Fifteen-year-old Kevin Bedal hunts big wild cats, alone, at night armed with a hook and line.
We re talking about flathead catfish, that is, the monsters of the Maumee River and the teenage angler has got the catching system down pat. Witness the 40-inch, 24-1/2-pound monster he raised from the depths on a recent, muggy midsummer night.
It was one of those 90-degree nights, right after a thunderstorm and sweltering still even at 9:30 p.m., which is when the cat ate the bluegill.
"He wades the Maumee up near Defiance, at night," said his proud uncle, Bill Rabara, of Temperance, Mich. "He uses a live bluegill set below a bobber, fishing the deep holes." When Rabara s nephew landed the big flathead, it was a lesson learned for Rabara.
"You would think that these big fish would come from the Ohio and Mississippi rivers," said Rabara. Not the Maumee. Wrong.
Young Bedal, son of Gerry and Mary Jo Bedal, of Berkey, started fishing five years ago, targeting channel catfish around Mary Jane Thurston State Park. But he has graduated from 8- to 12-inch channels to 40-inch flatheads. Nice step up.
"It s pretty much all I go for now," said the teen angler. He chases flatheads weekly all summer and into September. The recent behemoth is his largest so far. The tackle is tough stuff a heavy eight-foot rod, baitcasting reel with 30-pound-test-line, and large bobber and stout hook. Big flatheads are not, well, bluegills.
Larry Goedde, fish management supervisor for Ohio Wildlife District 2, said that the Maumee is the king of flathead waters in the region, though the Huron River east of Sandusky has a fishable population and occasional flatheads are raised in the Sandusky River below the Ballville Dam and Fremont.
Further afield, the Black Fork of the Mohican River, which passes through Charles Mill Reservoir east of Mansfield, also has some flatheads.
"You have to have live bait, unlike channel catfish," the biologist noted. Small bluegills are preferred, though creek chubs, small suckers, or small gizzard shad also will work.
Some anglers also catch flatheads on trotlines, but, Goedde added, "they are more exciting on hook and line."
Typical Maumee River flatheads are 20 to 30 inches long and 3 to 15 pounds, for which four- to six-inch bluegills are ideal bait. But Maumee flatheads may grow to as large as 50 pounds and 40 inches long. Use larger baits when you expect to target larger fish.
Imagine, then, what catching the state record flathead must have been like. It was 58-5/8 inches long and went 76-1/2 pounds. It was taken from Clendening Reservoir in Harrison County in 1979.
One simple telltale field mark that helps discern a flathead from a channel catfish is that flatheads, like brown bullheads, have square tails. Channel cats have forked tails.
Flatheads also have, well, flat heads between the eyes plus a lower jaw longer than the upper jaw. It is sort of an underbite. Sometimes they also are called shovelheads.
Flatheading can be done anytime, but by day it is better to try deeper pools. After dark the big boys come from the deep to feed in nearby riffles and shallows.
Unlike Bedal, biologist Goedde prefers to tightline for flatheads, with a sinker on the bottom and a hook or two stacked above. "You have to keep it [bait] off the bottom a little bit for flatheads," he said.
He suggests running the hook under the baitfish s dorsal fin so it can swim about. But if a big flathead is around, the bluegill won t swim far.