Veteran catfishermen will tell you that now is prime time to lay in a supply of catfish fillets, especially blue or channel catfish. But flatheads are a different breed. The most dedicated mudcatters have a hard time finding and catching flatheads until the water temperature rises into the upper 60s and the fish move into their traditional summertime holes. Even then, catching flatheads is mainly a game for night stalkers. But Chris Winchester of Cannon Falls, Minn., didn’t earn his handle “Catdaddy” by being intimidated by such challenges.
“I know that flatheads bite in cool water because I can catch them at water temperatures as low as forty degrees in the fall,” says Winchester, who is one of the best-known catfish guides on the upper Mississippi River. “The trick in the spring is finding where the catfish go after they move out of their main-channel wintering holes.”
Winchester solved the puzzle a few years ago when he fished a washout hole at the mouth of a tributary. “I noticed a steady stream of winter-killed shad floating out of the tributary,” he recalls. “Right then, I knew I was on to something. I worked that hole all afternoon and caught only two flatheads, but they were good ones-a thirty-seven-pounder and a forty-pounder.”
Since that discovery, Winchester has found several other good flathead holes, all with the same basic characteristics. “It’s always the first hole down from a tributary,” he explains. “In the Mississippi, the holes are usually twenty to thirty feet deep, but in smaller rivers they may be only ten feet deep. The cats are usually on the upper lip, waiting for dead shad to wash in. If the water temperature is above fifty degrees, you’ll catch fish.”
The technique is pretty simple: Anchor upstream of the hole but within easy casting distance of the upper lip and toss out a fillet of chub or shad on a slip-sinker rig. Winchester pushes the hook through the front of the fillet.
Set the rod in a rod holder, with the reel in free-spool and the clicker on. When you get a bite, lock the reel spool and let the cat take up all the slack. You don’t have to wait long before setting the hook because a good-sized flathead will normally gulp down the bait.
Contact: Chris Winchester (507-263-2634).