Has the winter been getting to you? Have you been watching the river conditions daily just itching to get back on the water? Rods are rigged, the tackle box is full, the boats ready to go and its almost time. The smell of fresh cut grass is almost in the air, crickets are chirping and the birds are nesting. Along the shorelines, the Bluegills and Bass are starting to fan beds. It’s almost time to go Flatheading.
For some of us, that time is now, while others may have to wait a few more weeks for ice to melt. A few flatheads anglers have been catching them all year long, even through the cold winter months. While some struggle to catch flatheads in the winter, others have not stopped catching

Once water temperatures get to where the catfish feel it needs, 70 degrees in most cases, many will begin their journeys. Flatheads have been recorded to migrate over 70 miles before stopping to spawn, then returning back to their home range months later to reclaim their territories. While many flatheads take the more local approach and just spawn in their home domain.
Springtime often brings high waters that flatheads will take advantage of as they leave the rivers to enter the flooded forest. Gorging on crayfish, lizards, birds and snakes as they will need all the extra protein they can muster for what awaits them this spring.

Cat-fishermen around the country scratch the days off all winter long waiting for spring. During the spring the flatheads have started to stir in their winter resting areas and have started swimming to spawning grounds.
Flatheads will begin to congregate outside of creek mouths awaiting the perfect temperatures before piling into creeks and tributary's to spawn. Many flatheads will remain in the main river all spring taking advantage of vacant spawning locations.
During these high waters, flatheads will frequently stop in slews and backwaters to grab quick meals and to escape raging river conditions as they make their tireless journey up river. Here is where flatheads become most vulnerable as they tend to congregate in large numbers of similar size fish.
Flatheads will hold in creek mouths until they are ready to enter the creeks and tributaries. Some of the largest flatheads of the year will be caught in the still waters of flooded timber during the spring.

Flatheads will also start to gather in large numbers around log jams and heavy structure as they scout for nesting areas. They will begin to feed very heavily to put on weight that they lost throughout the winter. As they start fattening up getting ready for the spawn everything will be on the menu even dead fish.

Once flatheads nest they may go weeks without a meal, being why they are in gorge mode during early spring. With such large appetite’s flatheads are easy targets during the pre-spawn. Flatheads become very aggressive during the spring; April- May depending on your location it might be June-July. These can be the most productive months of the year with 30+ fish on good nights on rod & reel by skilled cat-fishermen.

This migration period will differ depending on what part of the country you live. Generally, flatheads will begin to migrate upriver starting at around 60-65 degree water temps. Spawning will take place once temps reach 76-79 in most cases.
April through the first of June is the time to take advantage of pre-spawn daytime fishing if you live in the south. Flatheads will be in a type of rut, their minds are all discombobulated from the smell of spawn in the water so they will tend to do things flatheads normally would not do. Such as feed aggressively at high noon, smash & destroy cut baits intended for blue cats and even frequently school together as a pack hunting and hoarding bait against banks and shorelines.

Some have even been witnessed running down fast topwater lures intended for bass and musky. While others have been documented migrating up the river in shallow water by the thousands with their backs literally sticking out of the water “What a sight to see”.
When targeting spring time flatheads downsize those baits to under 8 inches. Small bluegills and other live fish work for all sizes of flatheads this time of year. Shiners’ and crayfish are dynamite bait, save those big baits for later in the year. Mid-summer through fall those big baits will be in high demand.

During late spring many flatheads will have made the journey by now and many will have become trapped around the foot of dams. Large concentrations of flatheads will be gathered in confusion to why they can’t go any farther north. They will be extremely hungry after depleting most of their energy from swimming many miles to get here.
Like migrant seabirds, anglers will have also gathered waiting for the arrival of springtime catfish. Boardwalks and catwalks will be elbow to elbow as anxious fisherman make their first cast of the year.
At these dams, anything goes, from lures and jigs to cut baits and live baits one after another, flatheads will be caught. Boardwalks and buoy lines will be littered with fishermen and boats taking advantage of the fast action. This will not last long; these fish will eventually spread out in the general area to find whatever spawning holes they can. Many will fall back just a few miles short of the dam fighting for territory against other dominate flatheads and blue cats.
During the springtime, long waits are not needed. There is really no need to fish a spot longer than an hour or so. These fish will be actively moving and piling up in key locations, keep moving and persistence will pay off.

Cull and keep as many of these smaller fish as needed to catch back up on those freezers. Flatheads spawn incredibly fast and juvenile fish are abundant. However, keep in mind those big fish will be in great demand for the next generations spawn. Big flatheads don’t grow overnight, decades will pass to grow a fish over 75 pounds, a flathead over 100 pounds maybe over 30 years of age.

This is why large flatheads topping 100 pounds are so incredibly rare, few truly giant flatheads are released. Unlike blue cats, today that has a huge following of anglers that release their mature fish. 
During the early days of modern America Flatheads were reported from the Mississippi and its tributaries at over 250 pounds with individual fish being caught not uncommon at 150-200 pounds, “can you imagine that?” This means that man directly impacted the true trophy flathead stocks of North America and still struggles today even with more widespread flathead waters available.

During the heavily commercial sale of catfish and in part by the channelization and construction of the dams during the turn of the century trophy blue cats went in to free fall. It would take nearly 90 years for a blue cat to break the world record of 91 pounds. Today it’s a different story, anglers are regulating their selves’ releasing their trophy blue cats and in return, we are seeing dozens of 100 plus pound blues caught each year.
Flathead have not caught up to the trend of CPR just yet but is catching on quickly. While releasing flatheads is becoming very popular many still hang and skin 30-year-old fish for a one-night fish fry. With social media being the dominant form of bragging rights today, photos of large dead flatheads are shunned upon and get little attention from the professional catfish communities.
To the left is a cooler full of fish perfect size catfish for filling the freezers.

The pre-spawn will generally last only a few weeks before flatheads hunker down. During this period is when flatheads also become valuable to hand fishing. As pairs of fish guard their nest with violent fashions hand fishermen will be probing the dark holes feeling for the clampdown. This clamp happens when the male or female sees an approaching threat to their nest and goes on the defense attacking the foreign threat. Once a flathead is removed from the nest if the other parent is spooked away or also grabbed the nest will be robbed in seconds as sunfish take their revenge.

or the next few weeks all along the shoreline’s flatheads will guard and patrol, 24 hours a day not even stopping to rest or eat. Fishing during the spawn can be very frustrating. Unknowing cat fishermen and rookies will start to question why they can’t catch any catfish, they will think to themselves “I’m doing everything right, conditions ar.e perfect, where are the fish?”
When all along they may have been doing everything they were supposed too, the flatheads just had other priorities.

So when you’re slaughtering the flatheads this spring, riding that high horse thinking it’s time to go pro staff is prepared for the door to slam in your face. Don’t get discouraged and throw in the towel as many do, just hang low for a while and let the river do its thing, and like a flip of a light switch the flatheads will reappear and the fun will begin again