A videotape entitled "1997-1998 John 'Catfish King' Thompson" is circulating among a small cadre of anglers in these parts.
Many viewers are captivated by Thompson's prowess at catching an incredible number of large flathead catfish on log lines in eastern Kansas reservoirs.
This video captured one of Thompson's most fruitful floats. It occurred during four trips and encompassed 12 days in April and May of 1998, when he caught 1,241 pounds of flatheads.
From a line attached to a flooded tree the size of a telephone pole, he caught four titans that weighed 50, 55, 56 and 60 pounds. Then in July, Thompson crowned his amazing spring fling by landing two cats that weighed 63 and 67 pounds.
Normally, the prime time during the spring to catch the biggest flatheads is when the mushrooms are sprouting and the crappie are spawning. From Thompson's vast perspective, the best flathead catches occur during the years when the mushrooms are numerous and the crappie are proliferous.
This spring, however, the mushrooms were few and far between and the crappie spawn was nearly negligible. In addition, cold winds battered the reservoirs day after day, and 14 inches of cold rain caused the reservoirs to fluctuate wildly.
Consequently, flathead fishing during the spring of 1999 wasn't bounteous. But during the month of May, Thompson used his immense skills to catch and release 14 flatheads that weighed as many as 75 pounds and as few as 10 pounds.
Here is how Thompson battled the continuous sorties of cold rain and wind:
For a span of a week or so, he set his eight log lines in five to seven feet of water on big flooded hardwood trees that sat on mud flats of inundated green willow trees. Then as the lake level dropped, he moved his lines, trying to keep them in water that was five to seven feet of water.
Moreover, Thompson attempted to set his lines along the routes that he thought the flatheads would travel as they left the flooded willows.
His log line has four parts: line, hook, inner tube and staple. The line consists of several feet of 300-pound braided nylon. The hook is a 12/0 and is attached to the line with a snell knot. A large swath of a rubber inner tube is tied to one end of the line.
A gigantic staple is hampered into the side of the tree, affixing the top of the inner tube firmly to the tree. The log line is set so that the bait swims two to three feet below the surface.
For bait, Thompson prefers a large, lively sunfish; a five- to seven-incher is ideal.
After the middle of May, the flathead fishing for some unknown reason begins to peter out. From late May until the flathead spawn in late June or early July, Thompson's lines are regularly attacked by gar and channel catfish, and his catches of flatheads are inconsistent.
Once the flathead spawn ends in late July, the fishing picks up again in August. Then he places his lines on big trees that sit in seven to 12 feet of water, and he says some big ones can be caught throughout the late summer and early fall, but it is seldom as profitable as it is in April and May.
By the way, a sequel to Thompson's 1997-98 video is in the works, featuring that 75-pounder that he wrestled into the boat on May 28.