Archive for the ‘Flathead Catfish’ Tag


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.


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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.



Catfish anglers know the water and its surrounding structure above and below the surface.  For those who ply the rivers of Illinois this often can be quite a challenge.

They study the vegetation to find where the fish feed and why.  They know which rocks provide shelter from current and are good places for ambushing forage.  They know where bluffs have broken off and boulders lie beneath the surface.

Known as river rats these anglers study current breaks created by the things that fall into the water to find the shelter and food the fish require.  To be a successful catfish angler one needs to be a river rat.

By observing water quality, they are usually the first to notice any problems from pollution and/or run off that damage the ecosystem.  At various times of the year river rats will use varying techniques and tackle.  Their plans relate to the conditions on the river.

Beginning by fishing for flatheads early in the year over deep water structure, they change in June and July to seek out the deep holes over which to drift. The big fish will suspend only in light current.

Flathead feeding during this period is somewhat selective.  Flatheads remain in deep holes by day venturing up on the flats late in the day and during the night.

On the Mississippi River, anglers will fish the back of a wing dam, as there is less current.  The wing dam of choice must be one that is not silted-in.  They also like the end of the wing dam in the swirl working the outside edge of the swirl. Damaged wing dams create two currents and are very good.

Perhaps the most popular areas are the tailwaters below dams.  The astute angler will fish the grooves.  When water flows over a dam, there will be slower water in some areas.  These are the grooves.  A heavy weight on a three way swivel will get the bait down deep.  The bait will float off the bottom above the weight.

Once the weight is on the bottom, the angler can lift the rod tip slightly and the current will move it down stream.  By allowing the current to carry the bait, it moves right to the fish holding in the groove.  After a short period retrieve the bait and repeat the process.

Early in the day, it is a good idea to fish fast moving water as it meets still water.  Catfish will feed along the borders such slack water.

Downstream, one can look for rocks that break the current in fast moving areas.  Behind them can be an eddy hole where fish will stack up.  One can cast upstream, let the bait wash around the rock and into the hole.  Feeding fish will feed on the upstream edge of the hole.

If one fishes from a small boat or canoe, the use of an electronic depth finder comes in handy.  Look for bottom breaks that drop off 1 to 4 feet.  Anchor downstream below the break.  Cast upstream, allowing the bait to role along the bottom and fall off the edge into the hole where catfish are waiting in ambush.

Points of land or large trees that have fallen into the water block current.  Many times the part of the tree above the water is only about 20% of the entire tree.  The rest is beneath the surface.  This often creates an eddy hole behind the current break.  Fish the eddy.

Late summer means low water conditions on most rivers.  Water temperatures often get into the 80’s and low 90’s as the channel catfish move to the shallow water up tight against dams.  The flatheads move to the deep holes.  As a result, catfish are in deep water, fast running well oxygenated water, or both.

Beneath most dams are deep holes created by the water cascading from one level to another.  Casting up under the dam can catch fish.

On the Ohio River, some anglers use crankbaits to catch fall cats.  They will get their boats right up in the shallow water at the dams and then cast floating Rapalas.  The river flow helps to provide action to the lure.  They prefer blue ones in the #13 and #18 sizes.

September is a time when artificial lures also are productive.  A 1/4 ounce jig, crankbaits or a 5-inch salt craw are good choices.  As the fish move into their fall feeding, movement of the bait becomes the key.

In the fall, use a trolling motor on a Jon boat.  Troll over deep holes in the 30 foot depth class.  The electronics identify fish in the bottoms of the holes.  Experience has taught that they are flatheads about to go on a fall feeding spree.

Other structure in the holes such as submerged trees, rocks and some other kinds of “home habitat” the catfish likely hold fish.  Bounce jigs right on their nose.  A 2- ounce jig with salt craw attached works well.  In order to get the fish to take the jig, it must be right on top of the fish.  Not being a bottom feeder by nature, the flatheads eyes are located to find food slightly above it.

Rivers are a constantly changing ecosystem.  Floods, temperature changes, civilization, and currents are just some of the factors that cause change.  If one wants to have success, he has to study it like a river rat.



Catfish are thumping those tasty morsels that anglers present to them.  Summer is the prime time for fishing for this muscle with fins.

A staple of southern cooking, catfish are also available in restaurants as well as local lakes.  But, it is more fun to catch your own.  Here are some tips for catching your own in Williamson County.

Top catfish producing lake in the county is Crab Orchard Lake in the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge near Marion.  According to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, the catfish population of this 7,000-acre lake is self-sustaining and has not required supplemental stocking to maintain the fishery.

The Crab Orchard Lake contains both channel and flathead catfish.  It also contains a good population of bullheads, a member of the catfish family that does not gain the large size of the others.

Fishing for catfish is a laid back type of angling.  The rigs are simple and the baits, although often smelly, are simple as well.

It is a good idea to remember that catfish like cover.  They are bottom feeders that hold around rocks and stumps.  Once one sets the hook, the fish will do its best to break off the line.  Veteran catfish anglers prefer a line that is of at least 12-pound test.

The tough line helps prevent the sandpaper-like teeth of the fish from wearing or weakening the line causing a break.  With high quality tough line, anglers can fish around rocky, stump infested, underwater terrain.

Most often the rig for catfishing is simply a baited hook suspended beneath a float, cork, bobber or whatever you call it.  Cast to a probable location and allowed the rig to sink to the level where you believe the fish are located.

Bait can be live or dead.  Popular baits include minnows, leeches, crayfish, catalpa worms, leaf worms, red worms, nightcrawlers, frogs, and cut bait.  Cheese baits, popular in the spring, are less successful in the summer heat.

During periods of overcast or drizzle, catfish cruise the flats in search of food the same as they do at night.  Under such conditions, a three-way rig works well.  Attach one swivel to the line that goes to the reel, the second to a drop line of about eight inches with a heavy sinker on the end.  Attach the third swivel to a line of about 30-inches with a hook and bait at the end.  The rig allows the bait to float just off the bottom a location popular with catfish.

There are catfish in most of the other Williamson County lakes.  Another popular place to fish for catfish is Little Grassy Lake a1200-acres body of water to the south of Crab Orchard Lake but still in the refuge area.  It produces many channel catfish on a regular basis throughout the summer.

Whether fishing from shore or boat, in the evening or morning, night or day, catfish are a marvelous fish for action.  They can be as finicky as any game fish, and yet do not require a lot of expensive tackle to pursue.


058063-R1-67-67Opening the container of dip bait for the first time the acrid scent that arises is overpowering.  The bait overpowers the fresh smell of spring flowers along the shoreline of Crab Orchard Lake.  Regardless of the odor, dip baits catch catfish.

Crab Orchard Lake in the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge is a renowned catfish lake.  Although the lake contains channel, blue and flathead catfish, it is the channel catfish that are the most popular with fishermen.  According to IDNR Fisheries Manager, Chris Bickers, the quality and body condition of the channel catfish continues o be excellent.  His most recent survey found 44 percent of the fish larger than 22 inches in length.

Most popular in the early spring and through the spawning season, dip baits are usable all year around.

Pay attention to the entire baiting system for dip baits.  Used properly it becomes a real catfish taking machine.

Preparation of the bait is easy.  There are several catfish baits on the market.  The best are the ones that have a consistency of mayonnaise.  The bait comes in plastic “tubs” that contain enough for several trips on the water.

To maintain the proper texture, simply add water (to make it thinner) or flour (to make it thicker.)  Most dip baits have a cheese base with fish parts and other “secret” ingredients.  The bait requires stirring frequently before dipping the bait holding device.

The bait holding device is usually a ribbed plastic worm through which a monofilament leader passes.  At the terminal end of the leader, attach a treble hook pull up it snug against the end of the worm.  Attach the other end of the leader to a heavy line that goes to the reel.

A secret of getting the bait to last longer is the use of paper towels.  The angler just rinses off the plastic bait holding device and then dries it with the paper towel.  Then he dips it back into the bait.  The dryer the plastic the better it holds the bait.  Another way to accomplish the same task is to use several bait leaders all rigged alike.  Attach the leader to a ball-bearing swivel.  Then remove the leader from the line and allow it to dry out before being placing back into action.  In the interim, a new leader and rig is added to the swivel and the rig dipped into the bait and used.

Some of the areas where dip baits are particularly effective are those where slack water is just off from fast water.  Deeper holes in front of or behind fallen trees, brush piles or log jams in the water.  Any eddy down stream of fast water and some obstruction is a good location.  In other words most any place that is close to structure is a good one.

Try the area for about 15 minutes.  If the catfish are present, they will either take the bait in those 15 minutes or else they are not hungry.  If nothing happens, then it is time to find another place to fish.  You can always come back to the location later.

At the end of your catfishing trip, you just reseal the dip bait container and put it in the garage for the next trip.  It will not spoil.

For lake and refuge information contact the National Fish & Wildlife Service Visitor Center, 8588 Illinois Route 148, Marion, IL62959.  The phone number is 618-997-3344.  There is a small user fee required to fish the area.




Most Midwestern and southeastern anglers begin their fishing careers by catching one of the catfish species from the lowly bullhead to the larger flathead, channel or blue cats. It is truly America’s fish. Catfish inhabit large rivers, impoundments, creeks, salt water or fresh. They are everywhere!

I began with bullheads in a creek near my home in northern Iowa. It has become a life long love affair with the whiskered wonders.

Channel catfish are probably the most popular single species of fish for eating and catching. Almost every angler with whom one speaks has a theory on how to fix catfish bait and where to find the big ones.

Catfish anglers are probably the most laid back and comfortable anglers. They tend to like a leisurely time. The rigs are simple with a weight and hook on a line cast into the probable location.

A long slender fish, the channel catfish is a pale blue or greenish above and whitish or silver below. Although similar in size and shape to other catfish, the forked tail and black spots on the side identifies the channel cat. Popular with aqua culturists, they are very suitable for fish farming operations.

Channel catfish reach a keeper size of 12 to 14 inches by their third or fourth years. This age class is generally the best eating fish. The largest fish reach at length of 40 inches and a weight of 30 pounds. Larger ones do exist but they are rare and usually constitute record class.

Channel catfish tend to seek out clean water with sand, gravel or rock bottom. A nocturnal feeder, channel catfish spend most of the year hidden in cavities or lying in deeper pools during the day. They move to shallower water to feed during the nighttime.

The external taste buds of the catfish are located in the four pairs of barbels or whiskers of the animal. These bottom-feeding senses of taste and touch are more important than its sight. While moving across the bottom, they feed on fish, insects, crawfish, mollusks and some plant material.

Cast the line, and then prop the rod up on a forked stick sunk into the bank. Other variations on this theme work from boats or on shore. The basic technique is common to all fishing for channel catfish.

Bait used for catfish is either live or dead and can range from minnows to leeches, crayfish, catalpa worms, leaf worms, red worms, frogs and cut bait. Some people will use chicken or turkey livers.

For the most sophisticated catfish angler there are patterns to fish. One of these is especially popular on small rivers and streams during summer.

Ground pounders wade and fishes live bait. The pattern involves fishing the bait below a slip float and allowing it to drift downstream over the larger holes, washouts, undercut banks, beneath brush piles and other dark hideouts.

The idea is to present a natural presentation of the bait by allowing the current to drift the bait in a natural manner. The bait is set so that it floats just a few inches off the bottom. Good baits for this kind of fishing include minnows, grasshoppers, crayfish and nightcrawlers. These are natural forage for the catfish usually swept away into the current during rain or flooding.

During periods of overcast or drizzle, channel cats cruise the flats in search of food much as they do at night. Fishing in such conditions calls for a 3-way rig. One of the swivels attaches to the line that goes to the rod. The second swivel attaches to a drop line of about 8 inches that has a heavy sinker on it. The third swivel goes to a line of about three-feet in length and has a hook on the end. The bait on the hook floats off the bottom and present either a minnow or leech in a natural looking presentation.

Cast upstream, allowing the bait to wash along the bottom and fall off the edge into any holes. Catfish will often be waiting in ambush.

Another pattern for the ground pounder is looking for a point of land or a large tree that has fallen into the water and is blocking current. Often fish are in the eddy hole behind the current break.

It is a good idea to remember that catfish love cover. They will hold around rocks and stumps in rough areas. Once one sets the hook, the fish will do his best to break the line. It is a good idea to use a tough line of at least 12-pound test and the same color as the water. If seeking larger fish, try one of the braided lines with more strength.

Tough line helps prevent the sandpaper-like teeth of the catfish from wearing or weakening the line. That can cause a beak at the most inopportune time. A high quality tough line will allow the angler to fish around rocky, stumpy underwater terrain.

Catfishing is a great way to spend the day or to introduce someone new to the sport. It provides action and good chance of success with a great dinner in the evening. With some of these tips, anglers can fish more rivers and streams closer to home. It will increase quality time on the water for young and old.

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