Lake Norman & Mooresville

Flathead cat's a loner, a fighter

The monster-looking flathead catfish is a reckless fighter.

Its white meat is considered to be the tastiest of all catfish. This denizen of the Southern river systems is a loner. It grows quickly, often exceeding 50 pounds.

Incidentally, the largest flathead ever caught was from the Elk City Reservoir in Kansas. It weighed 123 pounds.

While river flatheads are solitary and ambush their prey from heavy cover, their Lake Norman cousins bunch up during the summer to stalk slow-moving schools of white perch, herring and sunfish. The adult flatheads, unlike other catfish (scavengers), prefer a diet of live fish. The aggressive nature of the fish makes it an easy target for anglers who use striped bass fishing techniques.

The introduction of white perch and the resurgence in the Lake Norman crawfish population have been credited for the sudden increase in the number of flatheads being caught.

Since savvy anglers know that white perch play a major role in the flathead's diet, they actively search out large schools of them by drift fishing and using a fish finder.

Once perch are located, a combination of live and fresh cut baits are positioned below the school. Equally effective baits include sunfish (bream), gizzard shad, herring, goldfish and even small catfish. Since a flathead has an extremely wide mouth, baits up to 12 inches long will work fine. Remember, a big catfish has a thick jawbone, so use a heavy-duty, wide gap (3/0 to 10/0) hook.

The beady eyes of a catfish are on both sides at the top of its flat head, which makes it easy to see its unsuspecting prey above.

Its slender, light-brown body is mottled with patches of black, white, olive and pale yellow. The wide tail and sleek torso allow it to strike vigorously and then crush the prey with its powerful jaws.

Flathead fishing is not limited to a rod and reel.

Other methods include jug fishing, trotlines, brush hooks and even grabbing them with one's bare hands. The “noodling” or “grabbing” technique is not for the timid or faint of heart. An angler actually searches by hand for really big cats that hide in submerged hollow logs, undercut banks and culverts.

When a fish is found, it is grabbed by the gills or the mouth and wrestled to the surface. I will catch catfish with a rod and reel.

In addition to flatheads, Lake Norman has channel and blue catfish. Channel cats, usually small, hit a variety of baits including chicken livers and prepared or cut baits. Blue cats also strike a wide assortment of baits, but prefer fresh-cut bait or clams/mussels.

Tips from Gus

Catfish are most active when water temperatures are in the 80s. Due to their keen sense of smell, night fishing often produces bigger stringers and larger fish. Fishing from a dock or a boat on a summer night is a lot of fun. Try it now while the water temperature is perfect.

Upcoming events

I'll conduct a free seminar, “Everything You Want to Know About Tying Fishing Knots,” 6:30 p.m. Aug. 19 at Gander Mountain, Exit 36, Mooresville. Details: 704-658-0822.

Hot spots of the week

Stripers are hitting along the edges of river and major creek channels from Marker 13, south to the dam. Bass are holding early and late in the deep shade of covered boat houses and docks. White perch are in deep coves and drop-offs on both ends of the lake. Best results are with spoons and Sabiki rigs fished vertically from 20 to 40 feet deep.

The lake water level is 2.6 feet below full pond. Water surface temperature is in the high 80s and low 90s.

Gus Gustafson is licensed by the U.S. Coast Guard, is a member of the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association and a Professional Fishing Guide on Lake Norman. Visit his Web site at, e-mail or call 704-617-6812.