A lot of fishermen want to know the best catfish bait. They want to know what bait to use that will hook more catfish. Putting the right bait in front of them will increase your chances of hooking the big one. Important to understand, not all baits will work for all species of catfish.
The Different Tastes of Catfish
You want to target your catfish with a specific type of bait because not every bait will work for every species catfish. Many people mistakenly believe that a catfish is only a catfish and they all have the same tastes, but each species will differ from one to the next. You have the channel catfish, blue catfish and flathead catfish.
While each of them has resemblances, each of them will differ as well in terms of the types of baits that they like. When you acknowledge this fact, you put more catfish at the end of your hook. Ignore it, and you will catch fewer fish if you use the wrong bait.
Remember: What works for one species won’t always work for the other.
Approach Based on the Catfish
How you fish for channel catfish should differ from how you fish for blue catfish. The bait for each species will differ greatly from one to the next. Each of the species have different eating habits, habitats and will require a different fishing technique if you want to make it successful.
Why do I recommend that you apply a different baiting approach for each type of species? I advise that you do this because of how it will increase your chances for success. You could have a giant catfish hiding out in the water, but you lower the chances that you will put it on your hook if you don’t adapt your approach to every species of catfish. Why miss out on a trophy catfish when all you had to do was change your approach?
Understanding Blue Catfish to Bait Them Properly
Blue catfish, the largest of the catfish species, never pass up the opportunity for a good meal. They love to eat. Their favorite meals include threadfin shad, skipjack herring and gizzard shad. You could choose to fish with the whole shad, or you could cut it into chunks. Either way, blue catfish love this type of bait.
Let’s say that you don’t have shad or herring available for a bait. You have some other bait choices you might use that include:
In general, for myself, I have found that if you cut the bait up into chunks, you tend to have better luck than if you use them whole, but this depends on personal preference. Catfish love oily meats, which means that carp will make an attractive choice.
Using shad as bait will usually be your best bet when it comes to catching blue catfish. Important to note, just as important as the bait is the freshness of the bait. You want it to taste fresh so that the catfish won’t spit it out or choose not to bite it directly.
Many times, you may also want to search for the shad in the water because of how when you find the shad, you will also find the catfish nearby. Predator fish go to where their prey are at. Blue catfish will always be close to where their prey is, and if they’re not by the bait, you will find them near it. Blue catfish love to eat, and because of that, they will spend all or close to all of their day eating.
In fact, many fishermen have talked about how when they caught the fish, they saw that its belly was gorged with skipjack and shad. They had it stuffed to the maximum.
After you have reeled them in, in some cases, the catfish will regurgitate the bait fish, or they will have it hanging out of their mouth.
Many people have called the blue catfish an opportunistic predator. This means that it will eat anything whether dead bait or alive bait, it just wants to eat.
In general, if you can’t get shad, then you should go with skipjack herring. Let’s say that you want to target a trophy blue catfish. You will usually want to get skipjack bait because of how this tends to be much larger than shad, and it will attract a larger type of fish. If you want to get the smaller catfish, you might cut the skipjack into smaller pieces.
What about some of the other baits with catching blue catfish? You can use them beyond a doubt, and I have seen a lot of people make use out of these baits with success. In general, however, I like to go with the tried and proven shad and skipjack because of how it has the best reputation for catching them.
When it comes to live bait or dead bait, what I have found with blue catfish is that they will strike at either live bait or dead bait. You don’t see too much of a difference between the two. Remember: These guys love to eat.
With baiting blue catfish, I have sometimes seen fishermen looking for the silver bullet of all the baits. They want to find the perfect bait. I will tell you that I have never seen this kind of bait. Blue catfish like to eat a variety of things, but there isn’t one that will guarantee that you catch them.
Strangely enough, blue catfish also like cow’s blood. They go wild for it. If you use it, I’d recommend that you choose to use this bait at night. Using it during the daytime, the brim will eat your bait fast.
Understanding Channel Catfish to Bait Them Properly
Let’s say that your next trip will have you targeting channel catfish. I don’t recommend that you use the same approach with blue catfish that you would with channel catfish because you will lower your catch rate.
In general, channel catfish prefer an easy meal. For that reason, you can use dead baits to an increased advantage with this species of catfish. All catfish are scavengers, but this species loves an easy meal. You can play that to your advantage.
A lot of people dislike stink baits and for good reason. Your hands will smell bad for a couple of days after, and it makes your hands messy. You could use a stink bait for channel catfish, but you could also use shad guts as a type of bait to lure them in. I understand why people don’t like to use stink baits, but I have to say, it never failed to bring in the channel catfish. While I have made use out of frozen shrimp as well, I found that I caught even more with stink baits.
My approach with channel catfish differs to that of blue catfish. For example, when I go fishing for this species, I fish for numbers. I don’t necessarily go after the bigger catfish with it comes to channel catfish. That’s okay, however, because of how bigger catfish also tend to have a stronger flavor, as I mentioned in this article, “Are Carp Worth Eating?”
With channel catfish, I play the numbers game. Channel catfish will often hunt based on their sense of smell and sound. You might call this the lazier of the catfish species, however. They won’t work as hard for their meals if they can scavenge a meal.
When it comes to their senses, channel catfish have keen senses, and this raises above and beyond many of the other species of fish.
For putting more channel catfish in your boat, you will use these three types of baits:
- Punch Baits
- Dip Baits
- Dead baits
Punch baits have a quicker effect on the catfish. They will work more quickly, and they will get the name used for baiting the hook. On the other hand, you have dip baits, which have a thin consistency. You might use a worm or small tube or a sponge to keep the bait on the hook.
Dead baits are the final choice, and I have had a lot of luck with all three. I’ve caught a number of channel catfish using some of these baits.
The great thing about punch and dip baits comes from how they work every time. If you struggle to catch channel cat fish using dip or punch baits, you most likely need to change your fishing ground. You’re fishing in the wrong place where there are none.
The strong smell of the bait will attract channel catfish fast. Throughout the water, the scent will carry, and you will possibly attract even more channel catfish to the area.
Some of the baits that I have found most effective for channel catfish include:
- Dead shad
Let’s say that you want to target some of the larger channel catfish. You will want to use a larger bait just like how you might use it with the larger blue catfish. Not everyone wants the larger catfish, however, because of how the flavor tends to be stronger with these fish. The longer that a catfish has been around, the bigger that it will be, and it will also have taken in more from the environment to give it a stronger taste. Not necessarily a bad thing, but not everyone wants their catfish to have a stronger flavor.
Important to note, I don’t think that you need 7 or 8 different kinds of channel catfish baits to bring them in. Honestly, I think this is overkill, and it wastes a lot of your money.
Instead, you could better use your time through figuring out where the catfish are located. You can catch more catfish from putting the right bait in the right location, rather than trying to have too many baits on hand.
Occasionally, you will see people targeting channel catfish with baits like hot dogs, chicken liver, shrimp or turkey liver. I’ve done the same, but what I’ve found is that while these baits will work some of the time, they don’t work as well as some of the natural baits. In addition, if you want to catch a lot of channel catfish, it will bring in enough of them.
Channel catfish usually won’t be as large as blue catfish, but they put up a ridiculous level of fighting, which makes them one of my favorite. You might call this species the most opportunistic out of the three catfish.
In general, I have found that some of the best baits to use for larger channel catfish will be with the dip and punch baits. In addition, the worse the bait smells, the higher the likelihood that you will attract them to your bait. Once channel catfish have gotten larger than 10 pounds, their diet will usually turn more to the fish side of things. If you want to target a larger channel catfish, you might use some fish baits.
Understanding Flathead Catfish and How to Bait Them Properly
When it comes to fishing for flathead catfish, you have to understand how this target will differ from channel catfish or blue catfish. When it comes to bait, they prefer live bait to dead bait. In fact, the more the bait moves, the better off that you will be with this type of catfish.
Some of the baits that you might use with flathead catfish include:
- Small perch
- Small brim
- Mud cats
If you plan to target flathead catfish, then one of the biggest recommendations that I can make is that you get lively bait. You will attract far more of them this way. That can, however, be a pain because you have to keep the bait alive and lively at the same time.
For those expecting a lot of fast-paced action and fun, I’d recommend you target one of the other catfish species because flatheads differ. You want fill the bed of your truck up with 25 catfish in a single trip. It doesn’t happen because of the nature of this species and the numbers aren’t as abundant as with the other two.
If you fish for flathead, you should understand how a lot of anglers in this category consider it a successful day when they bring home two large flatheads in a day. They consider that a “good” trip. You have plenty of others where you will come home skunked.
The flathead acts less like a scavenger where it hunts the bottom of the river searching for dead fish. It likes its bait lively. Keeping it lively will be essential to catching the flathead. Personally, I don’t like the flathead as much unless I’m bowfishing because I prefer the fast-paced action–hey! I’m a bowfisherman at heart!
Along with live bait, you do have cut bait that works well for catching flathead catfish. When it comes to this topic, things can get heated because some anglers believe only in the strictest sense of using live bait for flatheads. If you have never tried it, however, I would recommend that you try it. In fact, you owe it to yourself to try cut bait to see how well it works.
In general, you can make your bait seem more lively through putting it in the current. The moving water increases the chances that you will get a flathead strike on your line. Some of the other techniques that I have to work on flatheads include trolling, drift fish, movements on the bait and anchoring with a drop and drop technique.
You might add some cut baits to the mix to switch things up and see if you can draw out more bites. You’d feel surprised at what you might catch through using these techniques.
Bottom line: I don’t recommend that if you have a buddy new to fishing that you go out and immediately start targeting the flatheads. Especially if you know your buddy doesn’t have the patience for it. You might want to start with the channel catfish or the blue catfish to keep him interested in the sport. You can introduce him to this species later as the interest increases if you like flatheads.
Fresh Bait vs Frozen Bait
Usually, I would recommend that you choose fresh bait over frozen bait because of how fresh bait performs better in 90 percent of cases. Not always but in most cases, you will be better off with fresh bait.
A lot of people in catfish angling get pretty passionate. They will find what works for them, and they will fight ferociously to the bitter end to defend that bait. Having the right bait for catching catfish will either make or break you. You want to choose the perfect bait to bring in the fish.
It’d be pointless to argue that people haven’t caught catfish using frozen bait because it has happened plenty of times. In addition, having frozen shad is better than not having bait at all.
Why does fresh bait tend to perform better? First, understand that fresh means freshly caught within the last 24 hours. It mimics as close to the real thing as possible, which could be the reason that it has become so popular.
You do have some circumstances where frozen bait will be superior, but those times will be far and few in between. This depends on the season and only few set circumstances where frozen will outperform it. Once you have frozen the fish, it tends to soften, and this can make it less effective. This makes it softer, and you change how it feels natural to the catfish, which will present you with problems.
Another problem with freezing the bait comes from how it softens the bait to the point where it won’t even stay on the hook. It falls off rather easily, which presents you with a whole list of new problems.
How to Find the Perfect Bait
One of the best ways to find the perfect bait will come from looking at what they’re feeding on and getting as close to the same bait as possible. You want to mimic what they’re eating because it will increase your chances of success.
A genius tip that comes from my article, “101 Fishing Tips for Beginners,” you check the live well of previously caught fish to see if they may have spit up other things that they were feeding on. In this way, you will discover precisely what the fish were eating. You can mimic it down to the color of the bait. Especially when you fish for blue catfish, you will have plenty of opportunities to check for what they might have fed on previously to learn how to catch more of them.
Important to note, after you have found what they’re currently feeding on, you want to present this food in a way that looks as natural as possible.
How to Save Money on Catfish Baits
Instead of going out and buying catfish baits from your local baitshop, you might instead catch the baits yourself. In this way, you can save money on it. You might, for example, specifically target shad to try to bring more of them in.
To catch shad for your catfish baits, you will use a cast net. This will be your best option for most people. During the winter months, you will cast your net for shad over in the deeper parts of the water. You should also understand how the larger the net, the faster it sinks. That can be great. The only problem comes from how the smaller shad will sometimes slip right through it.
In general, the fastest way for you to locate where the shad are at is through using the fish finder. You can typically locate them through this method quite effortlessly. Shad bait works especially well for blue catfish, but you can catch both flathead and channel catfish as well using this bait.
No Secret to It
With catfish anglers, you will see many looking for the philosopher’s stone so to speak. They will be searching for the perfect bait that will bring in the biggest and most attractive catfish. In all my years of fishing, however, I would argue that you don’t have a secret to catfish angling. Simply show up at the right time and drop a line.
You may not walk away with freshly caught catfish each time, but you drastically increase your chances that you will walk away more often with a catfish than not.
In short, having the right bait at the right time, you have many things that can work. I heard of people throwing french fries in the water only to find channel catfish coming to eat them. One aspect of becoming a successful catfish angler comes down to understanding what it takes to be successful. You have to use the bait in the right place and at the right time. Look for the typical things that your target species of catfish likes to feed off of.
Don’t waste your time trying to find the perfect bait. Instead, I advise that you go for the baits that have proven effective time and time again for your species.
Along with that, get your line in the water as much as possible. The more you have your line out in the water, the more successful that you will be. You will increase your chances of catching catfish, and you will bring more of them home.
Location Determines the Bait
Where you choose to go fishing for catfish will determine the type of bait that you should use. While most catfish will feed on a variety of baits, when you use the right bait at the right time, it can be a deadly powerful combination that leads to your success.
Whether you have arrived at their dinner time and the presentation of the bait will make a big difference in if they bite. You will find catfish in abundance, and they can be found in every body of water from the lakes to the ponds to the rivers to the reservoirs to creeks and streams.
With those things in mind, the best catfish bait will most closely mimic the catfish’s favorite foods. It will have many similarities, but it will come with strings attached–or should I say hooks attached.
What to Consider with Manufactured Baits
If you decide to go with a manufactured bait, then I would recommend that you go with one that will mimics the nature of the bait that the catfish would normally feed off of. You want to present it in a fashion that looks as natural as possible, and if the company doesn’t understand this, then you probably shouldn’t buy from them.
Some of the best bait manufacturing companies that I have found to be the most effective in this include:
- Sure Shot Catfish Punch Bait
- CJ’s Catfish Punch Bait
- Sudden Impact Fiber Bait from Team Catfish
Want to Use Crawfish for Bait?
You have a few catfish anglers who have highlighted one of the biggest problems with using crawfish as bait. The biggest issue that arises from this is that you won’t simply be targeting the catfish alone because you have many other types of fish that like to eat crawfish. You will have to sort through a variety of other fish like smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, perch, muskie, pike and striped bass. As you can see, you will have to contend with a lot of others if you simply want to catch catfish.
How Do You Locate the Catfish
Especially with blue catfish, one of the easiest ways to find the catfish will be to find their bait because this will show you where they’re at. They’re never too far from the shad. In general, blue catfish are quite predictable. Their bait, however, is equally as predictable.
You want to look for certain environmental triggers where they will show up. As I stated previously, you could use the depth finder to find the shad. However, let’s look at some of the the ways that you can find them. Search for a school of shad because this will typically be easier to find.
You will rarely find shad available in the bait shop because of how they are notoriously difficult to keep alive.
Funny Things That Catfish Have Eaten
Many things could be used as a catfish bait depending on the time and season and the catfish’s mood. While they eat a lot of certain things, they have been known to eat some funny things even outside the hot dogs and french fries that I had previously mentioned.
Let’s have a look at some of the wilder baits that you could use to catch some catfish.
First, you have ivory soap, which just might be the strangest bait ever used to catch a catfish. Some catfish anglers have even developed this into a cult where they use chunks of ivory soap to catch catfish.
To prepare it, you will first want to melt it in a double boiler. Next, you will poor it into an ice cube tray. Preferably, you will want to do this with one that you don’t plan on using for making use cubes out of. Next, you will put points of it in with the treble hook sticking out to catch the fish. Once it hardens, you have your catfish bait.
You may not believe this, but catfish have even been known to go after marshmallows. They have somewhat of a sweet tooth. Because marshmallows are porous, they float on the water, and they absorb other scents. You might dip the marshmallow in some kind of irresistible scent like crawfish scent, put the marshmallow on a hook and see if you can’t hook one.
Green apple bubblegum has become another known bait for catfish. Apparently, the strong flavor and scent of it appeals to catfish, and they go wild for it. In particular, channel catfish have been known to come after it because of their keen sense of smell. Most of this comes prepackaged, and you don’t have to gag trying to use one of the messy and disgusting stink baits to bring in a catfish.
Finally, some of the honorable mentions for funny baits that catfish have gone after include:
- Canned dog food
- Greasy chicken skin
- French fries
- Spoiled shrimp
- Cigarette butts
How Can You Freeze Shad Successfully
Let’s say that you still want to use shad as a bait, and you’re looking for the most successful way to freeze them and have success with this type of bait. Important to note, frozen shad will work best in frozen weather because of how the bait will more closely mimic the natural food source.
In general, I’d recommend that you target the larger shad because of how they tend to freeze better. After you have caught the shad, drop it in the bucket and get the excessive slime off the fish. Once you have done this, put it on ice as a way of keeping it cool. Then you will add in layers of ice as a way of keeping the shad frozen. Finally, you will want to transfer them to ziplock bags. Important to note, you have to do this work quickly.
You will lay the bags inside the freezer for letting them freeze. Get to it as quickly as possible. The trick to getting good frozen shad bait comes down to freezing it as quickly as possible because this keeps it looking natural.
Other Things to Understand with Your Bait
When you go fishing, you may not even think about it, but you should wash your hands with soap. Preferably, you want to do this with unscented soap. That’s because of how the scent from your hands can get onto the bait and make the bait smell unnatural. This is important with any targeted fish species, but catfish have an especially keen sense of smell that can make it even worse.
In particular, you want to make sure that you don’t have any strong odors on your hands. For example, the smell of household cleaning products or gasoline can prove especially bad.
Especially if you want to target blue catfish, shad will have a special importance as a bait. You will most likely need to catch it yourself because this bait doesn’t last long at all. In many cases, shad only lasts a day, which is why the bait shops don’t even keep this bait. It’s not profitable for them. However, you’d be mistaken if you didn’t use this bait because of how it is exceptionally popular with this fish.
Trick to Bring in the Catfish
Looking for a way that you will have the edge as a fisherman? Use a scissors to snip the tail fin or the pectoral fins of your bait fish. When you do this, your bait fish will flounder and bleed in the water. As the disoriented bait fish moves around, channel cats, in particular, will come in at the smell and sound of injured prey. You will want to hook your bait in the tail just above the dorsal fin part.
Looking Closer at Hot Dog Bait
I briefly talked about hot dogs getting used as a bait for attracting catfish. In particular, this attracts the channel catfish. I’d like to speak more in depth about using this kind of bait for catfish. I don’t recommend that you use the all-beef hot dog as a bait because they don’t seem to like this as much.
Instead, if you can get the variety made from turkey or chicken, I have found that type of hot dog to be the most effective with attracting the channel catfish.
You have the option to use hot dogs straight out of the package, and I have found some success with using that method. However, I have found that you can increase the allure through soaking your hot dogs in Kool-Aid and garlic.
When you go to slice the hot dogs, you will want to slice them into 3/4 inches. Next, you put the hot dogs in a Ziploc bag, and you will add chopped garlic to the mix. You will put unsweetened Kool-Aid on the hot dogs as well. However, you add the Kool-Aid to the hot dog as a way of coloring the hot dog, rather than for flavor. You want it to look as natural as possible so that you can get more strikes on your line. Catfish will feed on scent and sight, which is what makes this a powerful method.
Trick to Using Worms
If you’re a fisherman, at some point in your career, you will work with worms. One of the tricks that I love to use comes down to using beet juice and soaking the worms in it overnight. Once I get on the water with these worms, I will inject them with a syringe and a shot of air.
The beetle juice serves the purpose of making the worm tougher so that it has a more natural look on your hook. Meanwhile, you inject it with air so that it float above the bottom of the ground, and this increases the visibility. Catfish hunt based on smell, sight and sound. In this way, the worm has fewer chances of blending in with the ground on the bottom.
Dispelling Myth: Best Time to Put Bait in the Water
One of the most common stereotypes that I have heard over and over is that you catch catfish at night. While most of the catfish anglers go fishing for catfish after dark, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t drop some bait during the day with success.
This also depends on the type of catfish that you want to catch. Flatheads, for example, are nocturnal. They hunt at night, and if you want to catch flatheads, you’ll most likely do it after dark. You can still catch flatheads during the day, but it’s less common. That may be where this myth comes from.
On the other hand, you have blue catfish and channel catfish. Both of these species seem to come out whenever they feel like it. You can catch them during the day or at night. Nevertheless, blue catfish tend to have more activity during the day when they have to hunt in a strong current. When going to the slower currents, they will usually act more nocturnal.
What are the Best Catfish Baits?
In general, the best catfish baits will look the most natural, and they will mimic the real thing that the catfish feed off of. Usually, the best baits will come from their natural habitat. You can gather shad on your own, which is probably the best bait for the blue catfish.
Meanwhile, channel catfish tend to like dip baits and punch baits. Finally, if you’re after the flathead catfish, they like anything on the more lively side. While these solitary catfish are harder to catch, they put up quite a battle once you get them on the line.
Important to note with catfish that no single formula seems to work every time. What works one time may not work the next because it depends on the mood of the fish and the species you target. Catfish of any kind makes for great food, and across the United States, it has a reputation as a delicacy. You have a variety of ways that you can cook it.