Hunts for river’s beasts often come up dry
The pictures on the wall of Hack's Outfitters are numerous and the faces range from joyful to tired as each person holds a trophy catch.
The trophies are giant flathead catfish, a mottled and flattened out version of other more accessible catfish such as the bullhead and the more often seen channel cat. These beasts can grow to nearly 100 pounds, and the big ones have been swimming in nearby rivers and lakes, since Nixon was in the White House.
But while the smiles are plentiful on the faces of those who have extracted these fish out of the water and brought them out to display, one thing is certain -- they know where to find the beasts and they aren't likely to tell you.
"I know guys who won't say anything about it," Josh Hackathorn, a local bait shop employee, said. "Some people will come in who catch those kind of fish don't tell where they caught them. They don't want everyone and their dog going down there trying to catch a big catfish and crowding out the spots."
Hackathorn, who helps out at his parent's Lawrence based bait shop, has often heard stories of the giant fish and at times has seen them brought in by the people who've caught them. But whatever happened to get the giant fish out of the lake or where it came from often remains a mystery.
Hackathorn is no stranger to snaring big catfish, and doesn't need to know anything about anyone else's spots, as he has been after the giant catfish ever since he learned to fish. Hackathorn himself has latched onto many of the monsters, including his own personal best, a fish weighing in at 62 pounds.
But as he as gotten older, he notices that things have changed for many of those who try and capture these catfish. Some of those things may contribute to the quiet nature of people who catch these fish.
"Not a lot of people do it anymore," Hackathorn said. "It's just so time consuming for a lot of people. You have to go and set lines and drive all around checking them and some people just don't have the time anymore."
One of the reasons the search for these giant catfish has perhaps waned is in the differences the fish has with its brethren.
The flathead variety of catfish is similar to its cousins, the channel catfish and bullhead catfish in many areas save one. The flathead only dines on live bait, while the channel cat and bullhead are scavengers, eating just about anything they find in front of them. This finicky aspect of the flathead can often make the taking of these fish even more difficult.
Large shiner minnows and goldfish are often used to lure the fish out of hiding and stockpiling the live bait to realistically catch big flathead can be an expensive endeavor.
The methods which go along with the hunting the fish range from rod and reel to the setting of trot lines across creeks, which requires the fisherman to monitor the lines throughout the day.
Although setting lines and constantly monitoring their status is part of the time consuming process of fishing for these giant catfish, the rewards are often worth the labor it involves.
"Sometimes you get them on there and it's a great fight," Hackathorn said. "I've fought some for half hour or 45 minutes and seen some fight almost two hours. It's a lot of work sometimes but it's worth it."