SARLEY: Fox River catfish "fish of a lifetime" for LITH fisherman

Lake in the Hills’ Rob Cowan battled this beast and came up a winner. This 44-inch flathead catfish was taken on a crankbait on the Fox River.
Lake in the Hills’ Rob Cowan battled this beast and came up a winner. This 44-inch flathead catfish was taken on a crankbait on the Fox River.

When you hear someone refer to a swimming creature as a “fish of a lifetime,” I’ll bet your mind immediately starts to envision a 10-pound bass or walleye or a 50-inch muskie, doesn’t it?

“Fish of a lifetime” doesn’t usually conjure up images of catfish. Well, maybe it should.

The top of this page is certainly hosting a fish worthy of that ”FOAL” designation. Take a good look at the incredible 44-inch flathead catfish that Lake in the Hills’ Rob Cowan caught this past week on the Fox River.

The beast is not nearly an Illinois state record, but it is the largest flathead I’ve seen taken from the Fox that I can remember. The state record is 81.4 pounds and was taken from Sangchris Lake. The previous record flathead weighed 78 pounds and was caught in Carlyle Lake. Both of these catches surprised me, as flatheads are considered to be river dwellers by most people.

Another anomaly offered up by Cowan’s fish is that it was caught on a crankbait. Most flathead aficionados will swear that these creatures will only bite on live bluegills.

Cowan was fishing with his 80-year-old father for walleyes from his boat on the Fox in the vicinity of the Route 14 bridge. He was casting a two-inch, crayfish-colored crank on 15-pound braid when the flathead hit it. He was targeting walleyes in deeper, fast-moving water.

Now, Cowan is no stranger to flathead catfish. He says that he has caught a number of them, up to 10 pounds, while fishing for walleyes and smallmouth bass on the Fox. All of his flatheads have been caught accidentally, he has never targeted them specifically.

This time, Cowan said his lure was hit by something that “felt like a freight train. Let me let him describe the battle.

“It hit really hard and then it ran straight down and wanted to sit on the bottom," Cowan said. "I knew right away that it was a flathead and it was a large one. It took 10 to 15 minutes of fighting to get it to the net. It kept pulling drag and it even pulled our boat down river a little bit.

“I had confidence in my equipment and never really thought that I was going to lose it. It came up to the surface twice and went straight back down to the bottom again. It finally came up and my dad almost knocked it off my line with the net. He finally got it in the net but it took the both of us to lift it into the boat. We quickly measured it, took a picture and put it back into the water. I think my dad was as excited about this fish as I was!”

Cowan’s fish measured 44 inches but was not weighed. Most sources will tell you that a flathead catfish of that length can weigh between 32 and 48 pounds, depending on the girth. I’d have to say that Cowan’s fish was a 40-pounder.

Even a catch like the giant flathead isn’t going to make Cowan give up bass, walleyes and crappies, even though it is his biggest fish ever. He had previously caught a 40-inch northern pike in Canadian waters. He beams, though, when he talks about the nine-pound walleyes that he caught in the Fox in each of the past two years.

Cowan says that the Fox is an excellent body of water for walleyes, especially around this time of year.

“My best walleye this year from the river is 25 inches," Cowan said. "There are a lot of good fish like that in there. Good smallies, too. I’ve been finding the walleyes and the smallies mixed in together in the same areas. I’ve been getting the walleyes on cranks and the smallies on big willow-leaf spinners. I’m dying to catch a ten-pound walleye in the Fox. I know they are in there and this is the time to do it. The big ones seem to turn off by the end of May. I’ll be out there trying for the next couple of weeks, for sure.”

Fishing report

Northern Illinois – Dave Kranz from Dave’s Bait, Tackle and Taxidermy in Crystal Lake reports: “The cooler weather has slowed the bass spawn down but as quickly as a couple of cold nights slow it down a couple of warm ones turn it back on. Add to that fact that a full moon is happening this week and the game is back on! Muskie fishing on the Fox Chain O’ Lakes is good. I heard that 14 fish were caught in a tournament the last weekend. Some were caught casting and some trolling smaller to medium-size muskie baits. I heard of some northern pike getting caught at Three Oaks Recreation area in Crystal Lake. Rapala Husky Jerks and spinnerbaits were taking them. The catfish on the Fox River should start hitting better with the warmer weekend coming.” Call 815-455-2040 for an updated report.

Fox Chain report – Chris Taurisano of T-Bone Guide Service ( - 630-330-9090) sends word, “Fishing has been pretty good this week. Stable weather has brought up the water temperatures, which is exactly what we needed to make for good fishing. Walleyes have been good on jig and crawler combos and also on Flicker Shads. Panfish are good on small plastics in back bays. Bass are bedding in shallow water. Muskies are moving well in shallow water on slow-moving baits. The better the weather, the better the fishing!”

Lake Michigan – The Lake Michigan Fishing Report is provided by Captain Bob Rossa of Migrator Charters - 815-338-8093. “Fishing has remained very good out of North Point Marina this past week, with Coho salmon making up the majority of the catch. A few king salmon, steelhead, and lake trout are making up the rest. The best fishing remains in the deeper water, but some fish can be caught along the shoreline. Although the best depth is in 240 to 300-feet of water, most of the fish are in the top 80-feet of the water column. OO orange dodgers with small Coho flies tied 16-inches behind has been the best bait. Spoons are also taking some fish. Shore fishing has remained slow, because most of the fish are offshore.”

Delavan and Geneva – Geneva bass are still hanging out in water that is 15 to 20 feet deep right now. They won’t be on the beds until late in the month, it seems. The Defender jig fished slowly seems to be the best presentation. Delavan walleyes are taking minnow on the deeper weed edges. Try for bass in the shallows on the east side using Senkos.

2016 spring turkey season - Illinois turkey hunters harvested 15,484 wild turkeys during the 2016 Spring Turkey Season, including the youth seasons. The 2015 total was 15,000 birds. The 2016 Youth Turkey Season harvest of 1,045 birds beat the 2015 total of 896. The North Zone harvest total of 8,790 wild turkeys was also higher than the 2015 total of 8,613. Some totals for selected Northern Illinois counties: Boone 76; DeKalb 21; Kane 2; Lake 1; McHenry 62; Winnebago 175.

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