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Sunday, February 7, 2016

Flathead catfish,a year in the life...

I guess the spawn would be a good place to start. When and if flatheads are spawning is always a big topic of discussion every late spring or early summer. 70°F water temperature is usually the point where the spawn is consistently underway while 78°F pretty much signals the end. 
Flatheads or shovelhead nest in holes in the river. This can be under logs in holes in rock, concrete rubble, old pipe on the riverbottom, beaver dens, literally anything the fish can get back into and protect the eggs from predation. If nothing suitable is available both the male and the female will work together to create a hole in the riverbank. Dense brush that makes it hard for other fish to get to the eggs is sometimes also used. 
Once spawning has occurred the male will chase off the female and guard the eggs. The ferocity with which he does this this is one reason it is extremely hard to raise shovelheads in captivity. The male will kill the female if she is not removed from the nest site as soon as the eggs are laid. 
Young of the year flatties live in riffle areas with cobble or rubble covered bottoms until they are between 2 and 4 inches long. Once they reach that length they begin to disperse all thru the river in a wide variety of habitats, pools,riffles, etc. without any preference I could find for any particular one. Once they get about a foot long to about 16 inches in length they locate in and around cover in intermediate depths in the stream. Fish bigger than that (the ones we as fishermen want) then become very specific about where their location, which we will deal with in just a bit. 
Baby flatheads start out eating  microcrustaceans and insect larvae and as they grow eat larger and larger prey. They begin to eat crayfish and small fish and steadily take larger and larger prey until as large adults take things like suckers, carp, smallmouth bass and even scuba divers below dams. Okay I may have made up the scuba diver part but most avid river anglers  have caught smallmouth bass with scaled looking rings around their bodies where they have narrowly escaped being dinner for a big shovel. I've seen them on bass as large as 12 or 14 inches long. I'd love to tangle with the cats that created those wounds. Unlike other catfish species, shovelheads have a distinct preference for live bait over any other kind. They are top predators and do very little scavenging. 
After the spawn flatties settle into two main kinds of places to spend the summer. One, the most obvious one, is in the scour hole below a dam if the river has lowheads. This has everything a big flathead would want. There is deep water, shallow water to hunt in, almost always debris and cover to hole up in, current and lack of current, and lots and lots of littler fish to eat. Everything a big flathead could ever want in one spot. Kind of like having a Cabela's store on your street if your a fishing nut like me. 
The other prime spot to find a big flathead, especially in a free flowing stream like the LMR is an inside bend that has a steep eroded clifflike bank. Every one of these holes that has woody debris in it will have a couple resident flatheads. (if they aren't caught out that is)
What happens is the water coming around the outside of a bend is traveling faster than the water on the inside of the bend. Just like inside of a wheel is traveling slower than the rim of the wheel. The water piles up against the outside of the bend as it is pushed by the water behind. A little known fact is that the rivers surface is not level it is tilted slightly with the surface being a bit higher on the outside of the bends. This piled up water then turns down under and curves back under itself as is goes around the bend. This is always in a helical spiral with the water on the rivers bottom traveling towards the inside of the bend. This helical current combined with the lower velocity of the slower water on the inside of the bend builds up a bar on the inside of the bend and digs out a hole on the outside of the bend. In sharper bends the bank on the outside of the bend will be cut into and undermined and the river bank will become a vertical cliff. This is called a helicoidal flow if you wish to google it though I'll probably make a post about it in the future. Throw in a bit of cover and or a hole cut into the bank and you have the most preferred spot in rivers without dams like the LMR. (or in really long sections of rivers that have few dams like the WWR)

A day in the life of a flattie in the LMR consists of spending most of it tucked up under logjams in these bend holes. Like up to 20 hours a day some days! But then comes the exciting part. During a precious few hours that big cat will come out and begin to cruise looking for a big sucker, a drum or (gasp) a tasty smallmouth to chow down on. Make no mistake, a shovelhead eats sushi almost exclusively. I know we have all heard the stories about the monster shovel caught on chicken liver, well that's the exception not the rule. Chicken liver is channel cat and hybrid striper bait not shovelhead bait most of the time. 

In a Mississippi River study, all but one tagged flathead were found less than a mile from their capture site. In the Apalachicola River, 96 percent of recaptured flatheads were found in the same river stretch where they were originally tagged. And a tracking study in Mississippi found that flathead home ranges averaged less than half a river mile.

Which brings us to the two ways to go about catching a flattie, the sensible way and the way I go about it. Both work great if you know what your doing just a little. The sensible way is with stout tackle and live bait. You fish deep inside bends with cover and deep in the scour hole during the day. And shallow on the rock bar across from the bend and shallow on the edge of the scour hole at night. Now I'm never going to land a big cat on light tackle and lures fishing that woody debris during the day so I concentrate on two other areas. I fish below a dam in the shallows and on the shallow rock bar across from that deep bend on rivers with no dam. And I fish at low light or at night when that big cat is most likely to be out of cover and hunting. In one study I saw, flatheads were consistently most active right around dawn. All things being equal I try if I can to fish for them from about two hours before dawn to about an hour afterward. That's when I have the most luck. But they can be active at any time during low light.

I think the biggest mistake I see most guys doing is fishing too deep at night. They have that big surf rod that will cast clear across the GMR. So what do they do? They get below the dam out on the platform and throw their bait right out in the middle. Okay that's the best spot during the day but at night they are throwing way past all the fish. That is why those old timers that used to set jingle lines off of overhanging tree branches caught so many big fish at night too. They were presenting baits shallow at night to ctive feeding cats. 

Most studies show that during the summer shovelheads are pretty much homebodies, they stick to one section of river and have three or four holes they regularly hide out in when not hunting. If they move during mid day it's often in a straight line down the channel to their next hideout. The exception to this is during periods of high water. For flatheads this seems to be their version of spring break or more likely summer vacation. During periods of high water flatheads will come out of their holes and travel upstream. Sometimes a long way, sometimes for miles. Then as the water recedes they will slowly drift back downstream till they end up back in their home range. One of several reasons I guess that fishing is almost always best as water is rising in a river. Also a good reason to hit a lowhead dam right after high water since that lowhead would act as a roadblock to any vacationing flatheads traveling upstream.

Almost every single study had flatheads liking woody debris in a bend hole much better than rock during the summer tho both are sometimes used. When the water starts to cool in the fall that reverses and shovels like rocky debris better during cooler months of the year.

I catch the majority of my catfish on two types of lures. Soft plastics like swimbaits or grubs fished on a jighead and on lipless crankbaits. I catch a few on other types of lures like minnow plugs but those two lure types catch the most for me. But I think the key is where and when rather than what. I do think maybe the most practical setup might be musky tackle and lures but that wouldn't be nearly as much fun. If you fish shallow rock bars at night you have a pretty good chance of landing even a nice sized cat on "bass" tackle. The key is not trying to horse the fish. Treble hooks just don't have the big gap like a big live bait hook does and if you try to horse the fish a big cat will pull off every time.

As the rivers cool in the fall flatheads begin to move to deeper holes in each river section where they will spend the winter. In rivers down south where water temperatures remain above 50˚F throughout winter, flatheads may remain in the same areas they occupied during summer. As long as these holes are filled in by changes in the river flatheads often return to same spots yer after year. 
Studies on the Minnesota River conducted by biologists with the Department of Natural Resources found that channel cats and flatheads favor different wintering holes, though some overlap will occur. While channel cats tend to congregate in the deepest available water, flatheads favor holes with heavy wood cover or rock structure that blocks current, usually in water 12 to 18 feet deep. Channels and shovelheads will winter in the same area if the deepest holes the channels like have the cover the shovels prefer.
Although shovelheads will occasionally feed in winter if food happens to present itself for the most part thy are very inactive. 
A study in Minnesota found that flatties captured in winter had mud on their upper sides. In another radio tracking transmitter signals were weaker than usual for fish that settled to silted bottom zones in winter. The scientists thought that maybe that some flatheads might be burrowing or kind of settling and working themselves into the bottom mud in winter. In some cases the sediment can be five degrees or more warmer than the water above.
Which brings me to a little known feeding strategy that flatties employ that I have twice witnessed myself though I didn't recognise it the time. In a couple studies flatheads were observed lying motionless with their mouth open creating an inviting hole for an unsuspecting little fish to swim into. I imagine that is how most feeding behavior occurs in winter. The times I've seen this have been in the heat of summer though and were right below a lowhead dam. In both cases a big shovel was lying in very shallow water right where a chute of water came off the dam and over shallow water. In one case the cat was lying with almost its back sticking out of the water just lying motionless with it's mouth open. As I crept around trying to present a bait to them both fish spied me and raised holey h### getting out of there and back to the safety of deeper water. 
In early and late spring, anglers will find flatheads in a state of transition. Not every flathead emerges from the wintering holes on the same day or even the same week. Likewise, not every shovel will swim to a nesting hole for spawning at the same time. In these transitory weeks, portions of the population will still be in one mode, while others are moving towards something new new. But during prespawn, feeding and fattening up after the winter and before the rigours of the spawn is the primary motive so it is prime shovelhead time even during midday. 

Saturday, February 6, 2016

My manifesto....

The Natural World. That's a phrase I've always looked at slightly askance. Everything outdoors labeled and tucked away as something seperate, a place you go into. Somewhere else. When I was a child I would be gone, exploring my grandfathers farm and woods all day, sailing toy boats on the pond, building stick forts. Nowadays for much of America, fear keeps our children in sight at all times. We take them TO THE PARK, instead of just saying be back by suppertime. But for millions of Americans the reality is that they might spend days at a time where their feet never leave pavement and then only cutting across the grass instead of taking the sidewalk. The Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health ( pretty interesting site BTW ) published a 2009 study which found that the closer you live to nature and "the Natural World" the better your chances of being healthy. The study looked at 345,143 Dutch people's medical records. (No idea why 345,143 but hey that's a huge sample group) The records were then compared with how much green space was located within 1 kilometer and 3 kilometers of a person's postal code. The results concluded that if you lived within within 1 kilometer of a park or other wooded area you suffered less anxiety and depression than those who lived farther away. Just being within three kilometers didn't seem to help much BTW. And according to the journal Environmental Science and Technology, five minutes, YEP FIVE MINUTES, spent outdoors doing anything from walking to fishing will improve your mental health. Their website is, go there and click on the online news sometime to see the stuff you cannot find anywhere else. Take the mad genius Edward Abbey's advice...
" Run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, that lovely, mysterious and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to your body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much: I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those deskbound people with their hearts in a safe deposit box and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this: you will outlive the bastards."
Turn off the d%#n TV. The next time your sitting at lunch and the topic of conversation is a TV show and you are a main participant in that conversation take that a warning sign. A serious sign as much as high blood pressure or a heart arrhythmia that something is terribly wrong. Just think if you took that same amount of time and learned just one thing about the real world around you. In a year would you understand the world around you more, could you tell a sassafras tree from an oak or will you have just seen every episode of NCIS? Which is most likely? I love creeks. I've spent an inordinate time around them, fishing the larger ones, scouting the surrounding hillsides for ginseng, or goldenseal, or mushrooms, checking out rockbars for fossils, the list goes on and on. And what have I learned from creeks? One shocking fact is that nobody goes anywhere around them anymore. And I mean nobody. I'll lace up the boots, throw a peanut butter sandwich and a couple bottles of water in my daypack and spend all day exploring one and never see another person. Right there just over your fence, down at the end of the field, just over the hill, lays another country, your local creek. Your more likely to go to some tropical island than here, and your not alone, I never ever see anyone. But I do see things. Small everyday miracles, crawfish crawling across the bottom, a doe slipping down for a drink, the twisted artistry of sycamore roots. And yes Ive been bitten by bugs, I've gotten sweaty, Ive been caught out in storms and soaked to the skin and froze. You know why? Because I was alive and doing something. You dont have any of that happen to you while your watching TV because YOUR NOT DOING ANYTHING! My theory is your not really alive watching Dancing with the Kardashians. Instead you have just set aside time you dont want to live bringing you that much closer to death. "Well she lived to be 80." No, there was an eighty year period between her death and birth, she lived hardly any at all... Mel Brooks oddly enough has one of the best quotes I've ever heard on the subject: "Look, I don't want to wax philosophic, but I will say that if you're alive you've got to flap your arms and legs, you've got to jump around a lot, for life is the very opposite of death, and therefore you must at very least think noisy and colorfully, or you're not alive."

In other words go fishing dammit.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

wacky weird and obscure fishing facts

baby saugeye seem to be brighter than baby walleye. 5 to 7 day old saugeye responded to a predation threat by rapidly swimming while walleye the same age just sat there waiting to get eaten.

The world record 88lb  buffalo was 46 inches long, with a 40-inch girth.

There are approximately 32,000 different kinds of fish in the world today, which is more than all the other kinds of vertebrates combined.

A shovelhead taken from the Arkansas River on a snagline back in 1982 that tipped certified scales at 139 pounds, 14 ounces. Because it was a snagline it was not eligible for the world record. 

There at least 150 known darter species

The worlds biggest crayfish is found in Tasmania and can weigh more than 11 pounds and reach lengths of 31 inches and live to be 40+ years old

Every year about 2.5 BILLION Canadian earthworms end up as bait.

Fishing is one of the most popular outdoor recreational activities in the United States. While participation has decreased slightly in recent years, more than 55 million Americans still took at least one fishing trip in 2013. 

In 2006, anglers in the United States spent 1,576 U.S. dollars on average.

bass have a burst of swimming speed of about 12 miles per hour. 

In 2013, there were approximately 27.95 million paid fishing license holders in the U.S., down from 29.32 million the previous year.

The total weight of catfish consumed in Texas annually is more than the weight of 6.5 Eiffel Towers.

5% of the first year's spawn of largemouth bass will make it to yearling size, 10 or 12 inches roughly. About another 5% of those 10 to 12 inch yearlings will make it to adulthood.

Thomas Krist from the Czech Republic is the new World carp record holder with a 105 lb 13 oz. fish

Friday, January 29, 2016

Indiana Fishing Expo

This weekend I'll be at the Indiana Fishing Expo at the Johnson County Fairgrounds, Franklin Indiana.250 Fairgrounds St. Franklin, In.46131
selling my new hour and a half long river fishing DVD set. It's not really a fishing video as much as it is an instructional fishing DVD or kind of a fishing book on DVD. Sure there is at least a half an hours worth of fish porn like most videos but the majority of the video is just serious talk about river fishing

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The stinko rig???

Something I started using a bit last fall and plan on using a ton more this year is a twist on the neko rig. The neko rig was developed in Japan. Neko is the word for cat in Japanese. In the eyes of Japanese anglers, the neko rig travels along the bottom the way a cat often uses its paw to scratch the ground or a litter box. (don't ask me I'm just a simple hillbilly fisherman) A neko rig normally a wacky rigged worm with a weight placed in the head of the worm. The worm falls straight, standing upright off the bottom wriggling around for the fish to see. You can just leave it there shaking it in place. Also when you pull on the line the worm folds in half like a normal wacky rigged worm when lifted then when it falls straightens out and plummets straight down to again stand on its head. It's a finesse presentation that can be fished either way faster or way slower than most finesse presentations. My twist on it is the addition of several small washers. (the stinko rig???)
If you do not tighten the screw too tight against the worm but instead leave a bit of play the washers clack against each other and the screw as the lure is worked along the bottom. And if you use several small washers you can fine tune the weight of the lure for whatever depth or current you are fishing. I've found I like to use this with a four inch ringworm Vic makes for smallmouth. I really like it in the upper LMR from say above Corwin all the way to the headwaters and in the bigger tribs to both the LMR and the GMR as well as below the smaller lowheads way up the GMR. What I'm looking for are gravel bars, ledge pools or rock bars made up of smaller rocks. Places where I can throw it out and let it set for a bit standing upright kind of working in place. One big advantage of this rig is that it costs very very little and you can afford to lose a few without going broke. Two or three top line crankbaits probably cost more than a years supply of the small hooks and worms you will use in this rig and if your like me you probably already have the screws and washers out in the garage. If you haven't seen a neko rig in action watch a couple you tube videos of one in the water and I bet you'll want to throw one.

A few reviews...

Okay Ill start with a few things
The first is Triangle Taper Fly Line by Royal Wulff Products. Amazing stuff. Depending on line size the first thirty to forty feet or so of the line is like the front half of a double taper fly line which then tapers very fast down to a long skinny running type line the rest of the way. So you pick up that head and cast and its kinda like a shooting head distance is incredable. But the whole front end is tapered so everything lands delicately. Distance and delicacy, it's amazing. And you can roll cast the stuff farther than some people can overhead cast. It's the only line Ive ever used that I can shoot line on a roll cast. I've used the stuff for twenty years now and will probably never buy another brand of fly line. Ever. It's perfect. Only one of maybe four or five fishing related things I can say that about after a lifetime of fishing. Five stars

Carrot Stix Rods, So in the interest of full disclosure let me start off by saying they gave me four of these things. No strings attached tho, if you like em tell people about it, other than that no strings. Well I've taken one fishing about five times now and I've learned enough about it to say a few things about one. I've been using a 6'7" TI spinning which is their top end rod. The first thing you notice is the guides. Wierd huh? They were designed by the legendary Doug Hannon and are called the Micro Wave guide system. Their web site says they give you increased accuracy and distance and quite a few people on different forums said it was noticable with braid. Well I've been fishing mono and honestly couldn't tell a difference in distance. BUT that doesn't mean I don't thing they are awesome but for another reason altogethor. You see the first stripper guide is two guides in one, a larger guide then a smaller forcing guide right in front of it on the same frame. Then the rest of the guides all the way out the rod are the same size, which is tiny. Which means they add zilch to the rods weight compared to conventional guides. Which to me makes the rod amazingly sensitive. It's easily the best jig, grub, swimbait type rod I've ever used. The blank is very lightweight and has a fast action and combined with the tiny guides you can feel the lure better than any rod I've ever used. I have to admit I do not like the the little hook keeper loop. Instead of a loop like most rods it's a very snazzy double bent wire hook. Looks great but when I snag the bottom with a jig and pull the rod back and let the line go suddenly to free it the line sometimes gets behind this keeper. But that's pretty much my only quibble with the rod. It's very different looking with the micro wave guides but it's extremely functional. It fishes extremely well, is comfortable and super super sensitive. If your in the market for a high end top of the line performance rod for things like jig or worm fishing I doubt you will find a better rod anywhere. 4.5 stars

Bass Pro Shops Extreme and pro qualifier Spinning Reels
I tried so hard to like these things. I've owned like three or four. Loved the big round spools loved the way line came off them. Loved the way they took line in. Everything about em. But, BUT they just wouldn't hold up to as much use as I put them thru. By the end of each ones first year they were coffee grinders. A complete tear down and lube job seemed to help for just a week or two. I tried, it just didn't work out. 1.5 stars

Sunday, January 3, 2016

What is that thing???

Looks like somebody spotted the camera....