Flathead handfishing season open to adventure-seekers

To explore the unknown and murky depths of a catfish nest, to be willing to wrestle a male flathead to the water’s surface bare-handed, to feel the unforgiving grinding of a bristly tooth patch rubbing against your skin ­- that is handfishing.


“Handfishing is a challenging sport that only a small portion of our anglers are willing to attempt,” said Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism (KDWPT) Fisheries section chief, Doug Nygren. “It’s really a unique opportunity for the adventurers out there.”

Handfishing requires an angler to use their hands as the bait and hook. They will find a suspected catfish hole, barricade possible exits the fish might escape through, stick their arm inside, and lurk around for a catfish mouth to grab. Although somewhat simple in theory, handfishing is an angling technique not for the faint of heart. And according to KDWPT license records, only 578 anglers were willing to take on the sport in 2014.

Adding to the challenge, regulations do not allow man-made objects that attract fish, such as a barrel, box, or bathtub to be used. Handfishing anglers are also prohibited from using snorkel or scuba gear. A stringer may be used, but not until the catfish is caught by hand and is at or above the water’s surface.

Luckily, Kansas is one of a handful of states that offer this special season. With a special permit, anglers can handfish for flathead catfish in select waters from sunrise to sunset June 15-Aug. 31.

Kansas waters open to handfishing include: the entire length of the Arkansas River, all federal reservoirs from beyond 150 yards of the dam to the upstream end of the federal property, and the Kansas River from its origin, downstream to its confluence with the Missouri River.

“These fish are going to be found in areas that have structures beneath the water, like rocks and old trees,” said Nygren. “An angler’s best bet is to try a federal reservoir with rip-rap areas open to handfishing.”

Handfishing permits can be obtained for $27.50 at license vendors, or online at

For more information, consult the 2015 Kansas Fishing Regulations Summary, or visit