How to Catch Flathead Catfish

Three Methods:Educating Yourself for a Full and Legal CatchFishing with Bait and TackleNoodling for Flathead Catfish

Flathead catfish are a popular freshwater fish among professional anglers and amateur fishermen alike. Native to North America, this species can be found in dim underwater environments, like sinkholes, small caves, root tangles, and in the shadows of larger rocks. When it comes to catching the flathead catfish, you can either use a pole or your hand, which is often referred to as "catfish noodling." With the right approach, either of these options could yield you an impressive catch of this delicious fish.

Method 1
Educating Yourself for a Full and Legal Catch

  1. Image titled Catch Flathead Catfish Step 1
    Get a fishing permit. In most areas, fishing is regulated by a local government agency, like the Department of Natural Resources. This prevents overfishing and helps to maintain the health of the aquatic ecosystem. Fishing without the right permit could result in a steep fine, the seizure of property, or even detainment, in extreme cases.
  2. Image titled Catch Flathead Catfish Step 2
    Know the natural habitat. Flathead catfish prefer lower level light, and will spend most daylight hours in the shade of a tree or rock, or in underwater holes and caves. Flatheads can be found in virtually any sufficiently deep freshwater body of water throughout North America and into northern Mexico.
    • Expect to find catfish toward the bottom of rivers and lakes, where there is cover and shade.
    • Muddy waters can be favorable for flathead fishing.[1]
  3. Image titled Catch Flathead Catfish Step 3
    Choose your time wisely. During late June and early July, which is spawning season for the Flathead, males will guard the mouths of caves where females lay eggs. This time of year can be hit or miss for flathead fishing, as mating can distract from feeding. However, the time leading up to spawning, when the fish are voraciously eating in preparation to spawn, can yield a better than average catch.
    • Generally, the summer months are favorable for flathead catfishing.
    • Flathead catfish can be lethargic and difficult to catch in the winter months.
    • The lower level light of dawn, dust, and overcast/rainy days are ideal times to go flathead fishing.[2]
  4. Image titled Catch Flathead Catfish Step 4
    Select bait according to diet. Flatheads are notorious carnivores and prefer live prey. Many flathead anglers find that smaller fish, like bluegill and perch, work well as bait. Other food you might want to consider to tempt flatheads to your line include:[3]
    • Chicken liver
    • Chicken gizzards
    • Cheese

Method 2
Fishing with Bait and Tackle

  1. Image titled Catch Flathead Catfish Step 5
    Choose your fishing style. You might have a favorite river that you already know is home to a good crop of flatheads, but you'll have to decide if you want to cast your line from shore or troll for catfish in a boat. Either can be productive for catfishing, though you'll want to be careful of causing too much noise in the water.[4]
    • Flathead catfish have poor vision, but are sensitive to disturbances in the water.
  2. Image titled Catch Flathead Catfish Step 6
    Select your fishing location. Choosing your location can be difficult, especially for beginners. You can make use of maps that track flathead spawning patterns and populations, which can be found through an online search for "flathead catfish maps."[5]
  3. Image titled Catch Flathead Catfish Step 7
    Gather your fishing supplies. Before you grab your tackle box and pole and rush off to catch some flatheads, you'll want to make sure your equipment is up to the task. Flatheads can be fierce; you'll want 80 – 100 pound test fishing line if you plan on fishing for moderate to large catfish. You'll also need your bait and a dependable fishing pole.
    • Flathead catfish have numerous, fine teeth that can wear down and weaken your line over time.
    • Have sinker weights on hand to ensure your bait reaches the bottom of the water in which you are fishing, where the flatheads live.
    • Larger sized bait should be used to fish for larger flatheads.
  4. Image titled Catch Flathead Catfish Step 8
    Rig your fishing line and bait your hook. Since flatheads prefer to live at the bottom of bodies of water, hiding in cracks, crevices, and caves, don't forget to put some sinkers on your line. Then bait your hook with your choice of bait.[6]
  5. Image titled Catch Flathead Catfish Step 9
    Cast your line in a likely location and wait patiently. Your goal is to place your bait slightly above or just about level with likely flathead "beds." It can take minutes or hours before you get a bite on your line, so a bite indicator, like a bobber, bait clicker, or bell, can help you notice when you finally have one on the line.[7]
  6. Image titled Catch Flathead Catfish Step 10
    Ready yourself for a fight. Flathead catfish can grow to incredible sizes, with some prize catches weighing in at over 100 pounds. Don't be taken by surprise when you have a flathead on the line. Give a yank when you feel the catfish bite to set the hook, then keep your rod pointed upward and begin reeling in the fish.[8]
  7. Image titled Catch Flathead Catfish Step 11
    Relocate at intervals to improve your chances. Sometimes, the fish just aren't biting, and when that happens it can help to change location. Wait at least 20 minutes or so before reeling in your line and moving to a different location.[9]

Method 3
Noodling for Flathead Catfish

  1. Image titled Catch Flathead Catfish Step 12
    Know nesting locations. Avid catfish noodlers spend years searching for and discovering popular nesting spots for Flatheads. You can accelerate this process by tagging along with an experienced noodler, or you might visit locations you've had luck pole fishing for flatheads, as these areas will likely have nests nearby.[10]
  2. Image titled Catch Flathead Catfish Step 13
    Wait until spawning season. When noodling, you'll be hunting for male flatheads that are guarding spawning holes and caves. Noodling relies on provoking the male flathead to latch onto your arm, allowing you to draw the fish out of his hole.
    • Spawning season for flathead catfish takes place at the end of June and beginning of July.
    • Noodling for Flatheads outside of spawning season will likely be difficult.
  3. Image titled Catch Flathead Catfish Step 14
    Go with a friend. You never know what you might run in to in the murky water, so it's best to go noodling with a friend. That way, if you trip or get tangled in some roots, you have someone who can help you to safety.
    • Larger catfish, when noodled, might try to break free from your hold by twisting and thrashing.
    • If you've noodled an especially large catfish, you may need the help of a friend to wrestle your flathead free of the water.[11]
  4. Image titled Catch Flathead Catfish Step 15
    Enter the water near a flathead nest. But before you do, remove any loose clothing that might get tangled in roots or make moving the water difficult. Once you're in the water, you might want to squish your hands in the muck to remove any "human scent" from your body that can scare away fish.
  5. Image titled Catch Flathead Catfish Step 16
    Listen for thumping to identify nests. When you believe you have found a suitable nest, dive underwater and listen carefully. You should hear a dull thumping noise; this is the flathead striking his tail to indicate it is guarding his nest. Approach the hole, and prepare to reach inside to provoke the fish.[12]
  6. Image titled Catch Flathead Catfish Step 17
    Reach inside the nest and hook the fish with your hand. You may be able to gently slip your thumb into one side of the fish's gills, sticking your other fingers into his mouth to get a handle of it. As you do so, slowly but steadily wrap your other arm around the body of the catfish.
    • More aggressive catfish may bite you when noodling. This may startle you, but is not dangerous. The teeth of flathead catfish are too fine to do serious damage, though these may leave small marks or indentations on your skin.
    • When bitten, grab the lower jaw, which is shaped like a handle, and use your other arm to control the fish.[13]
  7. Image titled Catch Flathead Catfish Step 18
    Reach through the gills of larger fish for better control. Larger fish will have gill openings that should be large enough for you to fit a few fingers or, in some cases, your hand. Doing this will give you more control over larger fish, but will damage the gills, eventually causing the fish to die.[14]


  • Catfish have sharp pectoral and dorsal spines — handle with care to prevent getting cut.
  • Noodling for catfish can be dangerous. Only go noodling with a companion in case of an emergency arises.

Article Info

Categories: Fishing