Flathead catfish take center stage on High Rock Lake in May

High Rock Lake’s population of flathead catfish is as good as ever, as tournament catches prove. (Picture by Tony Garitta)

High Rock holds big flathead catfish

Years ago, 5-fish tournament limits of flathead catfish weighing more than 100 pounds frequently took place in May at North Carolina Catfish Association Tournament Series events on High Rock Lake.

Chris Fraley of Mount Holly, N.C., an NCCATS official, said May fishing for flatheads at High Rock has changed over the years because of increased pressure. But fishing for the big cats remains pretty good at the Yadkin River impoundment.

“High Rock gives up lots of flatheads from 20 to 30 pounds,” said Fraley. “Occasionally, 40- to 50-pound fish hit the scales at tournament weigh-ins.”

This month, Fraley searches for the whiskered brutes in major creeks, targeting points, flats, ditches and rocks in depths of 5 to 20 feet of water.

“While I’ll sample a range of depths, most of the bites take place in about 15 feet of water,” said Fraley. His boat resembles a floating rod rack, with as many as 20 rods mounted around the craft, spider rig-style.

His tackle ensemble includes 7-foot, medium-action rods paired with Ambassadeur 6500 reels featuring clicking mechanisms that warn him he’s getting a bite.

Current, muddy water doesn’t hurt fishing for flatheads

Big fish require stout line. He spools 25-pound line for the main line that’s connected via a barrel swivel to a Carolina rig consisting of a short, 65-pound leader tied to a No. 8/0 circle hook that sets itself when a cat takes the bait. The size of the weight, if used, is determined by the depth, wind and presence or absence of current.

Fraley anchors when he’s targeting flatheads. Then he sets out his rods at various depths around the boat. He favors freshly caught bream for bait. Unlike other catfish species that consume cut and stinkbaits, flatheads dine on live bait: shad, bream and goldfish.

Fraley hooks the bait under the dorsal fin to keep it alive and frisky, letting the bait’s antics attract flatheads. Since he’s anchored and straight-lining, he doesn’t add an in-line float to his rig to keep the bait off the bottom. A few turns of the handle keeps the bait off the bottom when he’s fishing deep.

Fraley gives a likely spot 30 to 60 minutes to produce. Then he motors off elsewhere.

He said neither current nor muddy water have much of an impact on his flathead tactics.

“In the creeks, current doesn’t have as much of an influence as it does on the main body or upriver,” Fraley said. “As for muddy water, I’d rather fish old muddy water than fresh muddy water. Fresh muddy water hurts the bite.”

Before planning a trip, fishermen should check the lake level. If it’s near the full mark, passage under the bridges at Abbotts and Flat Swamp creeks might not be possible.

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