Many fishermen often ask when is the best time to fish for flathead. Obviously the answer is any time conditions prevail when flathead are feeding. This can occur any time water temperatures are between 60 and 80 degreees.
There are many factors to consider when attempting to be on the water when fast action occurs. First is the misconception that flathead can be caught in mass quantity at any particular time. Flathead are fairly low population density fish that often prefer solitary existence. Mature flathead (30+) pound fish rarely choose to allow other flathead to share their hunting territory. Males dominate a territory by force and females simply tend to seek solitary lifestyles by choice.
An example is that in years past we considered one 40+ pound flathead per every 3 nights fished to be good fishing. We seem to have improved on that ratio a bit the last few years but our expectation is that ratio could return.
One of the factors to consider when flathead fishing is water temperature. Flathead prefer warmer water than other catfish species and recent scientific tests indicate the peak feeding activity at 72 degrees. Timing your fishing to periods when water temperature is closest to 72 degrees will improve your success.
Another factor to consider is phase of the spawn. During prespawn(60-70 degrees) males prowl spawning areas. They search for prime nesting sites and stake claim to the best nesting habitat they can hold. More dominant males displace smaller rivals who then go searching for the next best nesting habitat they can control. All males constantly patrol their area to repel invaders and watch for receptive females that might move into the area.
All this activity makes males hungry and all their movement make it more likely they will encounter your baits. Males do not eat during the spawn and instinctively feed at every opportunity during prespawn.
These facts make prespawn a high percentage bet for flathead. Baits in prime spawning habitat get more bites per night fished than any other time of the year. The best spawning habitat will have more and bigger males competing and moving. Everyone likes an aggressive dominant fish that is willing to take baits.
Another factor is weather. Large male flathead are particularly aggressive to other flathead during prespawn. They are normally in shallow water. By nature these fish reached large size by avoiding danger and are still very wary. The only real threat to large flathead are man and larger flathead but I believe the grew large due to instincts that precluded they run away from any potential danger.
For this reason the flathead are more secure on dark nights and become even braver during rain. They become even more active when warm rains do not significantly lower water temperature.
You can time fishing trips based on current water temperature and weather patterns. It may be difficult to be on the water when all the conditions coincide but those nights will be magical.
Other opportunities occur periodically throughout the summer. These are more difficult to time but I will point them out. You may be able to isolate favorable conditions and take advantage of them.
During the hotter months of summer when water temperature is near 80 or above flathead activity is subdued. The big fish are lethargic and often feed listlessly until conditions offer an opportunity. Large rainstorms often provide those opportunities. Rain aerates and cools water stimulating all fish in warm water that has below optimum oxygen concentrations.
Mature flathead not only feel more comfortable and active but also recognize the period as an opportunity to feed. The rain may cloud normally clear water and rainfall masks vibrations of their size from prey fish. Panfish in shallow clear water can often evade flathead because of superior eyesight. During rainstorms their vision at night is severely depleted and their last resort for safety of sensing flatheads movement with their lateral line is distorted or greatly diminished.
In late summer big rainstorms are few and far between. Flathead take advantage of them and a great number if not all feed voraciously. The key here is to select water shallower than normal for late summer in areas with good populations of panfish.
During rainstorms I have often caught flathead still prowling at 9 A.M. As long as it was still cloudy or raining some fish continue to hunt.
I caught these fish while fishing alone. I wouldn’t have expected company on a night with a recorded 5 inches of rain. For reference 3 inches of rain is classified as a flash flood.
One other scenario offers above average fishing for flathead. Often called the Fall frenzy or Fall feed. The time span is not as long as prespawn and weather is often unpredictable. The Fall feed can be very short and often is interrupted when cold weather drops water temps by just a few degrees.
But it is one of my personal favorite times of year to fish. By Summers end I embrace the cooler nights and solitude that have evaded me for months. Flathead feeding increases with each temperature drop in the water. Timing a trip to coincide with 70 to 60 degree drop will increase your odds of encountering big flathead.
As water temperatures drop move locations nearer to wintering areas. Spots on lakes from shallow bays leading to deep water can provide resident fish to bite in the bay and any fish migrating to winter quarters. In rivers you should fish between deep wintering holes and experiment with if upstream or downstream sides produce more fish. Historically tracking studies indicate more fish move downstream for wintering and upstream for spawning.
So my recommendation for the best time to flathead fish is: ANY TIME YOU GET AN OPPORTUNITY.
I like to believe I learn things even on nights that produce no flathead. My patience is based on confidence in proven techniques and my ability to adapt to changes that occur. There is rarely a sure thing when flathead fishing but I know I must be on the water to catch fish. I also know that my odds of finding an 80 pound flathead improve the more often I fish.
I hope you can get opportunities to flathead fish when conditions are prime as I have outlined. Catmens confidence in flathead techniques are often made or broken depending on a successful catch. Have confidence in your fishing spot, use lively baits, keep tackle at perfect performance level, and stay calm as the flathead nears the landing net.
If it isn't a catfish,it's bait! " HOW ABOUT THEM COWBOYS!"