For inexperienced fishermen on a river, getting your baits properly located can be kind of tough. A few things you have to deal with, current, wind, bottom compositions of the river, gravel, mud or rock. At times even the most experienced river man can have a tough time.
Current can be a friend or an enemy on the river. I like just a little bit of current on the river when I'm fishing for Flatheads, just about enough that it kind of rolls up behind the boat while we are anchored down. If a barge comes along the wake will want to push the boat away but the current forces it to stay in one place. Too much current and your baits don't stay stuck in one spot, the water just boils in behind the boat. The baits have a tendency to lift off of the bottom do to the amount of pressure the current forces against the line. The lines will want to gather right directly behind the boat resulting in a tangled mess. Your anchor can get washed loose from what ever it is hooked onto in times of high current and that just creates more problems for you.
Speaking about anchors, we like to use only one anchor and our anchor of choice is the Richter and it is off the bow of the boat, and we use lots of rope a minimum of 100 feet the more rope that you have out the better" bite" you will get with your anchor. The wind has to be hitting the side of the boat to force me to use that second anchor which I will lower over the side and attach to the transom. Your taking a big chance here doing this, we bring all our Flatheads right along the side of the boat and if that second anchor is down they always seem to find it .
On the river I don't like to have the wind blowing unless it is coming straight over the bow of the boat towards the transom, aluminum boats sit high in the water and wind just kind of pushes them around, a nice little breeze is ideal, I haven't caught too many Flatheads when it is dead calm, so I would much rather have a slight breeze. Wind gives me all kinds of trouble when it is hitting square into the transom, it wants to push the boat back upriver and for my boat to be stabilized that anchor rope has to be taut. Use the thicker style of anchor rope 5/8" is ideal it won't cut into your hands and is much easier to handle than the thinner anchor line.
For me concrete, rock, gravel ledges and wood log jams are the #1 places that feeding Flatheads like to roam in search of there next meal, followed by mud flats. Any combinations of the above will up your chances of boating a fish. Look for a transition from deep to shallow water. Remember baitfish like to hang near cover and cover is almost always in shallow water, be it riprap, blown down trees and stumps It offers both protection and food for a baitfish, Same goes for a Flathead, he is lazy doesn't like to get in that current so if there is something out there that he can park behind and lay his fat body on the bottom and rest waiting on a meal, he is going to do it. He knows that baitfish are going to be near cover. Deep water can hold cover in the form of logs, humps, drop-offs, I seldom look for fish on my depth finder I look for the structure and cover that I know will hold both Baitfish and Flatheads. Most of the time your transducer will show you about a twenty foot area under your boat in deep water, and there is a lot of river for a Flathead to hide in and he can just be laying outside of your sight zone. They can smell, taste and hear bait as soon as it hits the water.
I'm going to offer you several choices on how to fish for Flatheads on rivers, now bear in mind sometimes you have to use these in combinations with each other, they can be in deep, shallow or both deep and shallow water.
Deep water patterns
You can use other things beside your electronics to locate deep water. I watch the shoreline, hills are dead giveaways that the water drops off fast to deep water and if the trees come all the way down a hillside to the waters edge there roots will stick out into the river and give Catfish another ambush point. Large boulders sticking out of the water are something else that deep water is nearby, Cliffs near the waters edge, barge tie up cylinders are mainly in deep water and there is a huge washout hole on the down river side, anywhere the river makes a sharp or hard turn the water will be deep. In deep water look for something that can break current, humps, drop-offs, sunken barges, downed trees, stumps or parts of trees sticking out of the water, concrete in the form of old dam foundations, bridge pilings or irregular bottom contours.
Scour holes are areas on the river bottom where it is kind of scooped out, some are deep, some are shallow and the shallow ones are the ones that will hold large Flatheads. It only takes a twelve inch deep scour hole to hold a forty pound Flathead. The shallow scours are tough to find, but if you find and locate one there will always be a Flathead laying in it. That is one of the reasons I own Lowrance electronics. You have to be able to tell if that's a cat or a rock on the river bottom. Fish on the up current side, you want your bait to be presented at the head of the obstruction, resting Flatheads lay behind obstructions, feeding ones are always at the head.
Drop-offs can be fished right on the edge or sometimes in the hole itself, I prefer the edge method but I have caught them right down in the holes. You want your bait near the head of the drop-off right at the very top If you get it to far then your bait will tumble down into the hole and you risk having a break off from the line rubbing on the edge of the drop-off. You must know where the location of your structure is in relation of your bait.
Ledges, they are tricky to find and to see on a depth finder but most are made or developed where a creek or another river runs into the Ohio, in times of heavy flooding the intake of a small river or stream will cut into the river bottom forming what is called a ledge. They can also be formed in the bends of the river where the force of the river will just cut into the structure and trim it away.
Shallow water patterns
Lynn likes to fish shallow water with cutbait, I will fish it with live, and most of the time I will spend most of the night netting fish for her. She uses only cutbait and it goes totally against what the experts say. I'm here to tell you first hand that a Flathead will jump on cutbait, and will pass up a live bait. Our lines will be no farther than ten foot from each other and time after time she will pickup the Flathead. When fishing shallow water we spread our baits apart, she will throw one right up against the bank in water no deeper than a foot I have seen her throw a cutbait right against the bank and a Flathead will dig it out. Mine are right next to hers away from the shoreline.
One of our favorite places to fish has a combination of several different things, First the water is deep going from 22 feet along a channel edge so the barges have plenty of room to run if they are forced to the shoreline and then flattens out parallel with the shoreline and runs to the bank very shallow, the shoreline is all riprap to prevent erosion, the bottom is all gravel, with a very distinct drop-off at the end of it. There is also a creek that feeds into the Ohio with a point.
In the example to your right: Flatheads can travel several ways , they can work the deep water channel which is in dark blue, they can work the deep water drop off again in dark blue or they can elect to come up on the shallow gravel bar which is represented with light blue, most of the time there in the shallows. The red pucks are places that you should be placing your baits. Current is a big factor with this presentation, lots of current will force them to the ledge or the channel or to that point. They can always drop into that deep hole that the stream has cut into the river. Riprap which is used to prevent erosion is represented as the grey/black area's.
Wood it has many forms and shapes, trees can be laid down in the water. These are current breakers and it may be shallow looking and you wonder how a Flathead would ever relate to this tree but they will get in there looking for food. Even those brush piles you see here will hold Flatheads. At night you must be very quite while in a boat and fishing shallow water, it doesn't take much to spook them, drop something on the bottom bang into the side of the boat and they will be off and gone.
Stumps sticking out of the water. Flatheads will relate to some of the smallest things I have ever seen, like just a small stick up out of the water. I like to fish wood cover when there is plenty of current, it breaks the current well Bluegills and Shad will gather in the area, it can be very hard to fish, your going to get hung up no doubt about that, but wood attracts Flatheads and again they will be laying behind the stuff and letting the current go over top of there heads.
Slow to medium current will make them move to the shallow bar, again you must find out what pattern the fish are in. There is a down side to fishing the shallow water. Gars can drive you crazy, they like cutbait but are very fond of live squirming Shad.
Mudflats/Sand bottoms are just as the name implies, the bottom is mud or sand or a combination of both, but there are times when the action can be furious. You need current, the scent of the bait or the struggling bait fish has got to get downstream. Sometimes I think Flatheads just like to get in this stuff and settle down in it. When fishing mud covered bottom with live bait I prefer the three way rig, you want your bait to be just up from the bottom of the silt or goo. They don't survive to well when they are suspended in that stuff. The Flatheads that we have caught on mudflats/sand bottoms are covered from head to tail with the stuff there white belly's are chocolate brown and it is hard to wipe off suggesting that they are bedded down in it. we have seen Flatheads covered with this silt when we have netted them. Usually there is deep water or a channel nearby.
Look to the shore if the land is flat and just runs off into the river and you see sand along the shoreline most generally the bottom will be the same. Again your fishing in shallow water. Gars again inhabit this same area. If there are stumps or wood it makes it that more appealing to a Flathead.
Don't be afraid to try something different or out of the ordinary you have to experiment, there are way too many factors that can make a difference in boating Flatheads or just drowning bait. Don't be afraid to move, if you don't get a pick-up in thirty minuets then move to a different spot, on the average Lynn and I will hit ten to twelve spots a night unless we start pounding them, but if they stop biting we move on, but we will return to that same spot after a couple of hours. When Flatheads are feeding they are on the move constantly, they will slide in and out of areas, they will take time to rest, but there main function is to chow down and it takes a lot of fresh or cutbait to fill one of these biggins up.
A couple of hours before the sun comes up it seems like they go on a
major killing spree, like Vampires of the water they must feed while it is dark then flee
to there deep water haunts before the morning sun removes the cool chill in the air.
Tim & Lynn Lange