A lesson in Patience, Perseverence, and the importance of Research.

"All I want is to finally land a catfish (flathead) that can bend my shark rod". -Shorebound Hero

     This is a story that I couldn't tell immediately.  When I got home from this trip it occurred to me that it wasn't as simple as it seemed.  On paper, all I had done was cast out an injured bluegill and reeled in a flathead catfish.  In reality, I had finally accomplished a goal 4 years in the making.
     A few years ago I decided that I was gonna learn to fish.  I was talking with my buddy at work and he said the biggest fish he had seen around here was a flathead catfish.  We checked online to see what we needed and where we had to go.  We didn't check what we needed to catch a flathead, just what we needed to catch a catfish.  Wandering around Gander Mountain we were overwhelmed to say the least.  We bought two cheap catfish combos and some of the worst smelling stink bait they had.  We went to a popular catfish spot and I landed my first catfish.  I was so excited, but it wasn't a flathead, it was a channel.
     You see, despite our success and "research" we hadn't identified how to catch a flathead, just how to catch a catfish.  Once back home I started to read about flathead catfish specifically.  Flathead differ from channel catfish in one very important way.  They are predatory hunters not scavengers.  Channel cats find their food by following scent trails in the water.  That is why stinky baits work so well.  They smell the bait in the water and go looking for it.  Flatheads hunt their prey.  Dead or smelly baits may work once in awhile, but to really up your odds you need something they can hunt.  Something injured, something struggling that will draw them in.
     The following year after a lot of YouTube videos and fishing articles I once again found myself out looking for a flathead.  I went to a local pond to catch some bluegills.  I knew I needed some gills as big as my hand.  I loaded them up in my aerated bucket and headed off to the lake to meet up with some friends.  Once I was setup I casted out my lines and waited.  After about 20 minutes or so I had a hit and I quickly set the hook and started bringing the fish to shore.
     After landing and releasing the catfish I noticed something strange.  The bait was a weird grayish color.  I had seen this before, but not while fishing.  I had seen this in my aquariums.  When a fish is brought home from the pet store you have to float the bag for 15-30 minutes.  This allows the water temperature in the bag to equalize with the aquarium water so the fish don't go into shock and die.  When they die they lose their color.  I had the right bait, unfortunately I killed them almost instantly.  We were fishing at Lake Columbia, a cooling lake for a coal plant.  It never freezes, it stays hot, about 72 degrees year round.  The bait was in a nice cool aerated bucket, they died with in minutes of hitting the water.  At that point the bluegills were essentially just natural stink bait.  As a by product all we caught was channel cats.
     So fast forward to the following season.  I was out with my son and his friends for a chance at a big fish.  We were once again heading to Lake Columbia and I suddenly had a genius idea.  Why not leave early and catch the bluegills there?  They were already adjusted to the water temps so they would survive longer.  Genius!!!  When we arrived the boys and I started catching some bluegills and as the sun set in the distance we casted out our lines.  I knew this would be the night when I finally caught my flathead.  My rod went off and again I set the hook with great anticipation.  Once I got it under the lights my heart sank.  What did I do wrong?  I had caught a nice sized fish, but it was a channel catfish.  I was missing something, but I had no idea what it was.  This brings us to my most recent trip, still looking for my first flathead catfish...
     I have recently started my coworker Richard down the dangerous road of recreational fishing.  He was an avid fisherman in his youth, but hadn't been out fishing in years.  He wanted to try catfishing again, I of course knew just where to go.  The only issue was that I had no interest in catching another channel cat.  I started up the research to refresh in my mind, what I would need to catch a flathead (again). I ended up watching a video of some guys catching flatheads from the shore of Lake Columbia.  In the comments I read something I had apparently missed in the past.  They said they were casting really close to shore, maybe 20-30 feet from the bank.  Their reasoning? little bluegills were hiding in the rocks so the flatheads came in shallow to find them.  I was casting to far from shore.  When I was casting, I was power casting I was heaving that bait as far from the shore as possible and the fish just weren't out that far.  Now I believed I had the missing piece, 4 years later.

     We rigged up the rods at my place.  I wasn't taking any chances because I had recently broken 2 rods on large fish.  In fact the lightest rod I planned on using was my double extra heavy musky rod.  I was pulling out all the stops, I had my surf rod and my 50-80 pound stand up shark rod.  Now all we needed to do was get to the lake, catch some bait, and wait.
     The bait was easily caught with some ultralights and wax worms under a bobber.  We laughed and told stories as we reeled in enough buegills and little channel cats to use as bait throughout the night.  Once the sun started to set we got the rods casted out.  We casted one out far, one out close, and the last out somewhere in between.  I was after a flathead, but Richard was after any catfish so we opted to vary our line spread.  Then we waited in the dark eating doritos and enjoying some hand rolled cigars.
     As normally happens when sitting in the dark waiting for your rods to go off, you have plenty of time to talk about your fishing adventures.  We were about an hour into the wait when I mentioned how long I had been trying to catch a flathead.  He had no idea that I had been at it for 4 years.  I told the stories of each failure, each trip that ended with me coming home, tail between my legs like a dog who had just been whipped by the neighborhoods stray cat.  How I had to go back each time knowing that I had not accomplished what I had set out to do.  As we sat in the darkness listening for the slightest click of the reels, I mentioned that, "all I want is to finally land a catfish that can bend my shark rod".  He kind of chuckled at the idea.  "That would be a big catfish!" he said.  I agreed and talked poetically about how on River Monsters I always knew when Jeremy Wade had a big fish on because the rod would just STOP on the hookset.  That would be awesome I thought to myself, to have the fish just stop me in my tracks.
     Then it happened, click, Click, CLick, CLIck, CLICK, CLICK, CLICK, CLICK!!!  Something had the bait on the shark rod and it was running.  I scrambled out of my chair and reached for the rod.  The line was just pouring out of the reel.  I brought the rod close to my body and flipped the lever to engage the spool.  Cranking in the slack line I thought, could this be it?  I heaved back on the rod and it just stopped in it's tracks.  I was tight on something that was very unhappy to be hooked.  It immediately bolted down the shoreline and I strained to keep tension on my line.  Wouldn't you know it, the rod was doubled over!  As I worked it through the rocks I yelled to Richard "grab the lip grips!!!"  Turns out I had forgotten to show him how they worked and in the excitement he almost flipped over my chair and he knocked the surf rod from its holder.  Once he had the grips he came stumbling up behind me in the dark.  The fish was thrashing around in the shallows, throwing water at us with each twist of its tail.  Finally I was able to reach out into the chaos and grab that fish.  I strained to see the figure in the dark, now angrily rolling around on the beach.  It was a flathead, a respectable flathead.  I quickly unhooked it and handed the camera to Richard.  I lifted it up and the 30 pound scale was bottomed out.  Then with a quick thrash of its body the grip came apart.  I tackled the fish in the sand and scrammbled to get the grip back together.  After a short battle I was finally able to raise my prize in the air.  
Please don't hold a fish like this, I got a little to excited.
     I had landed a flathead catfish.  I was ecstatic, high fiving and shouting into the night.  Richard fired off a few more photos and I returned the fish back to the lake.  It took me 4 years to catch one, it took a lot of research and problem solving to finally get everything right.  The lessons I learned while pursuing this catfish species were many.  From where to fish, to how to keep the bait alive, or why they'll be in a certain place at a certain time.  I'm sure the methodology will help me in the future, as I chase other fish in new waters.  I always tell people that I want to represent possibilites with my fishing.  That you don't need fancy boats or expensive electronics to catch a fish worth bragging about.  All you need is some patience, some perseverence, and a little research.
     Tight Lines.

        

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