The Largest Flathead Catfish Ever Caught in Michigan was a River Monster

Flathead Catfish
© slowmotiongli/

Written by Claire Wilson

Updated: September 14, 2023

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Many anglers enjoy the challenge that flathead catfish are to hook. Plus, these freshwater fish make for delicious eating. However, the flathead catfish’s popularity among anglers makes it hard for organizations that are trying to protect native fish populations from these catfish. The flathead catfish is considered an invasive species because of its massive eating habits, huge size, and its capability to swim long distances in a short amount of time. But its huge size is part of the draw for sports fishermen.

The largest flathead catfish caught in Michigan weighed over 53 pounds!

Find out about the largest flathead catfish ever caught in Michigan and why they are such a unique fish to catch.

Description of Flathead Catfish in Michigan

Two flathead catfish on bottom of the river floor.

The scientific name for the flathead catfish is

Pylodictis olivaris. “

Pylodictis” is Greek for “mudfish.” And in Latin, “Olivares” means “olive-colored.”


The scientific name for the flathead catfish is Pylodictis olivaris. “Pylodictis” is Greek for “mudfish.” This is fitting as they are primarily bottom feeders and found in the muck of freshwater rivers and lakes.

And in Latin, “Olivares” means “olive-colored.” While coloring may vary depending on their habitat, most adult flathead catfish have dark brown sides and an olive-colored back. The underside of this fish is a whitish-yellow, and the tail is shaped like a square with a notch in the middle of the fin.

Its common name, “flathead catfish,” comes from its uniquely shaped head, which is broad and flat. Its lower jaw sticks out further than its upper jaw, and tiny eyes sit on its elongated head.

Average Flathead Catfish Size

Typically, flathead catfish grow to three or four feet long. But some have surpassed five feet. Because they are such fast growers, many flathead catfish can exceed 100 pounds in size. This also makes them the second-largest species of catfish!


Catfish, Fish, Mississippi River, Underwater, USA

Because flathead catfish are such greedy eaters, they can decimate native populations of fish, which is why they are considered invasive.


While most catfish are scavengers, flathead catfish prefer hunting live fish. When they are young, flathead catfish eat invertebrates such as worms, insects, and crayfish. However, as they mature, they eat mainly fish like carp, shad, sunfish, and even their own kind. Because flathead catfish are such greedy eaters, they can decimate native populations of fish, which is why they are considered invasive.


Flathead catfish range from the lower Great Lakes through the Mississippi River watershed to the Gulf states. They congregate in deep pools of rivers, lakes, and canals. Areas with slow currents and cloudy water are the flathead catfish’s ideal habitat.


The typical lifespan of the flathead catfish is 12 to 14 years, but the oldest flathead catfish that has ever lived was 24 years.

Fishing For Flathead Catfish in Michigan

Flathead catfish

Most flathead catfish are caught using a rod-and-reel or with a method called “noodling,” where the fisherman catches the catfish with his or her arm.

©M. Huston/

The most typical way to fish for catfish is with a rod-and-reel loaded with a heavy line of at least 30-pound test. Rarely do artificial lures work on flathead catfish; it’s more common to use cut bait or night crawlers.

Cut bait is when you cut chunks of fish and rig it on your fishing line. It’s one of the best kinds of bait to use to attract catfish, though it can be tricky for flatheads. Since flathead catfish almost exclusively eat live fish, you must use fresh-cut bait. Many times, fishermen will catch smaller fish and cut them up on the spot for flathead fishing.

Another method for fishing for flathead catfish is called “noodling.” For this technique, the noodler wades out into deep pools and probes the underwater holes with bare arms. By doing this, the noodler hopes to aggravate the catfish into chomping down on the noodler’s arm. This allows the noodler to grab the flathead catfish and haul it into the boat without a pole or hook.

The Largest Flathead Catfish Ever Caught in Michigan

The Michigan record flathead catfish was caught on May 29, 2022. This monster measured 48 inches long and 53.35 pounds. Lloyd Tanner, a fisherman from Hobart, Indiana, went out on the St. Joe River in the early morning when he caught this huge flathead catfish. He was simply still fishing (when you bait your line and leave it in the water, waiting for a fish to find it) and using cut bait to lure the catfish.

The Largest Flathead Catfish Ever Caught Worldwide

The largest flathead catfish on record worldwide weighed 123 pounds. It was 61 inches long and 42.75 inches wide. Ken Paulie hooked this beast in 1998 from the Elk City Reservoir in Kansas. Using a jig-and-minnow, Paulie was originally crappie fishing but got this surprise instead!

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About the Author

Claire Wilson is a writer at A-Z Animals where her primary focus is on reptiles, travel, and historic places and landmarks. Claire holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Writing from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, which she earned in 2010. A resident of Wisconsin, Claire enjoys hiking, visiting parks, and biking nature trails.

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