Let's start off with the rod. There's many schools of thought on what makes a great flathead rod and I'll go into that a bit
later. What I would suggest for the new person is to pick up a good fiberglass cat fishing rod in the $60.00 range. This price point will give you a great starter rod, without breaking the bank. The Team Catfish 7' Catfish Warrior fits the bill well. There's very few cat folks that keep using their first rod after the first year of flathead fishing. It seems we try other folks rods and end up upgrading sometimes two, three or more times until we find one that's just right.
My boat has all the new for '12 I-Cat Carbon Fiber rods by Team Catfish. They have the sensitivity of graphite and more strength than fiberglass. Dragging the sinker across the bottom of the river and you know with very little practice what the bottom make up is as well as knowing if your bait is gone or there's a leaf stuck to your hook. The price is higher than a starter rod, but then these American made rods are for the serious Trophy Hunter.
Then there's the choice between bait casting rods and spinning rods. You'll have to flip the coin there. I was afraid of bait casting reels until I realize I was casting 3 or 4 oz of lead along with a 7 inch bullhead. All I had to do was to put my thumb on the spool as the sinker hit the water. We aren't distance casting and you'll be surprised how easy it is. I know many folks that do use spinning reels and are very successful.
Reels. There's three factors in selecting a reel in my mind.
1. Strength. You will be playing Tug O War with your trophy. If she makes it back to structure, you just lost in most cases.
2. Drag. A smooth drag is nice, but not totally needed to a certain degree. But it better be a strong one!
3. Line out alarm (or clicker). This needs to be tight enough to hold a live 7 to 10 inch bullhead from continually pulling out line and giving false alarms.
This year I've changed my reels over the Shimano Tekota 600's. A great looking work horse with an impressive track record. In the past, I've used Garcia 7000's and have been very happy with them. When folks step down to the Garcia 6500's I wince a little. The line out alarm is very hard to adjust and once adjusted to your bait, they need to be readjusted to cast. I feel they are just a little on the light side for continuous flathead use.
You might be wondering how the river guys can land large flatheads while using walleye gear and 6 pound line. It's very possible to do this in snag free areas and your odds are with you if your trolling motor is keeping your boat over the fish. Toss in some wood and have your anchor out and the little walleye reel will be in need of new fishing line as the fish of your life time spools you!
Locations: In Minnesota we are blessed with the St Croix River, the world class fishing on the Minnesota River and the Mighty Old Mississippi River. Each one has it's unique features that make them great cat fishing waters. In the next few weeks the water temperatures are going to be approaching the 65 to 70 degree range with our early spring. This is the time you want to be out looking for the trees laying down from shore into the deeper water. Piles of wood held by a bend in the river and wing dams on the Mississippi River. I should mention that any large sunken tree or large branch partially under water will hold flats. If it's an area that you would worry about your prop being bent, well that's flathead water!
If your fishing from a boat, know the area you'll be fishing by becoming familiar with it during the day light and know the way back to the launch well. A good GPS with new trails for the route home and waypoints for areas you would like to fish is very very handy. Bank fishing for flats is very possible in the metro areas as well as on many stretches of the three rivers. Check in at your nearest bait shop for the best bank fishing in your area.
A few bait shops I know of that could give pointers and have bait and the gear your looking for are
Scheels in Mankato, MN Minnesota River
4 Seasons Sports in Red Wing, MN Mississippi River
Everts Fishing Resort and Bait Shop in Hager City, WI Mississippi River
Thorne Brothers in Mpls, MN Minnesota and St Croix Rivers
Once your geared up, then the hunt begins. It might take a few evenings out to finally hook into a flathead. It might take a few more evenings to hook in to a trophy flathead. Or you could be the one in a million guy like Dan Thiem of Zumbro MN pictured above on his first trip out hooked into a 59 pound angry flathead catfish!
See you on the river!