The Big Three: Channel, Blue, and Flathead Catfish

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Night fishing for flathead catfish

Welcome to the world of catfish fishing! If you want to learn how to catch catfish, it’s important to know that there are three main types you’ll find in freshwater: Flathead, Channel, and Blue Catfish. While they may look similar, each one has its own unique traits and behaviors. Knowing these differences can help you become a better angler. So, let’s get started and learn more about these three types of catfish.

In these guides, we will be talking about their appearance, diet, behavior, the best catfish bait, and even discuss the best catfish rigging techniques.

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Pylodictis olivaris: The Ultimate Guide to the Flathead Catfish

When you’re fishing in freshwater spots in the U.S., one fish that really gets people excited is the Flathead Catfish. Its science name is Pylodictis olivaris, but you can just call it a big deal. Why? Because this fish is at the top of the food chain and has some special traits that make it a fish you’ll really want to catch. So, let’s learn more about this awesome fish, including the world record Flathead Catfish.

Identifying the Flathead Catfish: More Than Just a Shovelnose

When you first see a Flathead Catfish, you’ll know it’s different. It’s got a flat head and a strong body that really stands out. Some folks even like to call it the “Shovelnose Catfish” because of how it looks. But don’t get it twisted; this fish is no joke and you should take it seriously if you’re trying to catch one.

A Palette of Colors: Understanding Flathead Catfish Variations

Flathead Catfish have some really cool colors. You might see them with spots of yellow and brown or different greens. These colors aren’t just to look good; they change based on where the fish lives. Things like how clear the water is, what food is around, and what the bottom of the river or lake is like can all make a difference. People often call them Yellow Catfish because they usually have a yellowish look.

Anatomy 101: Tail and Mouth Features

Flathead Catfish are different from other catfish in a cool way: their tails are squared-off, not forked like you might see on their cousins. They also have big mouths and their lower jaws stick out a bit, giving them a unique underbite. All these features make them really interesting to look at and even more exciting to catch.

Size Matters: How Big Do Flathead Catfish Get?

​When it comes to size, the Flathead Catfish is a true heavyweight. These fish are big, like really big. You can find some that weigh over 50 pounds, and some have even been caught weighing over 100 pounds. Yep, that’s not a typo—100 pounds!

Where to Find Flathead Catfish: Preferred Habitats

These fish are super good at living in different kinds of water. They like rivers, lakes, and creeks and are really good at finding places to hide. They like spots with lots of stuff underwater like logs, rocks, and plants

The Angler’s Wisdom: Snagging is Part of the Game

People who fish for Flatheads often say, “If you aren’t getting snagged, you’re not in the right place.” That means you should be fishing where there are lots of things underwater, because that’s where these fish like to hang out.

The Nocturnal Hunter: Diet and Feeding Habits

If you’re fishing in a river, these fish are easier to predict because of the steady water flow. But in still waters like lakes, they can be a bit trickier to figure out.

River vs. Lake Behavior: Understanding Patterns

Flatheads residing in rivers tend to be more predictable thanks to the constant current. This makes strategic fishing near river structures like fallen trees and boulders a good approach. However, when it comes to still waters like lakes and reservoirs, their behavior becomes a bit more unpredictable.

Flathead Catfishing: Flathead Catfish Rigs and Equipment

Catching a Flathead isn’t easy; you need the right gear. Go for strong fishing lines like Power Pro 50lb braided line or 30lb Berkley Big Game mono. And don’t forget important stuff like size 6 circle hooks, swivels, and beads. Popular rigs include the Santee rig, Peg float rig, and the Slipshot rig. There is no wrong answer, the rig you use depends on the environment and style of fishing you are doing.


​Santee Rig

This rig is pretty much a catfish magnet. You use a circle hook, leader line, a swivel, and a float. The float keeps your bait off the muddy bottom, so catfish can easily spot it. Use this rig in slower waters or lakes, and you’re bound to get some bites.

Slipshot Rig

Perfect for fishing in places where you’re worried about snags like rocks or logs. This rig has a sliding sinker, which means if you get stuck, the line slides through, and you can still reel in that catfish. This is a solid choice when fishing in rivers with lots of debris.

Carolina Rig

Even though it’s famous for bass, using a carolina rig for Catfish is highly effective. The heavy sinker keeps the rig down, but the bait on the circle hook has the freedom to move around. This drives catfish nuts because they think it’s a free meal. Use this in deeper waters or when you’re casting far.

Each of these rigs has its own perks, and they’re all awesome for targeting catfish. Give them a try next time you’re out on the water!

Choosing the Perfect Sinker

​Your choice of sinker can make or break your fishing experience. Round sinkers are your best bet for lake fishing, while pyramid sinkers are ideal for river settings to keep your bait anchored.

Timing and Location: When and Where to Fish

Flatheads are predominantly nocturnal, so consider night fishing along the shoreline in shallower waters. During the day, focus on areas rich in underwater structures like submerged logs and rocks. The mouths of creeks where they join larger bodies of water are also hotspots for Flathead activity.

Bait Selection: Best Catfish Bait for Flatheads

When it comes to bait, live options like bluegill, shad, or crayfish are best. In rivers, cut bait can also be highly effective due to the moving current. Pre-spawn Flatheads will usually hit cut bait, but during and after spawn, it’s best to use live if you can. Especially if you’re fishing in a lake or reservoir.

Spawning Habits: When Do Flathead Catfish Spawn

Flathead Catfish spawn from early spring to early summer, depending on water temperature. Males are usually the ones scouting for nesting spots, which often include undercut banks and submerged logs. Look for clay banks that would be easy for a Catfish to dig holes in.

Fun Facts and Records: Did You Know?

The world record Flathead Catfish weighed 123 pounds and was caught in Elk City Reservoir back in 1998. And even though they don’t officially count, the biggest one caught by noodling weighed 106 pounds.

Flathead catfish range

flathead catfish range map

Blue Catfish: The Ultimate Species Guide

Discovering the Blue Catfish (Ictalurus furcatus)

The Blue Catfish, also known as Ictalurus furcatus, is a really cool fish you can find in freshwater spots in North America. People love to catch it because it’s big, has a neat blue color, and puts up a strong fight when you hook it. If you’re looking to catch a big fish that’s also a challenge, this is the one to go for.


big blue catfish caught night fishing

Blue catfish have a strong body and a flat head. They also have a small fin called an adipose fin that’s between their back fin and tail fin. What sets them apart from Flathead Catfish is their forked tail. Their skin is a mix of gray and blue, and the color can change based on where they live. This helps them blend into their surroundings. Their bellies are often a lighter color, like pale blue or even white, which makes a nice contrast with the rest of their body.


Blue catfish can get really big. It’s common to find ones that weigh over 50 pounds, and some even weigh more than 100 pounds. The world record blue catfish was caught was in 2011 and weighed an amazing 143 pounds!


You can find these fish in all kinds of freshwater places like rivers, lakes, reservoirs, and big creeks. They like spots with deep water and muddy bottoms. They also like to be near things like sunken logs and places where there’s a lot of food like smaller fish or mussels.

Behavior and Diet

When it comes to food, Blue Catfish aren’t picky. They eat a lot of different things like fish, bugs, and other water critters. They really like freshwater mussels. And if you’re lucky enough to hook one, get ready for a fight. They’re known for their strong bites and they don’t give up easily.

How to Catch Blue Catfish

The good news is you can use the same gear for blue catfish fishing as you do for Flatheads and Channels. No need to spend extra money on new stuff.

Choose the Right Gear

It’s recommended to use 30+ pound mono line or 30+ pound braided line. Use a heavy, rated rod and reel, equipped with a strong drag system to handle the fight.

Find the Best Spots

Look for deep water areas with cover such as submerged logs, rock structures, bridge pilings, and areas with access to ample food sources. Mud bottom flats are especially known for holding Blue Catfish.

Use Fresh Bait

Fresh bait is highly effective for blue catfish. Use cut bait such as shad, herring, or skipjack, which are commonly found in their diet.

Bottom Fishing Techniques

Blue Catfish usually stay close to the bottom, so using a bottom fishing setup like a slip sinker rig or a Carolina rig for Catfish is a good idea.

Drift Fishing

Drift fishing involves allowing your bait to move with the current. This can be effective for covering a larger area and finding active fish.

Anchor Fishing

If you know a place where there’s a lot of Blue Catfish, you can anchor your boat and fish close to the bottom there.

Blue Catfish Range

blue catfish range map

Channel Catfish: The Ultimate Species Guide

channel catfish fishing in Norris Lake

Introduction to Channel Catfish (Ictalurus punctatus):

Channel catfish have a slender physique with a slightly rounded, forked tail, much like the Blue Catfish. Their unique color patterns range from olive to blue-gray back, that transitions to yellow or white on the sides and belly. Young Channel Catfish have something special. They have dark spots that fade away as they get older.

Typical Size:

In terms of size, Channel Catfish are usually smaller than Flathead and Blue Catfish. They often weigh between 1 and 10 pounds. But in some places with lots of food, they can get really big. Some even weigh more than 20 pounds, although that’s not very common.

Preferred Habitat:

You can find these fish in many different types of water. They live in rivers, lakes, reservoirs, and even small creeks. They like to hang out in places where they can hide. You’ll often find them near things like submerged logs, rocks, and underwater plants.

Feeding Habits:

Channel Catfish are more diverse diet than the other two species. In addition to fish, insects, and crustaceans, they will also eat plant matter.

How to catch Channel Catfish:

Gear Up Properly:

For Channel Catfish Fishing, it’s recommended to simply use a setup that is meant for Blue and Flathead Catfish because you will often be catching all different species of Catfish rather than one, so it’s better to be prepared for a monster Channel Catfish.

Bait Selection:

For bait, Channel Catfish aren’t picky. You can use nightcrawlers, chicken liver, cut bait, or stink baits made for catfish. It’s a good idea to try different baits to see what works best in the area you’re fishing.

Bottom Fishing Techniques:

Channel Catfish are typically bottom feeding fish, so keep your bait on the bottom with a slip-sinker rig or carolina rig for catfish

Drift Fishing Strategy:

Drift fishing involves letting your bait drift along with the current. This method allows you to cover a larger area and locate active fish. This method is mostly used for Channel and Blue Catfish. Use a sliding sinker to maintain contact with the river or lake bed.

Night-Time Angling:

Channel catfish are more active during the night and early morning hours, making this the ideal time for a successful fishing session. 

Structure Fishing:

Fish in places with structure such as logs, rock, bridges, and thick vegetation, which are known channel catfish hideouts.

Location and Depth:

Start by fishing in shallower areas and gradually move deeper if you’re not getting bites. Use a sonar fishfinder to locate the right depth.​

Channel Catfish Distribution:

Channel Catfish range map.

Wrap Up: Time to go catfish fishing

We’ve gone through the ins and outs of how to catch catfish. From choosing the right rod and reel to using a Carolina rig for catfish, you’re now set up for success.

For flathead catfish, remember, they prefer the deep and quiet spots. Live bait is your friend here, making it easier to lure them in.

Blue catfish like to keep moving, so trolling is the way to go. Cut bait will make them bite, trust me.

As for channel catfish, they’re not too picky. While you can use different types of bait, the Carolina rig for catfish will give you that extra edge.

With this guide, you’re ready to tackle any catfish that swims your way. So grab your gear, and let’s get fishing. Whether you’re a newbie or an old hand, these tips are your ticket to an exciting day on the water.