by Capt. Glenn Flowers
As summer heats up, fish when the lights go out.
Nighttime is the right time, and for good reason, Flatheads can and will be caught at all times during all season in all states. From the north to the south flatheads can be caught 24 hours a day on both cut and live baits especially during pre-spawn seasons. That being said, anytime a poll is taken whether people would rather fish or day time for flatheads more often than not they say they would rather fish for flatheads at night.
For many of us catfishermen we prefer night over day for many reasons. Just to list a few are comfort, secrecy of our locations, lack of other boats, and favorable temperatures during summer months. While the comforts of night fishing may be appealing to us as the angler, the fish seek the cover of darkness for other reasons.
Flatheads prefer to hunt under the safety of darkness over all other species of fish in North America. Their remarkable ability to fade in with the backdrop, like a chameleon, gives them a major advantage when pursuing prey, especially after sunset.
During the day, flatheads can be found hiding or quietly lurking in deep holes awaiting sunset. Fishing for flatheads during the day for some is considered easy, since flatheads tend to be predictable. They will lay behind a log, in a pile of snags, or inside a root ball. They are lying in ambush patiently waiting for darkness. Flatheads, will not hesitate to inhale a bait that comes within strike range during daylight hours, yet baits must be placed precisely within the flathead’s strike range. Rarely will the fish come to you.
Flatheads won’t normally be found far from structure during the height of the day. Exceptions to this rule include high water, stormy conditions, low barometer pressures and overcast skies. Flatheads can be found further out in open water during these conditions.
To find flatheads consistently you need to become a nocturnal predator. Anglers should learn to use the cover of darkness to shield them from their own shadow. Take note in the photos you see posted online and in magazines of when flatheads are caught. You will quickly see that the vast majority of flats are seen in photos late at night. No matter what forum, page or group you go to, for every one day time angler there are 10 who hunt flatheads at night.”
Once the sun sets on the horizon the flathead’s behavior is like clockwork, they begin to emerge from their lairs. The deeper the sun sets the further they venture from their holes and snags making large circular movement’s in and out of their territories awaiting full set.
Have you ever seen the movie I am Legend 2007? In the movie, there is a particular scene where the zombie dogs are trying to reach Robert Neville (Will Smith) as he hangs from a snare the zombies set. As the sun sets the zombie dogs are blocked by just a sliver of sunlight, once the sun is gone, the zombie dogs are set free to do their horrors.
This, in comparison, is how you should envision flatheads. Once the sun has completely set, the flatheads will move out. They often travel several miles in a given night to feed. With so many predator fish out and about, the river will come alive with action. Millions of flatheads will be seeking dinner in the shallows up the creeks and in the depths of the rivers. Flatheads will be on the move after dark, making them easier targets.
No food source will be safe as their aggression levels skyrocket, fueled by the thrill of the kill. Unlike blue cats, flatheads need far less food to sustain their heavy bodies. Flatheads generally consume live fish high in protein, which means flatheads won’t need to hunt for long.
Blue cats have been shown to forage like carp, often recorded feeding and traveling for the duration of the entire night and day. This is not the same for flatheads. Think of flatheads as more reptilian-like. Almost like a giant anaconda consuming a capybara. Once the flathead consumes the large meal, like a big bass, sunfish or catfish, the flathead, rather than continue hunting, will turn around and head home to digest its meal.
Studies have shown that flatheads are only active one out of every 24 hour period. This tells us they require little hunting time to get the job done. One big meal and they are done for several hours. There is a huge lesson in these findings: Make sure your baits are set out on the dinner table at dinner time. For flatheads that is sunset.
The Twilight Bite
I don’t care what you are doing or where you are, you had better have baits on the bottom once that sun hits the horizon. This is the time when flatheads will be most active. One by one flatheads will start consuming prey, filling up and heading home. It’s like rush hour traffic. Often, just as the sun sets, multiple rods will be hit, then shortly after the spot goes dead. That’s because these fish, have now either filled up or left that zone, it’s time to move on.
There is also a good bite at dawn. Flatheads will be actively heading back to their lairs to rest as the sun begins to rise. The few fish that did not get their fill from the night before will be ready for a quick snack before rest time. Have baits ready and set at the head of deep holes as these spots will be key locations for flatheads heading back to resting areas.
Like with any good angler, my set-ups have evolved to what I consider to be almost perfect today. On any given adventure with other anglers or just me solo fishing, I’ll be running 7-foot 6-inch medium heavy St. Crox Mojo Cat Rods equipped with Team Catfish Gold Ring Casting Reels. I use heavy braided lines with a lighter leader than my main line. I do this for one main reason, weight return. I want my hook leader to break first, saving me tons of cash each year on buying new weights.
My mainline consists of 80-pound Tug-O-War line by Team Catfish. I add a 4- to 5-ounce no roll sinker tied to a 2/0 swivel. Below that will be a 60- to 80-pound mono hook leader. This leader will break loose more often than not allowing me to get my terminal tackle back.
Generally, I match my hook size to my baits, but always run live bait hooks. The Mighty Wide’s by Team Catfish seem to be just the right tool for the job. For big baits I use 9/0 to10/0 hooks. For smaller baits, I may drop down to 7/0 and sometimes even a 6/0.
I use a small glow stick for visibility, but also a glow wrap in case I sling my glow stick off. Team Catfish makes glow wraps that have lasted me for years. Hit the wraps with the light ever few hours and you are good to go.
Think like A Predator
If you are fishing big flatheads the tactic should be big baits and long waits. However, if you are looking for one hell of a good night your goal should be fast action flatheads. I call this “Running and Gunning.” Keep moving, don’t sit in one spot for longer than an hour. Bring lots of baits with short waits and you are sure to have a spectacular trip more often than not.
Using the darkness of night to increase your own comfort level during hot summer temperatures will most likely also increase your catch. The setting sun is a signal to flatheads that it is time to eat. Nighttime is the right time for summer flatheads.