Flatheads are by far the most exotic and perhaps the most popular species in the Ohio River. Flatheads can reach weights in excess of 100 pounds. Typical color ranges from brown to green with a white belly. They tend to develop lighter colors in clearer water and darker colors in darker waters.
For the most part they prefer stained to muddy water. They’re most active at 75 degrees although they will tolerate extremes at both ends of the temperature scale. Flatheads have been caught in water as cold as 32 degrees and as warm as 100 degrees.
Flatheads are predators — they are not scavengers — and as such are structure and current oriented. They follow the usual rules about water movement. They tend to move shallow in rising water, hold on structure in stable water and move out deeper with falling water. Preferred depth ranges are anywhere from 15 feet to 80 feet depending upon conditions.
Current will spread them out. A lack of current tightens them up into schools. Their favored forage is shad, shiners, bluegills, skipjacks and crayfish. They have been known to eat ducks, mice, frogs and snakes upon occasion.
Average size, in the middle sections of the Ohio River, is in the 20 pound range. Big fish hit the 35 pound mark with 50 pounders and above becoming more common over the past few years.
Channel cats are somewhat smaller than flatheads and are known to eat almost anything. They have more taste sensing organs than flatheads and blues, although blues aren’t very far behind. They feed almost entirely by smell and taste.
Stink baits are popular with channel cat anglers although they mostly account for smaller fish. Trophies are almost always caught with cut bait or live bait. Channel cats are less structure oriented than flatheads. They often roam to follow the forage.
Eight pounds is a good Ohio River fish. Anything over 10 or 12 pounds is something to write home about.
Blue cats are the monsters of the river. Who can forget the old-time pictures of 100 pound plus blues being held up by local fisherman when the dams were being built? (Some writers claim they reached 200 pounds plus just before and during the Great Depression. That seems unlikely, but who knows for sure?)
Blues favor much clearer water than the flatheads but feed generally on the same forage. They’re generally found on clean sandy bottoms, over rock and gravel areas or along hard substrate. They’re especially fond of areas with humps or underwater rises. Blues are native river fish. They prefer moving water.
Driven nearly to extinction in our recent past they are now on the rebound and are caught with regularity. In the Cincinnati area they average around 10-15 pounds but downstream they increase in size dramatically. Each year there’ll be several caught that weigh between 60 and 85 pounds. Several over 100 pounds have been caught and weighed on certified scales over the years.