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Flathead Catfish

Also known as mudcat, the flathead catfish is a large fish with a scaleless body and barbels that look a little like a cat's whiskers. It is most commonly found in big rivers away from the main current.

Common Names: yellow cat, mud cat, shovelhead cat, johnnie cat, goujon, appaluchion, opelousas


The flathead catfish has a flat, broad head, no scales, and four pairs of barbels. Its lower jaw sticks out farther than its top jaw, distinguishing it from other catfish. Its fins have sharp spines with which anglers sometimes accidentally stab themselves.


Flatheads are predatory fish and will consume bass, bream, shad, crayfish and often feed on other catfish. The young rely more extensively on aquatic insects and crayfish than do the adults. Large flatheads sometime congregate where food is plentiful such as near tailraces of dams. They often feed at the surface or in shallow water at night, returning to their residence in a hole or brush pile to rest during the day. They rarely eat dead or decaying matter.

Spawning Habitats

Spawning occurs in late spring when water temperatures reach 70 to 80 degrees. One or both parents excavate the nest that is usually made in a natural cavity or near a large submerged object. Females lay a golden-yellow mass of up to 100,000 eggs. The nest is guarded and the eggs are agitated by the male to keep them clean and aerated. The young remain in a school near the nest for several days after hatching, but soon disperse.

Habitat: Flatheads are found mainly in large rivers and their major tributaries. They prefer long, slow-flowing, moderately-turbid streams. Adult flatheads are solitary and spend most of their time in deep water near cover such as log jams or fallen trees.

Sporting Qualities

Extremely strong fighters. Their solitary lifestyle, however, makes them more difficult to catch than other catfish. They bite best at night while in shallow water looking for food. To catch flatheads, anglers typically fish on the bottom using heavy tackle with live or freshly cut fish. Trotlines are effective in catching this species. Since they can also be taken by commercial fishermen, no specific regulations currently apply but they are eligible for the "Big Catch" program.

Fishing Techniques

Live fish, such as shad, panfish and bullhead catfish, are the preferred baits for large flathead catfish. Crawfish are reported to work as well. Flathead catfish are rarely caught with chicken livers and stinkbaits, although these work well for most other catfish species.

Eating Qualities

The species is highly regarded as a food fish when taken from clean water. The meat is white, firm, and flaky, with an excellent taste.

Fun Facts

The flathead catfish has some strange relatives. Among the 2,000 species of catfish found around the world are catfish that swim upside down, catfish that give electric shocks, and catfish that can walk from one body of water to another.

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