Catfish fisherman John Wagner uses a stout muskie rod and 65-pound-test line for big flathead catfish in the upper Maumee River, and when you hear him tell about it you know why.
"I had one on two years ago that I could not get off the bottom," begins Wagner, a Toledoan. "That fish spooled me, wrapped my line around a stump and was gone."
So Wagner was determined to at least get a solid look at the next big bottom-hugging bulldog he latched onto, hence the heavy tackle. On the business end of the line is a one-ounce lead weight and up a ways is a long-snelled 6/0 hook.
This spring, he said, "they've been hitting really good." He started flatheading in earnest about a week ago and already has weighed in two fish of 25 pounds each, another of 38 pounds, and a whopper of 48 1/2 pounds at River Lures bait shop in Grand Rapids. The latter cat was 46 1/2 inches long.
Mike Mainhart of Vienna, Ohio, displays a world line-class flathead of 43 pounds caught and released in Mosquito Lake in northeastern Ohio.
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Typically, Wagner said, night fishing has been the best but he added, "I don't know that there's a [time] window for them this year. Maybe it's because the river has been so high." In any case he has been picking up fish about any time of day that he goes.
"We've had lots of 8s, 10s, and 13s, and a 16-pounder too." The big cats go back into the river after weigh-ins. For the most part he fishes above Grand Rapids Dam on up to the Turkeyfoot wildlife areas.
Like many flatheaders, Wagner prefers to use live bluegills for bait. He catches them legally on hook and line, using waxworms under a bobber, in a canal along the river before baiting up for the cats. He said size of the 'gill does not seem to matter. "I've caught a 10-pound flathead on a bluegill 9 inches long, he said."
Chris Martin at River Lures said some flatheaders also are using large creek chubs for bait, fishing them under bobbers.
In addition to the Maumee, the Sandusky River below the Ballville Dam at Fremont also produces some flatheads, as does the Huron River farther east. Some of the bigger inland flood-control and water-supply reservoirs also harbor big flatheads.
Mike Mainhart, of Vienna, Ohio, took a 14-pound line-class world record flathead, for example, while fishing for channel catfish at Mosquito Creek Lake in Trumbull County in 2003. The big fish, which still may be swimming in Mosquito, was 43 pounds and 46 inches.
"I was using a nightcrawler for bait," said Mainhart. "My buddy, Tim Jones, and I were trying to catch some channel cats to stock in our ponds." His flathead record is filed with the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame in Hayward, Wis.
The large, fine impoundments of the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District in east-central and southeast Ohio also produces big flatheads. The state record of 76 1/2 pounds came from Clendening Lake in the district in 1979.
Maumee River angler John Wagner hoists a pair of flatheads caught in the Grand Rapids Dam area.
In other Maumee River fishing news, Martin said water levels have come down in the river at Grand Rapids and the dam is wadable.
"They're still getting white bass and they're still getting crappie. It's like three weeks of crappies now."
Downstream in the Maumee-Perrysburg area, white bass action remains good, according to Gary Lowry at Maumee Tackle. Some walleyes still are being taken as well.
The bass anglers are using everything from shiner minnows on the bottom or under floats to 1/16 or 1/8-ounce jigs and tails to spinners or jig-spinner combinations such as the Beetle Spin, the latter fished slowly. Some 65-fish catches were turned in this week.
But in Swan Creek, almost downtown, angler John Barner reports taking more than 140 white bass in two days, fishing near Libbey High School.
"I had a friend who lived back there and he stumbled on a little section of creek you can access from a no-outlet street. I went early the first morning and I came home with 38 white bass in two hours."
The fisherman took 18 more fish a little later that day. "I haven't been fishing in four years so this was exciting," said Barner, who said he has fished Swan Creek since he was a boy of nine. He filled a bucket with white bass in an hour next morning, even having three fish jump back out and into the water. By 10 a.m. he had caught 87 white bass, including eight he shared with another angler who was without fish but who was trying to catch dinner.
A flathead catfish, photographed in an aquarium, is characterized by a flat head and is also known as a shovelhead.
"This was a wonderful day to say the least," Barner said.
On the Sandusky River at Fremont, the better white bass activity has occurred behind the old sugar beet plant below downtown, with anglers using crappie rigs and minnows tight-lined on the bottom or floated under bobbers, according to Bernie Whitt at Anglers Supply there. Fishermen also are taking the bass using small jigs and tails between the downtown bridges, he added, many female fish have not yet spawned.
On western Lake Erie, walleye are post-spawn and moving toward summer locations, according to Eric Weimer, a biologist at the state's Lake Erie Fisheries Unit at Sandusky.
Over the last week the best fishing has been west and north of West Sister Island, west of South Bass Island between Green Island and Rattlesnake Island, and along the Canadian line from North Bass Island to Gull Island Shoal.
Drifting with worm harnesses or casting mayfly rigs is productive, as is trolling worm harnesses fished with inline weights, snap weights, bottom bouncers, or divers. Crankbaits seem to be catching larger fish, but numbers are going to harnesses. Spoons are catching fish as well.
Yellow perch reports have been sparse due to last weekend's weather. Try fishing some of the traditional spots around Marblehead and Kelleys Island. Some nice fish were caught east of Kelleys near Airport Reef early last week, Weimer said.
Some bigger walleye are being taken west of Niagara Reef, drifting with harnesses, according to Rick Catley at Rickard's Bait on Catawba Island. Northeast of Kelleys Island Shoal also has been productive along with fishing on a line between Lucy's Point on Middle Bass Island toward Middle Island on the Ontario side, Catley said. But he noted the fish are deep, within two feet of bottom.
Farther west in Maumee Bay and vicinity, most boats are heading out 7 to 11 miles out off Cooley Canal between West Sister Island and The Toledo Ship Channel, said Rick Ferguson at Al Szuch Live Bait in Jerusalem Township. At midweek some charters were done by mid-morning. Most anglers there have been using mayfly rigs such as Weapons or worm harness/spinner combinations off bottom-bouncers.
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