The Flathead Ghost

“He’s already got two,” Marty said as we did a last minute spot-check before heading out.

“He” is the one who shall remain nameless. Let’s call him The Ghost.

The Ghost has been out there plying the craft for a long time. Silently. Not just for flatheads. For everything. I’ve heard tales of a largemouth bass scheme he runs with success. Targeting largemouth? In the Fox? Yeah. From what I understand it works nicely for him.

I’ve met him a few times. I know he’s real.

“I remember low water like this back in ’92.”

He has that sort of history with the river. When the Ghost has two in the boat before you hit the water it’s a good omen.

“At least fish seem to be moving,” Marty said. We flatheaders live and die based on whether the fish are moving. At least, that’s the general opinion.

It was warm as we ran the boat to our first anchor. Relaxed from a few beers after dinner, I was ready to settle in for some conversation. Flatheaders have to be diligent conversationalists, well-versed in a variety of topics. The talk is what fills the time between action. Sometimes it’s all you get – so you’d better make it good.

One ping on the rod tip and the talk stops abruptly. We watch the pole in silence for a moment. Marty lights it up with his headlamp. We pause. Must’ve been the bait. Lights out. Marty picks up the thought he left hanging without hesitation. We’re talking about Adam Dunn’s value to the Sox despite hitting a lousy 205.

Marty takes down a nice channel cat on the first anchor. The Two-Channel Cat Rule is always in effect. Two and move. Not what we’re looking for.

“If we were gonna eat ‘em,” he says and holds up the fish. Nice, healthy channel cat. Back down into the weedy Fox she went. The conversation continued and then Marty’s phone went off.

“Damn, he’s got three.”

A 38″, a 36″ and maybe a 29″. Marty remembers the numbers. He’s got a mind for it. He can tell you the big fish that came out of most spots we fish.

My rod took a nice bump and the line went slack. I picked up my gear and tightened it up, gave the bait a bump against the sinker. She ran. I drove the hook home and could immediately tell it was a nicer fish. She ran straight for the boat and took a detour around the back, running under lines and around the motor. She ran all the way to the other side of the boat. She was big in my imagination.

As soon as I saw her boatside I was disappointed. Marty lipped her and I pulled out the measuring board. 34.5″.

“Respectable fish,” Marty said. “The biggest fish out of here was a 35.” Missed it by a half-inch.

I felt dumb letting a 34″ run the way I did, but I was happy to get the skunk off. What seemed like a split-second later another channel slammed my rod. Time to move? Time to move.

In the next spot we got yet another channel cat. After another anchor we made a big move. The conversation was good but the fishing slowed down. For us, at least.

The phone rang. #4 for The Ghost. Marty and I sat and talked but the rods didn’t move. The baits went to sleep. I was tired. The beer from dinner had worn off and my eyes were heavy.
“Come on, flatcats,” I said to the river.

Right before we packed it in The Ghost texted over his fifth fish. I can’t recall the sizes of the last two fish. Maybe I blocked it out.

We prepared to run back to my dock and take the boat out. On other nights I’d have been satisfied with a single 34″. But not that night. We were eclipsed.

As I stood on the pier with the dock line in hand, waiting for Marty to pull the trailer in, the Ghost came motoring up. I could almost see him in the shadows.

“Helluva night,” I shouted out to the running lights at the edge of darkness.

“For sure,” The Ghost said. Marty got out of the truck and they rapped for a minute.

The Ghost hammered down for home. I could still hear him running as we winched up the boat.

I hit the bed like a Mack truck. I went to sleep thinking about luck, timing, location and history. I took luck off of the table and then I fell asleep.

The other three will just take some time.

-Sam Bennett

This writing was originally published on