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Fishin’ those flats for cats

Published: Saturday, March 2, 2013 12:31 a.m. CDT
Caption
(Photo courtesy of Matt Jones)
The "Old Man" shows off the 10-pound channel cat he caught last spring on a shallow flat on the Rock River.

Fish on! I yelled, as the big channel came flying completely out of the water. On the hook sat this channel that thought he was a tarpon and was fit to be tied, leaving the safety of the water twice and peeling drag like a marlin.

After an exciting 3- or 4-minute battle, I slid the net under the beefy channel and brought him aboard. This channel cat, a stout 10-pounder, had been patrolling a favorite flat of mine, chasing minnows and other snacks, when he happened across my offering of fresh-cut shad he just could not resist.

As I eased the big cat back into the water, I took a quick glance at my depth finder. It read 3 feet of water. This particular favorite flat of mine has consistently produced large channels, and the shallower they are, the more fun catching cats can be.

What exactly is a flat, and what do the best ones contain that makes them so special? Let’s take a look at all this – and more – and shed some light on one of the best situations of all to catch cats in.

In day-to-day conversation with almost any type of fisherman, the topic of fishing flats almost always arises. The reason is because at certain times of the year, flats attract all kinds of fish. For this reason alone, a flat is even more valuable to a cat man, because cats feed on all kinds of fish.

In the spring of the year, the first warming rays of the sun trigger a natural reaction that gets the fishing ball rolling. Shallower water warms faster, and rays of sunlight trigger plankton and other plant growth. This growth attracts bait fish such as shad and shiners ... and, in turn, attracts cats.

Flats in the vicinity of a wintering hole are a great bet. There are several reasons for this, the first being the location itself. Although a fish’s metabolism is on the rise, the shorter the distance they have to travel to feed, the better.

The second reason is just the sheer numbers of fish in the area already. With wintering holes holding hundreds and sometimes thousands of fish, you can hedge the bet in your favor by finding a quality flat close to one of these holes.

The third reason is the environment. A wintering hole affords much in the way of extreme change and diverse situations. In general, you will find all types of currents. Slow current holding your more sluggish, but feeding, fish. Heavier, but more channel cat conducive, current that cats love to move and feed in. Drops and ledges, which cats love to hold on during their times of inactivity. And then finally, the flat which is offering warming waters and proverbial dinner bell.

Let’s digress for a moment and discuss what I believe to be the most important features of a flat. What I have found is flats on the inside bend in a river system tend to be the best, with water 4 feet or shallower and slight current-reducing quality. Another quality that makes a flat special is cover. Wood-sprinkled flats or flats laden with rocks or other debris will most often be better than featureless flats. Another very important reason I prefer the side-bend flats is because in most systems, outside bends tend to be great cat habitat, so you already have fish in the area.

Flats offer a cat man a huge number of options to choose from when it comes to rigging. The answer to this question again goes back to what you prefer. Slip or set bobbers are a great bait, and allow you to cover lots of area ... and the visual aspect of watching bobbers sink is attractive to some. Running your basic slip rig is a tried-and-true option for any situation, including this one. Downsizing your weight – or not using one at all – is an option here.

Let the little current on the flat, or even the prevailing winds, take your bait to the fish. This method performs best with lighter line, say 8- to 12-pound test. The lighter line drifts a lot better and is easier to control.

Another fantastic option a flat offers us cat-crazed fishermen is to hop right out of the boat and wade. A string and can around the neck for bait, and a small baggie with your basic tackle and your set. Waders come in handy in the spring and fall when water temps are lower, but what a way to get cool in the heat of the summer.

There you have it. Now hopefully you know what we mean when we talk about a flat. You also know what the best ones contain, how to fish them, and what tackle to use. Remember that cats on flats are rarely inactive. They are there to feed, and are usually aggressive, even with ice out. Slip a bobber on if you want, throw the kids in the boat and go have a ball slammin’ cats on flats, it definitely is fantastic.

Go Catfish!

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