Sport fishing for flathead catfish using either rod and reel, limb lines, or bare hands (noodling) and can be an exciting pastime. Anglers target this species in a variety of waterways including small rivers (barely large enough for a canoe), large rivers (such as the Missouri, Mississippi, Ohio, and Colorado Rivers), and reservoirs.
A common element of flathead catfish location is submerged wood cover such as logs and rootwads which often collect at bends in rivers. A good flathead spot usually also includes relatively deep water compared to the rest of a particular section of river, a moderate amount of current, and access to plentiful baitfish such as river herring, shad, carp, drum, panfish, or suckers.
Anglers targeting large flathead catfish usually use stout tackle such as medium-heavy or heavy action rods from 6–10 feet (1.8–3.0 m) in length with large line-capacity reels and line ranging from 20–80 pounds-force (89–356 N) test breaking strength. Generally large live baits are preferred such as river herring, shad, sunfish (such as bluegill), suckers, carp, goldfish, drum, and bullheads ranging from 5–12 inches (13–30 cm) in length.
Sometimes nearly as much time and effort is spent catching baitfish ahead of time as is spent fishing for flatheads. While not as numerous as other catfish species, catching a large flathead catfish (over 20 pounds) usually makes the effort worthwhile to an avid catfisher. Flathead catfishing often takes place at night either from a boat or from shore once a catfisher has identified a likely looking flathead spot.