Originally created 05/12/02

Anglers troll waters at night for flatheads

Each weekend, Robin Whisenant launches his boat an hour or two before dusk and enjoys glorious sunsets from the shimmering waters of Thurmond Lake.

Once darkness has fallen, it's time to chase flatheads.

"It's pretty simple," the Aiken man said. "There are a lot of big flatheads in that lake - more than anybody could imagine."

The giant catfish, inadvertently introduced to the reservoir years ago, are among the largest freshwater fish on the continent.

And they're surprisingly easy to catch.

"At night they come up on the flat points - Modoc, Hamilton Branch, Parksville - anywhere like that," he said. "Just get off a main point relatively close to deep water and give it a try."

Whisenant usually fishes with his wife, Debra. "I play guide, anchor the boat and throw out the lines," he said.

Cut herring is a favorite bait. A 1-ounce weight and 30-pound test line usually are sufficient, provided the drag is working - and properly set. Circle hooks perform well on flatheads, which have bony jaw plates.

Although flatheads can be caught during daylight hours, Whisenant prefers night fishing, when the jet skis, boats and wind-whipped waters are quiet.

"Once you pick a spot, you need to give it an hour or two," he said. "If the fish are there, you start getting bites."

Whisenant recommends trying another spot if there is no action within two hours.

Flatheads can grow to more than 60 pounds, but the huge ones can be a terror to land. Any fish bigger than 20 pounds is a good one, he said.

"Usually you may catch one fish that has real size," he said. "Ten- or 15-pounders are pretty common, though."

Flatheads differ from other species in their predatory nature. Other species, such as channel catfish, are omnivores that eat live animals, dead animals and vegetation. Flatheads mainly eat other fish.

"The flathead is about the biggest fish in the lake," said Georgia fisheries biologist Ed Bettross. "We've had 50-pounders by hook and line, and bigger fish from trotlines."

Although striped bass reach comparable size, a flathead in the 30-pound-or-larger range is much more common than a striper, he said.

Despite their size and fearsome appearance, they don't bite and cannot harm swimmers, Bettross said. The national record flathead weighed 123 pounds and was caught in Kansas.

The Flathead Catfish:

™ Feeds on live fish; loves bluegill
™ Tail is paddle-shaped with no fork
™ Wide head; distinct, jutting lower jaw
™ Georgia state record is 67 pounds
™ Prefers flowing water and confluence


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