If you enjoy catching large fish, you may want to change tactics.  Hooking and landing a five-pound bass in fresh water is a thrill and panfish are excellent eating, yet for muscle maxing power and enormous size, the flathead catfish is hard to beat.

Smaller species of catfish such as channel cats are keen on chicken livers and commercial “stink baits” fished on the bottom, however, flathead catfish prefer live baits, especially bluegill.  The good news here, you fish twice- once to catch a batch of bluegill for bait on light tackle and then use those fish for flatheads as the sun goes down.

Dam Good Fishing

Bill May caught this 20-pound Flathead in the Potomac River.

The flow of the Potomac River is moderated by a series of dams which place an artificial barrier to fish swimming upstream.  As a result, many species accumulate and spawn just below these dams such as smallmouth bass, walleye, suckers, muskellunge, and flathead catfish.

Because flathead catfish are such large and aggressive predators, many anglers worry that they will deplete smaller species such as small mouth bass.  It’s unclear how these large fish breached the dam barriers, but it is believed that anglers caught them down stream and “stocked” the fish in waters closer to their homes.

The Tackle Challenge

Flatheads have oversize heads to facilitate large feeding intake.

Flathead catfish grow to great size.  In the upper Potomac where Allen Peterson fishes, a large one is 20-30 pounds.  In the lower Potomac, near Washington DC, fish reach sizes several times that weight with an unofficial whopper weighing in at 94 pounds.  Such fish require stout tackle and Peterson will demonstrate how he fishes bluegill with and without a float.  In any case, you will need your heaviest tackle and 100-pound test line isn’t going overboard, no pun intended.

Be a Conservationist

Flatheads are wolves of the waterway.  They don’t just feed on the bottom, but aggressively catch and eat smaller species that are considered important sports fish by many.  Keep what you catch, because nature is making more and where this fishery will lead is as unclear as the waters of the Potomac.