Discover the Largest Flathead Catfish Ever Caught in Florida

Written by Cindy Rasmussen
Updated: October 10, 2022
Image Credit slowmotiongli/Shutterstock.com
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What better way to spend a sunny Florida afternoon than heading out for some catfishing. Grab your rod and reel, some live bait and head to one of the catfish hot spots to reel in a big one. In Florida you will find channel cats, blue cats and flathead catfish, all requiring a slightly different strategy to catch. If you are hoping to catch a record-breaker you might want to follow the tips of some of the previous record holders. Flatheads aren’t that common in Florida but they have made their down from Alabama and Georgia in parts of the panhandle. They can be found in the Apalachicola and Escambia rivers, but the largest flathead ever caught in Florida was caught in the Yellow River. Let’s find out about the epic catch!

What is a Flathead catfish?

Flathead Catfish
Flathead Catfish are larger than channel cats but smaller than Blue catfish.

slowmotiongli/Shutterstock.com

The obvious answer is a catfish with a flat head, and that is partially true. But the flat head of the catfish is just one characteristic that makes them different from other catfish. Flatheads are larger than channel catfish but a bit smaller than blue catfish. They have a wider/flatter head and are yellow-brown with a molted look. The largest ones can get to be 3-4 feet long and weigh 100+ pounds! They prefer slow-moving rivers and reservoirs, liking the deep pools and areas around dams the best.

How big is the largest flathead catfish ever caught in Florida?

The largest catfish ever caught in Florida was 69.9 pounds! This nearly 70 pound Flathead was caught by lifelong angler Lavon Nowling in the Yellow River. Coincidently the previous record holder, a 69.3 pound flathead, was also fished from the Yellow!Nowling said he has been fishing his whole life, especially along the Yellow River. On August 26, 2020 he was out fishing for channel cats but he hooked the giant flathead instead. The flathead measured 48.5 inches long which is a hair over 4 feet and was 38.25 inches in circumference; you wouldn’t be able to get your hands around this one!

How do we know this is a legitimate record?

To qualify for a Florida state record the fish has to be officially weighed on a certified scale and witnessed by a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission employee. It also has to be identified and certified by a biologist to make sure it is the correct species. Lavon Nowling’s 69.9 pound flathead was officially weighed and verified at FWC’s Blackwater Hatchery near Holt. You can check out the list of official Florida records at the “Big Catch Florida” website.

Is this also the largest of all the catfish ever caught in Florida?

blue catfish vs channel catfish
Blue catfish are typically the largest of the three main catfish in the U.S. Some can weigh more than 100 pounds!

M Huston/Shutterstock.com

Yes. Typically Blue catfish are larger than Flatheads, but the record Blue Catfish in Florida is just a tad smaller than the new record breaker. The largest Blue catfish ever caught in Florida was 69.5 pounds by William Stewart III on the Choctawhatchee River. Stewart set the record back on May 30, 2015 and his Blue catfish was the exact same length as the one Nowling just caught in 2020 at 48.5 inches.

What about other record-breaking catfish in Florida?

The largest channel catfish caught in Florida was a 44/5 pound catfish caught by Joe Purvis back in May of 1985. It was caught on Lake Bluff in Lake County.

The largest white catfish caught in Florida was a 18.88 pounder caught by Jim Miller on the Withlacoochee River in Marion County about 75 miles west of Orlando. Miller holds the record since September 21, 1991.

How big is the largest flathead catfish ever caught in the world?

The largest flathead catfish ever caught in the world is a 123 pound flathead caught by Ken Paulie from Independence, Kansas. His 123 pounder was reeled in on May 19, 1998 and holds the “All-Tackle World Record” by the International Game Fish Association. Paulie caught the flathead in the Elk City Reservoir.

What kind of world records are kept by the International Game Fish Association?

Besides the “All-Tackle” division records that measure the heaviest fish caught, there are records for All-Tackle Length, All-Tackle Length Fly, Line Class (Conventional), Tippet Class (Fly). The IGFA also gives young anglers a chance to break some records with the Junior and Smallfry Divisions.

What other flathead world records have been caught in Florida?

Apalachicola river
The Apalachicola River in Northern Florida is a hot spot for catfish of all kinds.

Carolyn Davidson Hicks/Shutterstock.com

There are a few Line Class World Record Flathead catfish held by one angler from Florida. Vicki D. Martin holds three line class world records for three separate flatheads that she caught. The first one in the W-04 kg (8 lb) Class was a 5 lbs 6 oz flathead fished from the Escambia River on May 19, 2018. Remember the Escambia is one of the rivers that flows down from Alabama where catfish are much more common.

The second record she holds is in the W-06 kg (12 lb) Class for a 10 lbs. 9 oz flathead caught on the Apalachicola River which has its headwaters in Georgia. This record was made on April 25, 2017.

Her third record was a 21 lbs. 4 oz flathead using a 20 lbs. line in the W-10 kg (20 lb) Class, pulled from the Escambia River again. She caught that one a day before the 8 lbs line record breaker, must have been a lucky weekend! That record was made on May 18, 2018.

What is the largest Catfish ever caught in the world?

Mekong Giant Catfish Swimming
Mekong Giant Catfish are the largest catfish in the world. The record holder was 646 pounds and 9-feet long!

tristan tan/Shutterstock.com

The largest catfish in the world is the Mekong Giant Catfish. They are an enormous species that can get to be 500 pounds or more! According to the Guinness World Records the larges Mekong Giant Catfish ever caught was 646 pounds! Can you imagine?! This massive fish was 9-feet long (longer than an average 7-foot couch)! The Mekong only lives in the Mekong River in the countries of Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar and Lao PDR. The record breaker was pulled from the river in northern Thailand in 2005. The Mekong Giant Catfish is considered “Critically Endangered” by the IUCN. According to the World Wildlife Fund, “Navigation projects have also destroyed critical spawning grounds and pollution and siltation have also had an impact. A further major factor in the decline of the Mekong giant catfish is over-fishing.” Conservationists are working in those countries to help the Giant catfish.

What are tips for catching the next largest flathead ever caught in Florida?

  • Fish the Apalachicola and Escambia rivers
  • Fish at night when they most frequently eat
  • Use live bait
  • Use a long line to reach deeper locations
  • The Yellow River might not be a bad choice either!
  • Good luck!

Up Next

Flathead Catfish
Flathead Catfish
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About the Author

I'm a Wildlife Conservation Author and Journalist, raising awareness about conservation by teaching others about the amazing animals we share the planet with. I graduated from the University of Minnesota-Morris with a degree in Elementary Education and I am a former teacher. When I am not writing I love going to my kids' soccer games, watching movies, taking on DIY projects and running with our giant Labradoodle "Tango".

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What is a flathead catfish?

The obvious answer is a catfish with a flat head, and that is partially true. But the flat head of the catfish is just one characteristic that makes them different from other catfish. Flatheads are larger than channel catfish but a bit smaller than blue catfish. They have a wider/flatter head and are yellow-brown with a molted look. The largest ones can get to be 3-4 feet long and weigh 100+ pounds! They prefer slow-moving rivers and reservoirs, liking the deep pools and areas around dams the best.

How much did the largest catfish on record weigh?

69.9 pounds

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