Tackling Down for Big Flathead Catfish

Ryan Flathead Catfish.jpg

Big Fish, Light Gear

By Spencer Bauer, Ryan Patrick Grace

When most fisherman think of rigging up for giant flathead catfish, a consistent image runs through their mind.  Pool cue fishing rods and bait casting reels that look like they belong in the movie “Jaws” are the norm.  Not the case with Ryan Grace.

Grace spends the majority of his time exploring the upper Mississippi River near his home in La Crosse, Wisconsin.  During his time on the water he has tackled numerous flatheads, many of them with mouths the size of a 5 gallon bucket.  With the invention of super lines, he has been able to devise a system that easily detects bites, but will handle the big boys when they come calling.


Grace: I currently have two different gear setups. I have two Shimano baitrunner 8000 D spinning reels on a Shakespeare Ugly Stik catfish rod. My spinning rods are both seven foot, one piece, medium-heavy, and fast action. I also have three Abu Garcia C3-5500 Ambassadeur Baitcast Fishing Reels on the same Ugly Stik catfish rods. These are considerably smaller than many of the other round style bait casters produced by Abu Garcia.

Grace: I really prefer the small size bait casting reels. They do not hold as much line, but have a much more sensitive bait clicker than the larger ones, while still maintaining enough strength to battle bigger fish. For the Shimano Baitrunner reels, I use 100lb test Power Pro braided line in moss green. Since my bait casters have smaller spools, I use 80lb test Power Pro braid in the moss green.

Flathead catfish are one of the most exciting fish to catch out there!

Flathead catfish are one of the most exciting fish to catch out there!

Grace: I also love the sensitivity and power of the Shimano Baitrunner. It is a great reel with dual drag for your main upper drag and another adjustment for the bait clicker drag. It allows you to set the spool right to the edge of the running point, so when a fish starts taking your bait, it can do so without feeling a thing. The sensitivity is far above that offered by a traditional bait caster which can make all the difference between hooking a fish or going home empty handed

There are many options in addition to the Ugly Stik catfish rod..  Any composite blank with action in the top ⅓ of the blank will accomplish the same task.  The Chad Ferguson Whisker Seeker medium-heavy is great for this.


Grace: I use the same rigging for all my rods. In the past, I used to use a swivel, short braid leader line, 6/0 Gamkatsu Big River hook, and a three to four ounce disc sinker. It worked okay, but I wasn’t overly excited with it. At the encouragement of a friend, I am trying a new rigging option this year.  So far, it has been working out really well.

Grace: I use an Eagle Claw Lazer Sharp 7/0 Kahle Hook.  I tie the hook directly to the main line and have gotten rid of the swivel altogether. I use a piece of Water Gremlin Round Split Shot and clamp it directly to the main line above the hook. The split shot holds pretty tight, but it does move enough to allow you to adjust “leader” length. You can easily adjust between a few inches and a couple of feet. Above the split shot I have a rubber bumper and a sinker slide with a sinker attached.

With the proper gear, fish like this can be caught regularly!

With the proper gear, fish like this can be caught regularly!

Grace: The sinker slide allows line to move more freely when a flathead is biting and running.  Also, getting rid of the swivel has increased the overall strength of the rig since you remove the two knots tied around the swivel. I know some people swear you need a swivel because the line might snap when a catfish rolls and twists, but I have yet to see this happen to my friends or myself.

Flathead catfish are a beast of a fish, and will destroy tackle that isn’t up to the task.  Oddly enough, they often hit a bait softly.  With superlines and composite fishing rods that have some tip action, you can have the best of both worlds.  A fishing rod that will not only handle a big fish, but allow you to see a light bite that is characteristic of even the largest flatheads.

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