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Fall Fat Flatties

Over the past few years I have blogged several times about some of the research being done on Branched Oak flathead catfish; for example, Some Field Work, 71.6 On Your Radio Dial–All Flatheads All the Time!, Branched Oak Flatheads.  A large part of that research has been the tagging of flathead catfish in Branched Oak Reservoir; over 1500 flathead catfish in Branched Oak are swimming around with tags on them.

About this time last year I was lamenting that even with all of those tagged flathead catfish in Branched Oak, it seemed like I could not catch one, Finally Got One!  My son and I have dried off a few flatheads out there this fall, not a lot, but a few, and it has seemed like every flattie we caught had a tag in it!

Here was the first one,


That fish was 39 inches long and I am guessing weighed over 30 pounds.

Here was its tag:


And here were the vitals on that tagged fish:


On another trip my son and I each caught flatheads, smaller fish, but they were both tagged.



Fish #20,170 was about 25 inches long, and fish #20,148 was about 18 inches.

And here were the two tag return letters for those fish:



Take a close look at that last letter for the smallest of those flatheads.  The age of that fish was known; at the time my son caught it it was 7 years old and just over 18 inches long.  It had grown only 4-some inches in the 4 years since it was initially tagged.  Catfish including especially flathead catfish are definitely warm-water fish,  and therefore their growth rates are not fast in a northern state like Nebraska.  Jordan Katt, the fisheries biologist in charge of the Branched Oak flathead tagging, has noted a lot of variability in the growth rates of those fish with some growing much faster than others.  In addition, it is not unusual for our catfish to grow relatively slow until they become large enough to begin eating larger, fish prey.

It takes some time for those flathead catfish to reach the large sizes we see at Branched Oak Reservoir.  Trophy-size flathead catfish are not produced overnight and even in Branched Oak where there is a high density of flathead catfish, there are only so many big fish.  If numbers of those big fish are harvested, it can take dozens of years to replace them.  The regulation at Branched Oak Reservoir that requires the release of all flathead catfish was implemented to protect the maximum number of those predator fish so that they could eat the over-abundant white perch.  However, a very nice “fringe benefit” of that regulation is a reservoir flathead catfish fishery that is as good as any, anywhere!

Without a doubt more flathead catfish are caught on live fish than any other bait.  Flatties are predators, the biggest, baddest predators in the waters they swim; they do NOT swim around sucking dead stinky stuff off the bottom.  However, I have not messed with catching bait for flatheads in years.  In fact, in recent years I have used less and less live bait for all of my fishing.  I am sure my fishing partners and I could catch more flatheads by capturing live fish and using them for bait, but we have discovered that artificial baits can also be very effective and we can cover more water and contact more fish, flatheads AND other predator fish.  Flatheads are very sensitive to vibrations in their environment (i.e. Can You Feel Me Know? ), so we always use baits that the flatties can feel, and we try to keep those baits bumping bottom.  Oh, and one other thing, “go big or go home”( Optimal Foraging Theory ).


About daryl bauer

Daryl is a lifelong resident of Nebraska (except for a couple of years spent going to graduate school in South Dakota). He has been employed as a fisheries biologist for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission for 25 years, and his current tour of duty is as the fisheries outreach program manager. Daryl loves to share his educational knowledge and is an avid multi-species angler. He holds more than 120 Nebraska Master Angler Awards for 14 different species and holds more than 30 In-Fisherman Master Angler Awards for eight different species. He loves to talk fishing and answer questions about fishing in Nebraska, be sure to check out his blog at outdoornebraska.org.

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