First Flatty’s and Early Season Cat’s

By: Dennis Steele

This was the first  flathead trip of the  season for
me.  I had  been  avoiding the  flooded  river and
chasing  channels  on other river  systems,  then
when the river was manageable a few of the staff
made a  run  up for  pre-spawn  cats  in  Lockport
MB, so I had not  gotten a  chance  to get a “feel”
for what was going on with my favorite river.

With   the  water   levels   manageable,   but   still
higher than I like,  I figured I had better get down
there  and take a  good look at the river to check
conditions  out for myself and work out a plan for
a few upcoming guide trips.

Having heard reports from other stretches of the
river,    (Got  to love   for
good info!)   I chose to fish a stretch  that I hadn’t
heard any reports from to help  get a better  idea
what was going on with the cats.

As always, we ran up river scanning holes for life and paying attention
to how the current was paying and playing into each area. Basically
taking notes on likely spots and coming up with a game plan for the
“magic hours” of just before and after dusk.

When the river levels are dropping like they are, I usually like to fish
tail outs or pushes, areas where the bottom rises sharply at the
downstream edge of a hole. In high water, creek mouths can be
extremely good as well, so we made sure to scan these areas for
baitfish and signs of life.

The tailout areas were devoid of life, so we chose not to spend time
fishing them. Water levels must still be a little to high for these areas
to be productive. We switched to plan B.

Outside bends can be very productive in normal water levels , but
with the water levels up and the river moving fast, I choose to check
the inside points that had deep holes behind them.

It was still a little early in the evening when we placed our first baits
right along the chute or wash coming around a tree on a point. Getting
close to wood cover before dark can sometimes entice a cat to come
out to play a little early in the evening.

After about 15 minutes and no luck, we decided to move on. The sun
was starting to set and I wanted to target two areas for the prime bite.
Spot number one, was a sharp point with moderate current washing
along it creating a chute and feeding into a large eddy. To the side of
this eddy was a very deep hole on an outside bend.

The second spot and the one I thought to be the better of the two was
a creek mouth just down stream of a large outside bend. The creek
flow and the main river created a current edge just over the break and
when we scouted the area earlier there was a lot of life.

We set up on spot number one just upstream of the chute and Rick
placed his bait tight to a large fallen dogwood and I placed mine right
in the chute where the it tailed into the eddy.

Rick had the most action with several short runs, but these fish never
got the hook. At a close inspection of his bait, there were the tall tell
signs that the fish had had the bait in their mouth right up to but not
quite to the hook. We assumed by the scrapes on the bait that these
were most likely channel cats and not the big flatheads we were after.

As the sun was starting to set, I finally got a sharp tap on my rod tip
followed by a short run. Lifting my rod from the holder, I could feel a
vibration that I assumed was a cat mouthing my bait. I quickly set the
hook with an upward swing and the hook found the roof of a cat
mouth. At first I thought I had a decent fish on, then I thought I had lost
the fish as it rose to the surface of the water, not giving much fight at
all. It turned out to be a 6lb flathead that had wrapped its tail around
my line and was coming in backwards. Still, my first flathead of the

We had only planned on fishing this spot until just before sunset,
saving spot number two, what I thought to be the best spot for the
best time of a half hour before sunset to an hour after sunset. With
the action we had been having we decided to give this spot just a
little more time.

As the sun set Rick was still playing with channels that would take
short runs, but I noticed a sharp tap and a slight bow in my rod. There
was no run, but from experience, I knew exactly what was going on.
The fish had taken my bait and was still working his way upstream. I
quickly and gently removed the rod from the holder and gradually
tightened the line until I felt a little weight and knew that I had a tight
line on the fish. I set the hook with force but I did not feel the hook
connect with the fish as my line just pulled freely out of the spool.
DANG! My drag was set entirely too light for a fish of this size. I quickly
tightened the drag and set again once I knew that my line was tight. I
had the hook in the fish but the drag was still set too light to control
the fish.

As the fish worked his way upstream and I fumbled with the drag still
trying to control the fish as I knew that there was a snag laying just
under where we had anchored. I typically would not set up over wood
but in order to place our baits in the location they needed to be, it was
the only way to set the boat.

I had to keep this fish off the bottom but did not succeed. The fish ran
straight into the tree we were anchored over and tangled himself in
its branches. We let the anchor line out attempting to pull the fish out
backwards but had no luck. Pulling hard on the line in hopes of
freeing the cat from the tree, the line finally gave at the hook and I
pulled up nothing more than the sinker.

Two lessons learned for the umpteenth time again, don’t anchor over
a snag, and make sure your drag is set properly!!

After that ordeal, and the sun finally set, we decided to head to what I
thought to be the prime spot of the night. After all we were already
into the prime time. We ran down river to the creek mouth and set up
on upstream point so that we could place our baits along the current
edge created by the creek and river currents meeting. The surface
was alive with lots of fish feeding on the surface. I tossed a bait on
both the edge of the current and the break as it slipped into the
deepwater. Rick tossed a bait along into a slight swirl or minor eddy
along the current edge.

It wasn’t long before Ricks rod tip thumped as a fish picked up his
bait. Rick was quick on the hook set, connecting with what he had
thought to be a smaller fish. We were in only a few feet of water and
the fish ran toward the boat as many sometimes do.

As the fish came to the boat, Rick couldn’t pull the fish from the
bottom. Then we both knew that this fish was a good fish. After all
when you’re only in 30 inches of water and you can’t pull a fish off the
bottom, it can only be a good fish! As Rick pulled with all he had, he
finally lifted the fish off the bottom and we saw the swirl from its tail,
then its head breach the surface.

The fish wasn’t done with Rick just yet, another short run, while Rick
turned the fish and I quickly put the fish in the bag of net.

Flatheads usually are quite docile once landed, but this fish wasn’t
quite played out. After the hook was removed, Mr. Mudcat kept on
fighting Rick as we tried to snap a picture. After we snapped two quick
pics, the fish was returned back to the river to play with us or another
angler another day.

We fished a little while longer sharing that experience with each other
and talking of other trophy fish we had caught. It was now well past
the prime bite and we decided that we had a good night not only for
being successful landing a nice cat, but just enjoying a night on the

Dennis Steele

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