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Flatheads, a typical night on the River

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A typical night on the river means different things to different people. For some it is a chance to get out and spend some time with friends, for others it means enjoying the sights and sounds, and others a chance to do battle with a world class Flathead Catfish.

For myself, it’s a combination of the three.

A typical night of fishing for me consists of several steps, the first is securing plans on launch location and who I will be fishing with. Launch location depends a lot on the current water levels and the confidence I feel about particular spots. One of the biggest myths about river fishing is that one particular stretch is better than the other. While that may hold true during certain circumstances, you can take any 10 mile stretch from Mankato to Minneapolis, and find things about that stretch that make it better than any other spot. The fish are there, I guarantee it.

Once a launch location is decided on, the next step is to take that stretch and pick a few key areas that should (based on prior experiences) hold some fish. If I’m in a new area, the first 4 things I’m looking for are:

1. Creek Inlets

2. Sharp Bends, or a series of sharp bends

3. Large old logjams or snags

4. Rocky or Rapids type area

If I can only have one, I would pick number 3. There’s a good chance that snag is going to hold at least a couple of fish throughout the year, which can’t be said for the others. However there are times when a Creek or Bend will outproduce a snag 2 to 1.

After finding one of those four, I will look to see if there is deep water available in the general vicinity. If I find a creek inlet, but the water is only 3-5 ft deep in the area, I won’t even bother with it. Does this mean there are no fish there? No way, but your odds are lowered significantly with the shallow water. I would much rather see anywhere from 8-15 ft and maybe even a deeper hole nearby.

Once a few of these key areas are located, the next thing is to get a good boat position. This will obviously change from boat to boat, but generally you want the bow of the boat facing the current, with one anchor to hold you in place off the bow, and another off the side or back to keep you from swaying.

Now that the boat is positioned, I will survey the area to see how current is reacting to the area we are fishing. I look for seams, eddys, or breaks that alter the normal flow of current. This will be the area that will collect the food that Mr. Whiskers is looking for. In my opinion, bait placement could be the most important factor in being a successful fisherman. Put the bait in the wrong place, and not only will you get fewer bites, you might not get bit at all.

With a couple of areas picked out for bait placement, it’s only a matter of making sure you have a lively bait, sharp hook, strong line, and the all important.... patience.

Speaking of patience, one question we are always asking ourselves is, how long do we stay and wait for a bite? Boy that is a tricky one that really has no right or wrong answer. It basically comes down to gut feeling and perhaps prior experiences in that spot. I find it much easier to sit for several hours in a spot that I know has produced a big fish in the past. Those areas that I don’t give much time could very well hold several huge fish, but until I catch one of those I find myself reverting to old favorites. This doesn’t mean I won’t come back and try it again though. Some of the best spots I’ve fished haven’t produced until sitting there 5 or 6 times. I can’t stress it enough, KEEP TRYING NEW SPOTS.

How many fish do I expect to catch on a typical night? Honestly, I don’t. That tends to make things much easier. Low expectations means less disappointment. Do I get discouraged when I get skunked? Of course I do, but I also see it as a learning experience. Chalk it up and move on I say. I think if you are getting 1-5 Flatheads in a night, you’ve done well. Anything over 5 is great. Then you have one of those nights that can’t be described, the fish just keep biting and keep getting bigger. When you have one of those nights, cherish it, because they are few and far between.

Generally on a weeknight I will fish until about 11 or 12, and extend that by a couple of hours on the weekend. Nothing can help your success more than time on the water, plain and simple.

That’s my typical night on the river and now throw in high/low water levels, logjams, sandbars and a few fireworks and you have a fun filled Catfish season.

It’s still very early, but I truly wish for everyone to pose for a picture with their personal best they caught this year…..Good Luck!

Now let's hear about your typical night.

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Very nice read dtro! I really need to stop reading posts in here, it is making it difficult to focus on the remaining of the ice season, and your post has my blood pumping for that thunk from the rod holder now.

Last season for me was a slow year, due to a couple surgeries, I didnt get out near as much as I wanted to. I plan on doubleing my time on the river this year, if I get the permission to from the boss.

I am nowhere near the writer you are, but a typical night on the river would start off with plans much like yours, first figuring out who will be going with me, then getting the bait ready, then if the water is high enough, getting the boat prepaired and loaded with the gear,and packing a cooler with the beverages of choice for the night. Also picking out the landing I will be leaving from, most of the times I dont know the spot that I will sit in the most, it all depends on my gut instinct at the time, which last year didnt work out for me very well. I may need to rethink that part latter.

On a typical weeknight, it is about 6pm before I get on the river. If the river is low, I tend to head upstream more often then not, so if something happens to the boat, I can still drift back down stream to the boat landing. If the water is high, again then it is gut instinct and I already stated how that has worked for me. Weeknights, I will try to be home by midnight or close, unless the fish are really biting, or the b.s. is really flying. On a weekend, alot of times I will just stay on the river overnight, if it isnt to cold, or rainy.

I have had some good nights of fishing where I didnt get a bite, and others in my boat would catch several fish, now this can be just as fun, but only a couple times out! Last year I think I had 2 streaks of no nights of fish, that exceeded 7 days. That does get frustraiting, but it just made me fish more.

Speaking of streaks of fishless nights, they can get discouraging, when not only are you not catching anything, and those in your boat are, but when you add in, the rainy nights, the foggy nights, the tired mornings, the terrible mosquitos, (thermecells are a must!), the river mud, the broken props, the money spent on getting bait, but with all of that I would only look forward to the next night out that I could fish after being skunked,and right now, I cant wait to start a new season of sitting on the water, bsing with friends, and swatting mosquitos, and sitting around a campfire, just waiting for the pole to bend, even a little!

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Launch location depends a lot on the current water levels and the confidence I feel about particular spots.

That holds true in my book, but yet I feel I need to keep in one area to learn the area and then the fish will come (or hopefully find them). If one stretch of the river goes a couple trips with out fish of the larger size, I think no matter what you feel about that section, a move is in order. With new water, comes self doubt, unless you are fishing with someone who has been in the area. But, then again I have been skunked from all the way up to Jordan, down to Pigs eye on more than one occasion grin

If you are on either the Miss. or MN, have the "go to baits" and tackle, it is only a matter of time until you get a cat. Put in more time and you will get a bigger cat. Right time at the right place I would say is key and more time on the water increases your chances of being in right place at the right time.

A typical cat trip for me would be the following:

I would start the day reviewing anything that has happened from the night before right here in the Cat Forum. If you have been following most that post in these forums the last couple years and have read back further than a couple years ago, you have a very good idea on everyone’s home waters that they fish. If someone reports a nice catch or good night, the chances are slim to nothing that I will drop what I have planned and go to their area. But!!! If I am undecided on one of two areas to target for the evening at about 1500 hours, this info could be a deal breaker for me on which area of the river I will be going to that night. Plus, reading about other FM’ers good fortune from the night before can give me that much needed confidence level Dtro brought up wink.

O.K., we will skip my pre-trip procedure and check list. Everything has its place and unload and load up time at the launch goes quicker and stays about the same amount of time through out the season when things are organized.

OK, I get on the road ready for the average hour and half trip to the launch (this occurs about 1700-1800 hours most times). The next step is stopping and picking up my fishing partner. It always takes 10-15 minutes at his house. All right grin on the road again, but if I need to top off the fuel tanks and get munchies, this occurs in Rogers where it is very easy and quick to get back on the road.

Ideally I like to get to the launch at about 2000 hours. This seems to be the best for launching conditions on the river. The day time fisherman and recreational boaters have started to clear out and parking closest to the launch becomes free. Nothing bites more than being out catt’in all night when you know your truck and trailer is sitting on the side of major highway. Pull up to the launch, unload gear into boat and launch boat. Park truck and make sure nothing of value is in direct site.

Ok, on the river. At this point further discussion on locations to target starts up in full swing. Our rule of thumb is to target the locations furthest from the launch we would like to try first. During the ride, watching and planning for future stops when coming back at night if our prime locations fail to produce. I like to be in the spot (fishing) around 2050-2100 hours. Most times there is sill plenty of light and the final organization for settling into a long evening of catfishing can commence. What will get me to set up in one particular spot is noticing bait fish on the electronics or seeing bait fish jump on the water surface in the sunset light or with the spot light. If nothing is alive in that spot, the confidence level goes down and a move is in order.

First priority after boat placement, is to get a line in the water first and formost and then more of the final organization of the boat (mainly for comfort) can be done. At that point, crack a pop, turn the tunes on low and wait for the clicker cool.

Normally (can change on confidence and missed bites/strikes) we give a spot on average 45 minutes to 1 hour and then a move is mandatory if no action has occurred. Basically, we repeat this for the next 8-9 hours. If the weather is terrible, no fish have been caught or something the next day has been planned, 300 hours is about the “call it quits” mark in my boat. If the weather is nice, fish have been caught and no plans for the next day, we will go till 700-800 hours with no problem.

Now, that ride back to the launch can seem somber and down right sad at the end of a cat trip, but I found early last season that there can be some excitement yet to be had. In my boat it is mandatory now, once we hit the ramp to toss out a rig or two right at the boat launch from shore. Mid season last year this saved us from a couple skunk trips and one being a Moore’s contest night. You have the launch all to your self most times and nothing beets draining the boat, loading the gear into the truck, cleaning the boat out, while waiting to here a clicker run and it happens wink! After that, hop in the truck and turn on the radio and prepare for the hour plus drive back home.

Nothing beets catt’in, nothing wink

Great post Dtro smile

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If the river is low, I tend to head upstream more often then not, so if something happens to the boat, I can still drift back down stream to the boat landing.

Good point and can save a taxi cab ride cost back to the upstream launch wink

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great post DTRO I will have to take the time to write down mine then transfer it to here.

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One thing to add:

On the way to the first spot , you have to do a spin.gif to win with the RP to impress your rider grin

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I am a relative newbie to catfishing. This will be my 3rd summer at it. Every year I seem to do a little less of the walleye fishing and a little more of the catfishing.

A typical night - well, they're all different, which is what makes it exciting. One night you can get 15 fish in the boat, the next night you may not be able to buy a bite. That's usually league night for me smile

I'll reiterate two things Darren mentioned.

Number 1 -- time on the water is the biggest variable that will determine how many fish you catch. Not only do more rod hours give you more flathead opportunities, but they give you more experience that will help make the most of every single opportunity you have.

Number 2 -- bait placement sometimes makes all the difference. This is where that experience comes in. I had a streak of 6 weeks in a row last year when I didn't catch a flathead - like 11 or 13 outings, I can't remember now. Granted, my boat-mates weren't catching double digits every time out either...but they weren't skunked 11 times in a row!! smile If your boat is catching 1 to 2 flatheads per night on the slow period, and you are skunked 11 times in a row, is that a coincidence? No, it's probably better bait placement by your boat-mates, which comes with experience. Lucky for me, the people I fish with are better at this than I am, or I probably would have given up a long time ago smile

Number 3 -- time on the water is the biggest variable that will determine how many fish you catch. I have to say it again, the more hours you put in the better your odds are. After my record dozen skunkings in a row this summer, the last outing of the year I was rewarded with a nice flatty in the low 30s. It was the first flathead I had over 10 lbs since June, and this was late Sept. Keep at it. I guess it's easy for me to be motivated, I'm really into the fishing and the catching is a bonus. I think almost everyone is like that to some extent, but I actually am pretty into the B-Sing in the boat, as WWG and Dtro can attest. I rarely shut up.

Oh, I'll add one of my own here....when you're not catching any flatheads you might get frustrated. Try throwing the cutbait or shrimp into the middle of the channel and you'll be rewarded with either a channel cat, a sheepshead, or a turtle to keep you busy. It's better than nothing! Actually, those channels fight way harder, pound for pound, than any flathead I've caught. I didn't use cutbait at all in year 1, and in year 2 I started using it a bit more. We'll see what happens this year.

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Number 2 -- bait placement sometimes makes all the difference. This is where that experience comes in.

Ya, when you guys say to land your bait under the third branch over from the bank/shore, that is knowing where to place your bait winkgrin

That is one thing I am doing with some of the better electronics I have upgraded to in the last year is (more so in high water) finding the current scour holes, troughs and under water banks/shelves. Flats in particular seem to favor these spots for some reason when the current is strong. Maybe less current, better control or just a direct path to the area(s) they seek, with some bait fish here and their. Find the Highway and you will find the fish.

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Welcome Alex smile

That is a nice one in your avatar wink

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I rarely have a typical night....especially with the company I fish with. Interesting people in the boat make every night memorable.

Always something each night that is a little different. I stick to the numbers spots during the weeknights when the river isn't as crowded.....or on league nights when the fish count for something......

But when the river is crowded on a Friday/Saturday night, I love the occasional wildcard location where there is absolutely no thought at all......

I will stop in a spot I have never fished, drop anchor and throw out a bait even though there is nothing around that even looks remotely fishy.

Why?..........because the majority of the obvious spots are probably taken if there are 12 trailers at the ramp.

And also, if there is a 60 out there, it's because it's not in a "typical" spot......or the "typical" baits we all use aren't big enough to entice her.

I would bet that a 60+ pound fish could swaller a 12-15 pound carp without blinking......hard to imagine a 7 inch bullhead that weighs less then half of 1% of a 60's bodyweight is going to fill her belly......but if I throw it right in it's face I might have a shot.

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I love fishing the river with someone every single night. If they have never fished before and can nail a flattie or two, thats even better. Nothing better than seeing a newbie hit their 1st nice flathead.

Typically I fish locations by a deeper holw with a shallow area from 8-14fow with a log jam or a creek inleet. Most times I will stay there in that spot if it feelds fishy until 10pm or so and if nothing hits, I'm off to a new location. I typically fish for the flatheads and some times will go after the channels but not too often. If its a weeknight and noone is one the river, I will then target channels first and then move to a flathead location that I like about 1 or so hours before sunset.

My normal evening goes from appro 6pm to 1-2 am.

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My nights usually begin around 8 PM when it begins to get dark. My girlfriend and I will make our trek out to the spot, set everything up, and then lastly we will toss out our lines. I am just waiting for the day that she gets a nice Flathead (she has only caught one pounder Channels), because I know she will have a blast. She has never caught any fish bigger than a sunfish besides one Carp she got.

The spot we are at is estimated to be about 20 feet deep, and has a nice tangle of sticks and logs near the cut-out bank. We usually toss our bait as close to the snag as possible, and try to aim for the current seam where the main channel passes by the snag. Not sure if there are any big boys there, but I pulled my 30 pounder out there and just a couple days before we saw someone catch the same exact size fish. This was in September though so not too sure.

Been trying to scout good spots for Spring, but it's so hard when their is ice on the river and 99% of the river property seems to be private. I would like to hook up with some people on here sometime to see what else is out there. Can't really get a boat, as I live in apartments and am a young guy with a small car.

I also really like to go day fishing for Carp. Not sure if any of you Cat guys waste your time on them, but I love to target them when they are biting (so easy to find too).

But yeah, just ordering all my tackle gets me soooo excited, and I have taken Catfishing as my number one hobby. When I won't be in work this season, you can bet I'll be somewhere along the banks of the river as long as it's nice.

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Interesting question – What is a typical night on the river? I am very fortunate and know it. I am retired and my bride has given me the green light to fish whenever I want. We keep a fishing pontoon in a slip on the St Croix River so I’m lucky to have a boat in the water, ready to go 24/7 all summer long. From the middle of April until the middle of October I usually get out 4 to 5 nights a week. As most other posts have said - nothing you do trumps time on the water. That is a lot of time spent fishing but most importantly it keeps hooks in the water and the chance to meet up with a big fish. The old saying – “Even a blind squirrel occasionally finds a nut” applies to chasing cats. Spend enough time with a hook in the water and sooner or later some big old cat is going to stumble across your bait and maybe just end up being counted for the KOTC Leaderboard.

I typically head out about 6:00 or 6:30 in the evening. Most evenings I will usually spend 45 minutes to an hour fishing for bait. I’ve got some bait spots that I can just about always catch suckers. I keep a bullhead bait tank at home so I always have bullheads available for bait but I like to have some fresh cut sucker available too. I like fresh caught cut bait for fishing channel cats. We can fish two rods on the St Croix and I usually put cut sucker on one rod and cut bullhead on the other rod. I have really good luck with those two baits. This year I hope to add creek chubs to the bait mix to have additional bait options.

How I will fish on any given night depends a lot on river conditions and weather. I have fishing spots for high water and spots for normal water levels. During prespawn high water conditions I fish a lot of backwater areas and during normal river levels I fish a lot of main channel areas. The weather has a big role in where to fish. Wind is a big factor on the St Croix because there is not much current compared to what you will find on the Mississippi River and the Minnesota River.

Early in the evening I will usually pick out several flathead spots and check them based on the current river conditions and the weather. I have spots that will get me out of just about any adverse wind conditions. I normally look the evenings flathead spots over before I start fishing to insure I can set up the way I want when it’s time to fish flatheads. How you will anchor or tie off on a fishing position is critical and I like to look over each spot and think through how I will position the boat on it. It is best to think about that while it is light out and you can see how and where to position for implementation later on in the dark.

I normally chase channel cats just about every night that I head out. I like to run and gun for channel cats until about dusk. I spend a lot of daylight cat fishing time drifting and dragging for channel cats. At the power hour, about 1 hour before to 1 hour after sunset , I will set up in one of my favorite flathead spots and put out two bullheads. I usually stay on that spot through the power hour. After that I may move several times depending on my gut feeling for each spot. Normally I give each spot at least an hour.

I normally fish until about midnight. I am a big Twins fan and I listen to just about every game while sitting on some cat fish spot. Some nights especially if the Twins are playing on the west coast I will fish until 1:00 am or so. It all depends on how tired I am. With the pontoon boat I can stretch out and take a nap and hope a clicker wakes me.

I’m hoping my channel cat luck holds up again this year and I put some big St Croix channels in the boat early. I am hoping to spend a little more time on flatheads and catch you Minnesota River guys who always put some big flathead numbers on the KOTC board. Last year I ended with over 200 flathead points which was a good year but this year I’m shooting for a top 5 position on that flathead leaderboard.

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Sounds like you have it made there SteveD. Fish as much as you like, have a pontoon on the St. Croix where it's legal to have two lines wet, and you have multiple large fish species available. Would be nice if the Minnesota had Sturgeon in it, besides the small Shovelnose (which are still fun).

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Slap some meat and sweet corn on the grill after the sun goes down and wait for Coast to Coast to come on @ midnight. Depends on who I am with but 6p-3a some days and others until the sun comes up.

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