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The Fighting Flatheads

Robby Robinson


My partner Don Wise and I set up for another night of catfishing. We arranged equipment and prepared to get comfortable. 20-pound cats are scarce in Ohio and our plan to catch 30-pound flatheads often meant a long wait.

We had had some success so far catching 30- and 40-pound cats. Sometimes we got as many as two fish a night. Often we sat waiting with no bites during the night. Our big rods were set out with 7-inch goldfish for bait. The level winds were out of gear and the clickers on. Don's baitrunner was set to the baitrunner mode. Two big nets were standing propped to a tree, ready if we should need them.

When everything was set and all the drags had been checked, Don announced it was 'beer-thirty'. We popped tops on the icy cold beverages and listened for the reels while discussing other fishing sites and other baits and techniques.

Our discussion stopped with the buzz of a clicker. We located the rod in the dark and Don slipped the clicker off. He put his thumb on the spool gently. I have been through this procedure many times before so I was careful not to stand behind my friend. Feeling the line spooling steadily off the reel, Don put the big Penn into gear, let the line tighten, then whipped the rod back. The hook sunk into the catfish and the rod bowed. As Don fought the fish in I got the net ready. Don led it into the net and I lifted it by the hoop. We have bent the handles on many nets trying to lift big cats by the handles and I didn't want this one to become a casualty.

We took the big flathead up the bank and removed the hook. Don produced a rope and we tied the fish to his boat, the "Shovelhead Special". We celebrated with another icy cold beverage. Don commented that it was early and we had a good chance to get another fish before the night was over.

We sat and talked for a while. We munched some snacks. Fishing all night means sleeping some through the day so we ate when it was convenient. After a couple of hours we heard the buzz of Don's big baitrunner paying out line. Don picked up the rod and tucked the butt into his stomach. I heard the click as he put it in gear. He leaned back and the big spinning rod bent. There was braided line on the reel and I could hear the sizzle of the line on the guides as the fish took line. Don kept pressure on the fish and soon started working it in. As he neared the bank I lay the big net in front of Don. When the big head came over I again lifted it by the hoop. As I carried the fish up the bank, both the fish and Don were gasping for breath. I tenderly removed the hook from the cat. The cat did not understand my good intentions and promptly clamped down on my arm. This was not the first flathead to remove some hide from me but I complained never-the-less.

My complaint was cut short by the buzz of another levelwind. Don already had the rod and slipped off the clicker. There was some hesitation since the catfish did not move. After about a minute and a half he began swimming steadily away. Don put the Penn in gear and "crossed his eyes". For the second time in five minutes Don was connected to a big flathead. He fought the fish, giving me running commentary when the fish took line or ran left or right. When he was ready I grabbed the other net and Don led him into it. I carried the fish up the bank and we whooped. This was the first time I had actually needed two nets!

We were unprepared for three big flatheads. Don cut some of his anchor ropes to tie up the two fish on the bank. After tying them off on his boat we had another icy cold beverage to celebrate. Don got another big goldfish and baited the spinning rod. He carefully lobbed it back out into the lake.

We were celebrating our success and guessing the weight of the fish. We were discussing the virtues of our choice of fishing spots when another clicker signaled a bite. I picked up my rod and slipped the clicker off. With my thumb on the spool I could feel the fish move just a little. It took a little more line and stopped. I waited and after a bit I could feel the spool turning smoothly as the flathead swam away. I locked the Penn into gear and whipped the rod back. I felt the big rod load up with the weight of the catfish. This one fought straight out and I put pressure on him. Don grabbed a net and waited till I led the flathead into it.

We took the big cat up the bank and removed the hook. Don remarked that I would owe him some rope as we tied the cat to the boat. I lay the rod and reel down. Although I could cast the big Penn, I knew the goldfish would not survive the cast and flatheads want live baits.

As we celebrated with another icy cold beverage, Don asked me what were the most and the biggest flatheads I had heard of caught in one night. I reminded him of a picture of a guy with five flatheads hanging on the marina wall. It was dated in the 1960s.


Maybe two hours later I heard the buzz of my other Penn. I got up and hooked the fish. While fighting the fish I noticed that my partner was still laying on his chaise lounge. I worked my way along the bank and grabbed the net. I worked the flathead into the net and took it up the bank. I roped the fish to Don's boat and settled back.

The picture shows Robby Robinson (left), Don Wise Jr. (center) and our friend Hans Raidell (right). Soon after the picture was taken, the flatheads were released to grow, spawn and fight again.


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