Welcome to Flathead country...


Bait selection is another key factor in Flathead fishing, without the right baits you might just be wasting your time. In most situations flatheads demand healthy live bait, other times they will gracefully take fresh cut-bait . Knowing what baits to use at just the right times is critical when flathead fishing.

Once your bait fish dies don’t throw him over.  Keep him on ice to use as cut bait. For some apparent reason often flatheads will take fresh cut bait over live bait. This will not always work but just in case it’s always best to keep a few of these cut baits in the water just to be safe. It also opens up more opportunity’s to take a few channel and blue cats.

If you do not have a live well on your boat and have to use some sort of make shift well, its best to do a water change every few hours to keep the ammonia levels down. Fresh live baits will always outperform weak and frail baits. The more the bait kicks the more attention he draws.

Some boats simply don’t have a live well, this is easily overcome by making one out of a cooler or even a cooler seat if your boat has one. A few pieces of pvc pipe, one battery, a few screws, drill and a live well pump is all you need, coolers simply need a suction cup aerator and you will be set. Coolers keep the water very insulated on them really hot summer days and nights.

With a few store bought materials you can even build traps to catch sucker fish, bullheads and sun fish.

  • Bluegills /Redear Sunfish: are the #1 bait of choice by seasoned cat-fishermen to use for flathead catfish. They are easy to come by and are a natural bait source on every body of water. They Kick hard on a hook and are easy to maintain in a bait tank until you are ready for your trip.
  • Bullheads: Are great baits when available, just like with flatheads these fish are easiest to catch at night on just about whatever you want to throw at them, worms, shrimp, stink baits, and cut baits will all work. Bullheads kick all night long on a hook and can be reused time and time again after moving from spot to spot. There is no need to cut the spins off the bullhead, unless you feel it just gives you that extra confidence. Bullheads are easily trapped and caught on small trot lines in back waters.
  • Golden Shiner's: Are a favorite bait for flatheads in the spring, they are cheap to buy and live for a long time. In the spring when flatheads are taking smaller baits Golden Shiners can be absolutely devastating on flatheads. Its best to bring at-least 100 large shiners when fishing for flatheads in April, my best night of flathead fishing was in April using large shiners. We boated 33 flatheads with several fish over 20lbs and a big fish of 27lbs. Shiners can also be easily caught in the wild on small baits and bread.

  • Skipjack Herring: Fresh caught cut skip jack is a rare treat for big trophy flatheads especially in the spring and winter. For some reason fresh skip jack out performs shad every time. Perhaps its the oils in the skipjack who knows, all we know is flatheads love this stuff. Don't get this fish confused with shad, they are not the same. Generally skip jacks are caught around dams and warm-water discharges on small jigs and sabiki rigs, they are very difficult to catch with a net.
Live Shad: Live shad works very well for flatheads when kept alive, a circular live well will be needed to keep the water moving to ensure the shad stays a live for as long as possible. Shad are easily caught with nets in most situations.
  • Brackish Water baits: In tidal areas and along coastal states we have access to other baits that work well for flatheads, such as bull minnows and finger mullet both will catch flatheads. They will also live for a long time in fresh water. They are easily caught using castanets.
  • Sunfish: There are many species of sunfish, my favorite to use is the spotted sunfish “stump knocker” They are hardy baits that kick all night long and flatheads just love them. Don’t forget about green sunfish, long eared sunfish and war mouths and pumpkin-seeds all are great baits for flatheads.
  • Crappie: Crappie are another favorite bait of trophy flathead hunters, especially on lakes and reservoirs, in rivers sometimes the current may be to much for the crappie. Big flatheads love crappie and if presented in the right location can be a almost guaranteed bait for a big flathead.
  • Carp & Sucker: Both of these make great baits when available. Unfortunately these can be the most difficult baits to acquire. Some bait stores sell sucker fish but more often these baits have to be caught using light tackle or with traps and nets. Black salty's will also fall into this category, they can be purchased online. They are a absolute dynamite bait for flatheads.
  • Tilapia: Some anglers out west have started using tilapia with great success. They kick hard and can live in low oxygenated waters. They can be caught with cast nets or small baits. Check your local laws before using these since they are considered invasive and may be illegal to use on hook and line in some places.
  • Crayfish & Earth Worms: Crayfish and earth worms are great spring time bait after catfish emerge from their wintering holes, flatheads will be a bit sluggish and readily accept these baits. Small flatheads are easily caught all year on earth worms, crayfish work well when trash fish becomes a problem such as gar as they wont touch a crayfish. Crayfish work well under flooded conditions as well to, Catfish will leave the rivers and search the flooded woods for them.

  • Chubs & Goldfish: We cant forget about the chubs and gold fish, these guys are another favorite among flathead fishermen. The chubs are pretty easy to catch with light line and a small larva on a tiny hook, you can find big ones around beaver dams. They average from 5-8 inches but foot long chubs are not rare. Drop one of these under a log jam and it won’t take long to get smashed by a big hungry flathead. Gold fish are another fine bait for flatheads where legal to use and easily raised or purchased.
  • Juvenile Catfish: Other catfish such as small blues and channels work well for flatheads. They work especially well for baiting trot lines and limb lines that often get raided by gar and small catfish. They will kick hard all night long and are fairly easily caught. In the fall a catfish 1 foot long will work for mega flatheads but on most cases a 5-8 in catfish will do just fine for all sizes of Flatheads.