Lessons learned on the River in 2000
2000 was the toughest year Lynn and I have ever had on the Ohio river.Flatheads were just not out there, the current had spread them out and we had lots of it, sometimes way way to much and it was hard to hold a bait down, and each fish felt like a monster as they knew how to use that current, many times we thought that we had a large Flathead on the end of the line only to be dissappointed it was a large Channel Cat.
Lynn has always used cutbait to catch big Flatheads, lots of times she would catch more and bigger Flatheads on cutbait than I could on live Shad, but not in the year 2000. Channel Cats were jumping all over her cutbait,and Flatheads never had the time to get to her offerings, she has caught a lot of big Channel Cats in 2000, so many big ones that she has averaged 9.23# per cat. That is big for a Channel Cat on the Ohio River.
I too had the same problems but I use live bait and the Channel Cats were jumping on Live Shad, large live Shad, Shad that were in the 8-10 inch range, and they were getting it in there mouths, and sometimes if the bait was too big they would just hang onto it till they got near the boat, then just let go, this got very frustrating for both of us.
In the past years the big Flatheads have always been in the deep water, 30-40-50 foot deep, if there was a hole, you would always find a nice Flathead in or near that hole feeding, in 2000 they had vacated the deep water haunts for night feeding, they had moved into the shallow waters, waters that were 4-5 foot deep and they were sharing food with the dreaded GAR. Gars just drove us crazy, we caught bunches of them some that were four foot long, they killed some of the best Shad I had to offer a Flathead, and they gobbled up Lynns cutbait. Each time that a line would go down we would watch and see and that same thing kept going through both of our minds, " Please don't be a Gar" and so many times we saw that lousy tooth critter smiling at us as he came near the boat. Lynn has taught me to have respect for the Gar, he is out there just like all the other fishys to get food, I wish he would eat something else besides our offerings, so now I just try to get my hooks off there long toothy snout and just catch and release them just like we do the Catfish. I still get upset each time I see one on the end of our lines.
Current I believe is the main factor in the change of the Flatheads feeding habits.We had so much rain this year that the river really never got to it's summer pool which is 26 feet until the month of September.Normally it is there about the month of June.
To give you an idea of how the river reacts to rainfall, at the 35 foot mark the water is on the banks and into parking lot where you launch a boat, debris at times can be very heavy and it is way to dangerous to fish at night due to the heavy debris and sometimes during the day is just as bad, you have to motor slow to your spots as some of the stuff is just below the surface of the water.Velocity's are at 4 knots the water just boils behind the boat and sometimes we have to use two anchors out the front to keep the boat from being dragged.
At the 34 to 33 foot mark, debris has slowed way down and the river is navigatable, but you still have to be very careful. Velocitys are at 2.5 to 3 knots.
From the 32 to 27.0 foot mark you have good current and very little if any debris. This is my favorite time to fish on the river nice current, not overwhelming, if your using cutbait the scent gets down river in a hurry, live bait stays very active during this time, velocitys are around 1/2 to 1 knots, the current just kind of rolls past the motor, and the boat will swing about a foot from side to side as the barges roll past you.
Below the 27.0 mark the river is kind of in a lazy state, very little current,sometimes it will pickup depending on what they do at the dam, it hard to anchor down with just one anchor not enough current to keep the boat in one spot so we are forced to use one on the rear of the boat to keep it from swaying, and the Flatheads always seem to find that rear anchor.Heres each months average for this year.
Current forced the baitfish to swim near the shoreline to escape the fast moving water, past years when the current has been very little or none at all the baifish settled into the deep holes, we have always marked lots of clouds of baitfish in the deep water but not this year.For some reason in the past we caught Flatheads all night long but this year it was the early morning hours, 5am to sunrise that they started feeding, and we also noted that was the time we saw Shad frolicing along the shorelines and working upriver.I guess that with the high water and velocitys of the river the Flatheads just waited till the sun would start to come up and started the ole feed bag, well lots of times we were not in the spots where they started feeding.
Skipjacks,the ultimate Catfish bait we caught them in January, in fact we caught over 100 of them loaded the cooler up, going to freeze them for later in the year when the fishing gets tough, well the freezer broke down and unthawed ruined the best bait and the most bait we have ever had and the Skipjacks never appeared back on the river again during the year, again I wish I knew where they go when the river gets up and muddy, I do know they don't like muddy water, when you have clear water and current then they are there, but the Ohio was muddy almost all year long.
We fished the Meldahal dam several times this year, and it to had changed, past years we could fish there and you would wear your arms out hauling in fish, but not this year, the fish never really moved up to the dam like they had in past years, the Gars were much thicker so again we had trouble with them pestering our offerings, clouds of Shad were not here, I talked to a lot of other anglers and they were having the same problems as we were.
The last of October I'm going to go back up to the dam and give it another try, maybe the cooler water will change the bite.Maybe the cooler water will signal to the Flatheads to head to the deep water haunts, who knows, but these are the Lessons that we learned in 2000.
Tim and Lynn Lange "Hooked on Catfish"