of the river is probably too big to do much drifting. Anglers will put in and seek out areas around the grain elevators as well as any structure habitat areas such as brush piles and fallen trees.  Two good locations are at Mound City and Old Shawneetown.  Atwood reports that any place where grain is loaded attracts fish to the spilled grain.

Anglers anchor out of the channel along the edge in the shallows. Those fishing below the dams will drift fish with cut shad.

The blue catfish anglers like cut bait using skipjack or shad as they fish at Smithland off the rock pile. Flathead and channel anglers tend to prefer live bait and find fish the entire river anyplace where there are trees or brush in the water.

The river level can vary from 9 feet to 90 feet in depth. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers controls the water level for navigational and flood control purposes.  Information about the water flow and depth is available on their website at

The main channel and island borders of the pool provide flatheads, channels and blue catfish action. Tailwaters below the dam also produce the same action.

Access to Smithland Pool is at Old Shawneetown, Cave in Rock, Tower Rock, Elizabethtown, Rosiclare, Golconda Marina, Golconda and Barren Creek on the Illinois side of the river. One can lock through the dam to fish the tailwaters.  Otherwise one has to use the boat ramps at Smithland, KY.

Frankland has spent a lifetime in and around the Wabash River. Growing up in the area, he fished it and later as a fisheries biologist for the IDNR, he has studied it.

The Wabash is one of the largest free flowing rivers east of the Mississippi River.  The Illinois portion is over 200 miles in length.  It starts about 15 miles below Terre Haute, IN near Darwin and ends at Wabash Island on the Ohio River.

You can find blues, channels and flathead catfish throughout the entire length. There is angling access virtually all along the river.  Some of the better known locations, according to Frankland, are around Darwin, along Vincennes, IN the stretch at Mt Carmel, the areas at New Harmony, IN and the area at the mouth of the Little Wabash near New Haven.  The stretch of river below Maunie and the mouth of the Wabash River above Old Shawneetown are good locations.

There are public boat ramps on the Illinois and Indiana sides of the river. Public ramps on the Illinois side are at Hutsonville, Westport, St. Francisville, Mt. Carmel, Grayville, Brown’s Pond near Maunie, and New Haven via the Little Wabash River.

There are no navigational channels or commercial fishing on the Wabash.  Water depth can be challenging to boaters.  Depths can range from 6 inches to 50 feet.  When the water is lower there are areas unpassable to boat traffic.


Trotline 0012

Beginning with its headwaters in Champaign County, the Kaskaskia River flows some 280 miles to the southwest to join the Mississippi River.  The upper reaches of the river above Lake Shelbyville do not produce large catfish.  According to Trent Thomas, Region III Streams Biologist for the IDNR a survey in 2007 produced channel catfish up to 2.5 pounds and only a single flathead.

Today channel catfish in the 2 to 5 pound class are common throughout the river.  Some fish in the 10 to 15 pound class are available to anglers.

The area between Lake Shelbyville and Carlyle Lake produce channel catfish in larger numbers and are somewhat larger.  The larger channel catfish come from the tailwaters at Carlyle Lake and the deeper pool with cover along the length of the river.

Flatheads up to 60 pounds are in the oxbows.  Near Cowden fish near 40 pounds are reported.

The area below Carlyle Lake begins at the dam tailwaters, a popular angling hot spot.  This is the province of IDNR Stream Biologist Randy Sauer.  The 95 miles of river has a lot of 1-5 pound channel cats and some 25 pound flatheads.  The best flathead area seems to be in the rocky section near the Gen Dean suspension bridge.  Occasionally a large blue cat caught.

Blues are a big river fish.  They are most often in the river proper in sizes up to 25 pounds.  The deep navigation channel affords year round habitat but some spawners are found near shoreline rocks and brush in late spring and early summer.  Two good locations seem to be near Venedy Station and just above New Athens.

The deeper pools near root wads and brush hold cats during daytime.  They move to the rocky fast water stretches to feed at night.  Most are in the 5 to 25 pound size range but some of the older and much larger are caught each year.

The meandering channel between Carlyle Lake and Fayetteville does not receive a lot of pressure.  But there are usually some bank sets and hoop nets, especially near the many clubhouses along the shore.

This area is typical of many Illinois rivers in summer.  Boating can be a tricky experience.  The lower summer flows and the amount of structure in the water can be hazardous.  In-stream habitat of bank holes, brush piles and wads of roots provide great fishing for both channels and flatheads.  Sauer recommends anglers in summer probe the holes on the outside of bends.  They are usually 10 to 15 feet deep and the best fishing is on the upstream side of the hole.

According to Sauer, the 36-mile navigation channel below Fayetteville is the best fishery in the river.  “The steam flow is virtually non-existent,” says Randy.  He explains that not having to contend with current, the catfish devote more energy to body growth.  They feed on the abundance of shad and young sunfish.

While the central channel holds water in the nine foot depth range, there are a number of oxbows connected to the main river at their downstream ends.  The channel catfish like to feed along the shore of the main channel and the flatheads prefer the oxbows deeper holes.  The largest blue cats tend to hang in those oxbow holes as well.


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There was a time when an angler in search of a boat for fishing big water just bought an aluminum boat with a seat cushion, tackle and an outboard engine.  Boy, have times changed.  With the advent of competitive fishing and new materials for crafting boats fishing is a lot more sophisticated.  A vital part of that sophistication comes in the form of the boat and motor packages offered by manufacturers.

Here in Illinois anglers should consider a big water boat when fishing on the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers.  They might be advisable for the larger reservoirs such as Rend Lake and Carlyle Lake.

The basic purpose of the big water boat is different from that of a bass boat.  To a bass angler, the boat is a casting platform and he moves his bait with the rod and reel. The big water angler uses his boat as a tool to move the bait.

Moving more often big water anglers benefit from the newer model 4-stroke engines.  Being able to use a four-stroke large engine to back troll allows better boat control.

Four stoke engines allow anglers versatility. Fishermen are able to roll and back troll with ease. The larger motors perform well and the quietness of the engine sound is a bonus.

The lack of noise from the four strokes can cause anglers to think they are going slower than is really the case.  They were accustomed to relating noise with speed.  Smaller waters and trolling speeds under a mile per hour can require the use of a kicker motor.  But, on large waters one can troll with just the larger motor.

For back trolling in big water, some anglers prefer the use of a drift bag out from the bow and the large four stroke engine.  With this set up it is possible to control the boat completely in waves more than three or four feet. The conversion from two stroke engines to four strokes is something whose time has arrived.  Once someone tries the four-stroke there is no desire to go back to a two-stroke.

Four-strokes tend to be more reliable than the two-stroke both in fuel economy and maintenance.

So what other elements are essential for a good big water boat?  Anglers usually begin with an 18-foot boat and the four-stroke engine.  Hold off on a kicker motor until you see how the engine meets your needs.

Rod holders are must.  A good drift bag and anchor are important to control the movement of the boat.  Most packages come with a good trolling motor on the front.  This is not a time to fudge on the cost and quality of a trolling motor.  Buy the best you can afford.  A long shaft on the motor is a good idea in that one can always lift up the motor but you cannot add to the shaft.

High thrust trolling motors do provide almost the same amount of boat control that can be obtained back trolling with a tiller motor.

A 24-volt electrical system is best for this type of fishing.  They cost more but are more reliable.

A fish locator, side scanner and G.P.S. system are important.  If you can get a unit incorporating all three so much the better.  It is a better investment.  Split screen units allow the angler to use systems simultaneously.  If you want to run one you can do that too.  These units have all the capabilities for mapping and all the other features that come with modern G.P.S. systems.

Finally, there is safety equipment.  Never skimp on the safety equipment, such as flares, life vests, etc.  You never know when you are going to need them and your life may depend upon it.

A basic big water fishing boat is a big investment.  Take time in making a decision and do so only after checking out as many makes and models as possible.  The up coming boat show season offers an excellent opportunity to compare costs and packages before buying.

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