EL DORADO, Kan. (MCT) — Fishing is full of good top-water bites.
Nothing is as classic as a bass or trout rising to take a fly or floating lure.
Few things are as exciting as tossing a cigar-sized popper into a school of huge wipers.
Steve Green prefers his big flathead and channel catfish on the surface, too.
“It’s all about when they hear that bait splashing on the surface,” said Green, of Spring Hill. “They can’t resist it.”
Green’s records going into a recent fishing trip at El Dorado Reservoir were impressive. Nine trips this spring totaled about 722 pounds of fish.
A week earlier he caught flatheads of 16, 26 and 51 pounds one night at Hillsdale Reservoir, a few miles from his home.
He credits a good knowledge of catfish, and using Topcats, a set line system he’s designed and markets.
Topcats are a combination of a strap-on mounting bracket, a yard-long composite pole, some line of near tow-truck proportions, a big hook (for channel cat), another big hook (for flatheads) and thick rubber strapping to tire fish the size of St. Bernards.
“My biggest on a Topcat is 67 pounds, but a customer caught one that was 70,” Green said as he boated across the reservoir. “I know they’ll handle even bigger fish.”
It’s been about 10 years since Green got the idea of portable limb lines, when “there never seemed to be a limb where I needed one.”
After a few years of trial and error, he began selling Topcats online in 2010. Prices range from a single set for $35 to about $250 for a dozen.
Green also does some guiding with his set-lines and he welcomes the chance to take his show on the road.
“Wherever somebody wants to fish, I’ll pretty much go there,” he said. “I know I can go to about any lake and catch top-water fish, not just the lake that’s closest to my house.”
The recent trip was his second time on El Dorado, but he instantly went to the lake’s upper end. He explained that flatheads were probably moving from the main lake up connecting rivers and streams for the spawn.
That evening, Green checked eight lines he’d set earlier for himself, adding bait if needed. Further up the lake he helped a guest make eight more sets.
The chore has gotten tougher since recent regulations prohibit anglers from catching and transporting green sunfish, Green’s favorite bait. He’d been forced to drive about 50 miles out of his way to spend about $70 at a commercial bait dealer.
Many of the fish were too small and bluegill.
“See that?” he said holding up a six-inch bluegill. “A five-pound flathead can easily eat that, man. I like big baits for big flatheads but now you just take what you can get.”
Heading to the ramp at dusk, Green was met by rising waves that didn’t help his confidence.
“The wind is my nemesis, dude,” he said. “If there’s a lot of noise on the surface the fish can’t hear my baits.”
He shook his head in disgust when he awoke in the middle of the night and winds were still strong.
At dawn, Green met up with Darrell and Chris Conrade, a pair of Topcat customers from Newton. Russ Vanover was with them.
Green followed them to where they’d set top-water baits the day before. Three flatheads were amid their combined 24 lines. The biggest was about 12 pounds.
No catfish were waiting when Green checked his eight Topcats. Nervousness was on Green’s usually upbeat face as his guest’s lines began to come up empty.
Finally one of the last rods held a five-pound flathead.
“That puts my streak of 70 in a row without going fishless,” he said. “But it’s not much.”
Heading to ramp Green chattered about his frustration with the wind and the quality of the habitat for big flatheads.
“This place is awesome looking, man, absolute heaven for how I like to fish,” he said. “I really think with better conditions you could catch some big fish up here.”
Two days later the winds finally laid to a whisper. The following morning, in the same basic area, Chris Conrade found a 45-pound flathead thrashing and waiting at the end of one of his Topcat sets.
SETTING LINES FOR FLATHEADS
Steve Green offers advice for those wanting to set lines for big flathead catfish.
— Now is the time. Warm-water temperatures this spring have the fish ahead of schedule for their annual spawn movements.
— Reservoirs offer great chances at really huge fish.
— The best place to set lines is in “the transition zone,” where the lake narrows before it meets a river or creek.
— Most fish are caught in water 10 feet deep or less. “Three to seven feet seem to be like magic,” he said. “I don’t catch many outside that range.”
— Big channel cat are often caught on sets near a lot of flooded brush. Big flatheads prefer places like big log jams or undercut banks, where they can find places to spawn.
— His best sets are not far from an original river or creek channel. He really does well where two channels meet.
— Think big for big fish. His Topcats come with a 14/0 circle cook for flatheads and he’ll often bait one with a 10-inch green sunfish, carp or drum.
— He often mixes big and small baits while guiding to insure some kind of action for clients. In July, when the flathead bite is largely over, he’ll go to three-inch long baits for high success on channel cats.
— Ideal times are when the lake is rising, a slight breeze is blowing and it is the dark phase of the moon. High winds are about all that will keep him home.