Credit: Mike Eller
How the Flathead Catfish (Pylodictis olivaris) were introduced to the Susquehanna River is unknown. At some point between 17 and 22 years ago, they appeared. And now, angling for them has reached a feverish pitch. In July of 2002 the first confirmed catch of a flathead catfish occurred in the lower Susquehanna River. Until about 4 years ago the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission urged all anglers to destroy every Flathead Catfish that was caught in the Susquehanna River. This fish is apparently a quite prolific breeder and the populations are growing rapidly throughout the lower part of the river. Now the ban on catch and kill of the Flathead Catfish has been lifted since the fish commission started recognizing them as game fish. The interest in catching one of these behemoths has grown in popularity recently because in Pennsylvania there aren't too many opportunities of potentially catching a fish weighing over 50 pounds.
Credit: Raymond E
Do Not Forget The Bait
This is one of those angling adventures where you first have to be successful with catching your bait before even attempting to pursue the main quarry. That can prove to be a frustrating event when the heat and humidity make you sweat when just thinking about fishing. The preferred baits of these potential giants are bluegills, rock bass, creek chubs, sunfish and suckers. All of these baits except the sucker are fished live on a single hook rig with circle hooks being my favorite choice. A harness with three hooks is used when fishing with the live sucker and in certain situations this bait can be cut into chunks to entice a fish to bite. A five gallon bucket is employed along with a battery operated air pump to keep your bait lively until its use. In extreme hot weather you should add some ice to the bait bucket's water in order to keep the oxygen content of the water high. By doing this you will be placing less stress on your bait and therefore have a greater chance of it being alive when you use it. Always check to see what the limit is in your state for the bait you are using for the outing. In Pennsylvania the law states that it is 50 of combined species. Usually 25 baits are more than enough for each angler.
Big Fish Means That You Use Bigger Tackle
In order to cast the weight of the bait and sinker far enough to reach a good piece of structure and fight a huge fish surf rods are used. A minimum of a 10 foot rod with a matching spinning reel capable of holding at least 200 yards of 20 pound test line should be incorporated. Practice with this outfit until you are comfortable casting a 2 ounce sinker at least 75 yards. Cut an X shaped slot into an old tennis ball and place it over your sinker while practicing. This will keep your sinker from burying into the dirt. There are a few tricks and tips that will make it easier for you to achieve this distance. Here are two of them that I will give you now that will help you to make that 75 yard goal. First make sure that your reel is filled up to the maximum capacity thus reducing the resistance of the line hitting the spool on every revolution the line makes during the cast. The second trick/tip is to turn the drag of your reel down very tight before casting your line. This will keep the spool from turning during the cast which increases the drag placed on the line and decreases your casting distance.
Always cast within the confines you and the equipment being used thus creating less damage to the outfit and minimal stress on the angler. Many times I have personally witnessed someone's tackle either breaking or malfunctioning simply because the angler was asking more of the equipment than it was capable of performing. As an example, when a fishing rod is rated for any weight up to 4 ounces do not try throwing 4 ounces of sinker plus the bait. This will place too much strain on the fishing rod and severe damage will occur.
Keep The Rig Simple
The rig used for Flatheads is a simple one to learn. With all the components being readily available and quite affordable anyone can fish for this species. To tie this rig you first thread a river sinker onto the main line followed by a colored plastic bead. Your sinker will be between 1 and 4 ounces of weight depending on how strong the current flow is on the river. The next thing that you do is to tie a circle hook on the end of the line. The circle hooks are used because they allow for catch and release due to their ability to hook the fish in the corner of the mouth consistently. The hook's size is dependent upon the size of the bait fish being used and it will vary between a 3/0 up to a 7/0. Your plastic bead is placed on the line to act as a protection for the knot having direct contact with the sinker. The bait fish goes on the hook by placing the hook under the jaw and pushing it up through the top of the head. This will allow the bait to swim freely after it is cast out into the water.
A Good Time To Go Fishing
A good time to go fishing for these catfish is when the light conditions are low and even in the total darkness of night. In the evening just before sunset and morning just before sunrise are prime times for going in pursuit of these catfish while an overcast day makes for good fishing too. One unfortunate aspect about fishing at these times is that they are good for mosquito activity too so take the appropriate precautions to guard against getting bitten.
Talk To Other Anglers
Anglers are a friendly group of individuals who when asked usually will give good information regarding their success and methods of angling for the Flathead Catfish. Please do not expect an angler to give up their favorite location as this is considered to be sacred among most fishermen. Waterways patrolmen are also a good source of information, as their job places them right in the mix of the fishing community. So go ahead and utilize that resource for gathering your information.
Learn all you can about this species, pay your dues by spending as much time allowed on the water, stay focused and you too will have success catching Flathead Catfish in Pennsylvania.