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Catfish guide brings European technique to his fishing

By Tim Scott, Procats.com

For centuries, fishermen have tinkered with special baits, oddball techniques, and even devices that would allow them to magically catch fish. The "wonder bait" that would let people catch big fish at will has been like the search for the holy grail at best- but one catfish guide has come close, thanks to some ancient and exclusive knowledge combined with a little new-age ingenuity.

As we tweak our knowledge of big fish behavior, we learn where huge cats live and fine-tune what it takes to get them to strike. Many astute catfishermen - especially flathead aficionados, have found that big cats frequently hold in areas for long periods of time but don't necessarily eat every day. When "Joe Fisherman" has time to be on the water, are the big cats feeding? Probably not.

"It's just the law of averages," said Denny Halgren, 30-year flathead veteran and catfish guide known for landing numbers of huge cats every season.

"I fish for flatheads almost every day of the season, which is sometimes as many as 130 days, many of them back to back. I know where the big flatheads live, what baits and presentations to use, and am consistently accurate with bait placement- but on some days that's not enough. Some days the big flatheads simply won't take a bait," Halgren added.

Several years ago, Halgren heard about an ancient instrument that when plunged into the water and swiftly pulled backwards, would create a unique sound that would stir inactive cats into investigating the area. A fishing light switch of sorts, that could turn lethargic cats into aggressive feeding cats.

"European anglers used what they called a clonk to get huge wels cats to bite and I asked myself why wouldn't it work on predatory catfish here?" Halgren said. "Flatheads act a lot like wels cats. They both seem to be ambush predators, preferring to sit and wait for live fish to come to them. I've never fished for the European cat, but I saw a resemblance in the fish itself. They both are uniquely camouflaged, prefer similar habitat, and both get huge. I didn't jump blindly into using a clonk, I just wanted to experiment with one and see for myself if they really worked on flatheads."

Halgren methodically experimented with a primitive wooden design for about eight years and to his surprise, some amazing results started to stack up.

"It's not a science. It's more of an art to getting the clonk to work on flatheads. It really didn't take long for me to get the right sounds out of the clonk and I wanted to make sure it was actually the clonk having an effect instead of just being at the right place at the right time, so it took awhile for me to make a sound decision," he said.

Halgren has come to learn a lot about flathead behavior in rivers over the years through experience. Rain, shine, high water, low water, hot weather, cool temps, low or high-pressure fronts- Halgren has fished them all without preference. In the search for the best big fish scenario, he wanted to make sure that a trophy flathead equation wasn't simply a fact of just the right combination of Mother Nature's fickle disposition and being there when they wanted to eat.

Over the years, the Rock River flatheader has developed an astounding talent for landing huge flatheads, boating hoards of flatheads over 40 pounds, scads of 50 plus pound fish, several flatheads over 70 and even some topping 80, a few that clipped 90 and at least one besting 100 pounds! This wouldn't be such an amazing feat if anglers on the same waters were catching big fish as well, but it's just not the case. Flathead anglers on the Rock report catching some big flatheads but not many can even hold a candle to Halgren's big flathead resume.

"I think it's a matter of experience and time on the water." Halgren answered when asked about his amazing catches. "The Rock isn't an easy river to fish, let alone figure out all the little things. Even with the successes I've had I was still looking for something more and I may have found it."

Fish are complex creatures short of a thinking brain. Their physical attributes alone tells us that they use many highly developed senses to locate food in murky waters, recognize their own species, return to their spawning grounds, and even sense how deep they are by feeling the slightest water pressure changes. Fisheries science discovered that all fish use their lateral lines to detect vibrations given off by the swimming or struggling motion of preyfish in the area, and catfish are especially equipped to use this unique apparatus to their full advantage.

Could the frequency of the sound waves made by using a "clonking" device stir big catfish from inactivity to actively looking for food by jolting their instinctual feeding response into action?

"I can't say that it does for a fact, but I also can't believe that using the American equivalent called the Catfish Caller and landing big cats immediately afterwards- even when the bite is tough is purely a coincidence. Either I'm the luckiest angler on the planet or the caller works. I don't use it until the day proves to be a tough bite and it seems to produce some amazing results. So amazing that I don't think you'd believe it until you saw it with your own eyes," Halgren said.

Catfish anglers will have a chance to talk with Halgren about the Catfish Caller during the 2005 Kansas Sports, Boat and Travel show at the Kansas Coliseum Feb. 16-20 or by going to catfishcaller.com.

The Catfish Caller can be purchased in Zeiner's Bass Shop at 737 S. Washington in Wichita or Cottonwood Mercantile at 328 Broadway in Cottonwood Falls, Kansas or ordered from Zeiner's by going to http://zeiners.safeshopper.com/795/1468.htm?.

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