Lake Norman & Mooresville

Fishing with Gus: Flathead catfish makes for career-best catch

Ninety-one year old Lewis Edmonson holds a trophy flathead catfish.
Ninety-one year old Lewis Edmonson holds a trophy flathead catfish. GUS GUSTAFSON

Flathead catfish are predators, unlike their cousins, the blue and channel cats, who are deemed to be scavengers.

The flathead’s wide mouth, slender body and broad tail give it the speed and agility to snare and swallow a variety of pan fish. These alpha catfish stalk white perch and sometimes become susceptible to becoming fodder themselves.

That is why anglers who target white perch drop a live one or two to the bottom in hopes of snaring a big flathead.

A big fish was hooked a few weeks ago when Lewis Edmonson of Tulsa, Okla., and lifelong friend and Charlotte resident Gordon Reishce were white-perch fishing on Lake Norman. The trip was winding down when what was thought to be a flathead hit Lew’s Sabiki rig. The rod bent double, but after a brief encounter, the powerful fish broke off.

A few minutes later, Lew was reeling in another white perch, when his rod doubled down again. This time, he held on and let the fish swim toward the bottom. Being an accomplished angler, he wasn’t going to lose two big ones in a row.

Each time it tugged, he let it take line and run, while being careful not to exert too much pressure. The longer he played it, the more obvious it became that his tackle was no match.

Ten minutes passed, and the fish was still tugging and pulling. At times, the rod tip was under water, and Lew huffed and puffed with each turn of the reel handle. Finally, the big, brown fish surfaced, but it wasn’t netted until it made one final run. Gordon and I applauded the 91-year-old when his trophy was finally in the boat.

It was then that he realized with a big smile, that he had just caught the biggest fish of his long fishing career. The flathead, estimated to weigh 35 pounds, was his personal best, beating a 20-pound Texas red drum and several 5-pound largemouth bass.

After a short rest, his line was back in the water, and he was perch fishing again.

Tips from Capt. Gus

Pan fish are edible fish that usually do not outgrow the size of a frying pan. Bluegill, crappie and white perch fit this criteria.

Hot spot of the week

What a difference a few weeks make. The lake level is back to normal after the big rain, and the fall fishing season is in full swing.

Crappie fishing is improving with lots of 8- to 10-inch fish being caught on jigs and live minnows in 20 feet of water. Better yet is the white perch fishing. On most outings, anglers’ deep jigging spoons and Sabiki rigs are catching a hundred or more perch per trip.

Best news is that the hybrid striped bass survived the summer fish kill at the dam and are hitting surface plugs at dawn and dusk. Fish windy points and deep coves around the Lake Norman State Park and in similar areas in both Mountain and Reed Creeks.

Bass are back in shallow water and are hitting top-water jerk baits and a variety of soft plastic lures.

Safety warning

Higher lake levels, while welcome, are not without risks and hazards to boaters. The same shoals that were exposed and easy to identify as hazards to navigation during the summer drought are now under water again – in some cases only by a few inches.

This situation makes fishing better but navigating the shoals quite tricky and dangerous. Fast-rising water also washes debris from the banks. Flotsam can be quite large but difficult to see in low-light conditions. Exercise extreme caution if debris is seen floating in high traffic areas.

Lake conditions

Lake Norman’s water level is about 2 feet below full pond. The surface water temperature is in the high 60s and low 70s in waters not affected by power generation.

Gus Gustafson is a freelance writer and a professional fishing guide: