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First Flatty's & Early Season Cat's
by Dennis Steele

This was the first flathead trip of the season for me. I had been avoiding the flooded river and chasing channels on other river systems, then when the river was manageable a few of the staff made a run up for pre-spawn cats in Lockport MB.

So I had not gotten a chance to get a "feel" for what was going on with my favorite river.

Rick FlatheadWith the water levels manageable, but still higher than I like, I figured I had better get down there and take a good look at the river to check conditions out for myself and work out a plan for a few upcoming guide trips.

Having heard reports from other stretches of the river, (Got to love for good info!) I chose to fish a stretch that I hadn't heard any reports from to help get a better idea what was going on with the cats.

As always, we ran up river scanning holes for life and paying attention to how the current was paying and playing into each area. Basically taking notes on likely spots and coming up with a game plan for the "magic hours" of just before and after dusk.

When the river levels are dropping like they are, I usually like to fish tail outs or pushes, areas where the bottom rises sharply at the downstream edge of a hole. In high water, creek mouths can be extremely good as well, so we made sure to scan these areas for baitfish and signs of life.

The tailout areas were devoid of life, so we chose not to spend time fishing them. Water levels must still be a little to high for these areas to be productive. We switched to plan B.

Outside bends can be very productive in normal water levels , but with the water levels up and the river moving fast, I choose to check the inside points that had deep holes behind them.

It was still a little early in the evening when we placed our first baits right along the chute or wash coming around a tree on a point. Getting close to wood cover before dark can sometimes entice a cat to come out to play a little early in the evening.

After about 15 minutes and no luck, we decided to move on. The sun was starting to set and I wanted to target two areas for the prime bite. Spot number one, was a sharp point with moderate current washing along it creating a chute and feeding into a large eddy. To the side of this eddy was a very deep hole on an outside bend.

The second spot and the one I thought to be the better of the two was a creek mouth just down stream of a large outside bend. The creek flow and the main river created a current edge just over the break and when we scouted the area earlier there was a lot of life.

We set up on spot number one just upstream of the chute and Rick placed his bait tight to a large fallen dogwood and I placed mine right in the chute where the it tailed into the eddy.

Rick had the most action with several short runs, but these fish never got the hook. At a close inspection of his bait, there were the tail tell signs that the fish had had the bait in thier mouth right up to but not quite to the hook. We assumed by the scrapes on the bait that these were most likely channel cats and not the big flatheads we were after.

As the sun was starting to set, I finally got a sharp tap on my rod tip followed by a short run. Lifting my rod from the holder, I could feel a vibration that I assumed was a cat mouthing my bait. I quickly set the hook with an upward swing and the hook found the roof of a cat mouth. At first I thought I had a decent fish on, then I thought I had lost the fish as it rose to the surface of the water, not giving much fight at all. It turned out to be a 6lb flathead that had wrapped its tail around my line and was coming in backwards. Still, my first flathead of the season!!

We had only planned on fishing this spot until just before sunset, saving spot nuber two, what I thought to be the best spot for the best time of a half hour before sunset to an hour after sunset. With the action we had been having we decided to give this spot just a little more time.

As the sun set Rick was still playing with channels that would take short runs, but I noticed a sharp tap and a slight bow in my rod. There was no run, but from experience, I knew exactly what was going on. The fish had taken my bait and was still working his way upstream. I quickly and gently removed the rod from the holder and gradually tightened the line until I felt a little weight and knew that I had a tight line on the fish. I set the hook with force but I did not feel the hook connect with the fish as my line just pulled freely out of the spool. DANG! My drag was set entirely too light for a fish of this size. I quickly tightened the drag and set again once I knew that my line was tight. I had the hook in the fish but the drag was still set too light to control the fish.

As the fish worked his way upstream and I fumbled with the drag still trying to control the fish as I knew that there was a snag laying just under where we had anchored. I typically would not set up over wood but in order to place our baits in the location they needed to be, it was the only way to set the boat.

I had to keep this fish off the bottom but did not succeed. The fish ran straight into the tree we were anchored over and tangled himself in its branches. We let the anchor line out attempting to pull the fish out backwards but had no luck. Pulling hard on the line in hopes of freeing the cat from the tree, the line finally gave at the hook and I pulled up nothing more than the sinker.

Two lessons learned for the umpteenth time again, donít anchor over a snag, and make sure your drag is set properly!!

After that ordeal, and the sun finally set, we decided to head to what I thought to be the prime spot of the night. After all we were already into the prime time. We ran down river to the creek mouth and set up on upstream point so that we could place our baits along the current edge created by the creek and river currents meeting. The surface was alive with lots of fish feeding on the surface. I tossed a bait on both the edge of the current and the break as it slipped into the deepwater. Rick tossed a bait along into a slight swirl or minor eddy along the current edge.

It wasnít long before Ricks rod tip thumped as a fish picked up his bait. Rick was quick on the hook set, connecting with what he had thought to be a smaller fish. We were in only a few feet of water and the fish ran toward the boat as many sometimes do.

As the fish came to the boat, Rick couldnít pull the fish from the bottom. Then we both knew that this fish was a good fish. After all when you're only in 30 inches of water and you canít pull a fish off the bottom, it can only be a good fish! As Rick pulled with all he had, he finally lifted the fish off the bottom and we saw the swirl from its tail, then its head breach the surface.

The fish wasnít done with Rick just yet, another short run, while Rick turned the fish and I quickly put the fish in the bag of net.

Flatheads usually are quite docile once landed, but this fish wasnít quite played out. After the hook was removed, Mr. Mudcat kept on fighting Rick as we tried to snap a picture. After we snapped two quick pics, the fish was returned back to the river to play with us or another angler another day.

We fished a little while longer sharing that experience with each other and talking of other trophy fish we had caught. It was now well past the prime bite and we decided that we had a good night not only for being successful landing a nice cat, but just enjoying a night on the river.

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Dennis Steele

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