Tips for Catching Catfish

Catfish is one of the most commonly sought after fish in America. Not only because of the great taste they provide, but also because of the fight that they give when on the line. They don’t put off as spectacular of a show as a bass, but the fight is strong and they will give you a run for your money. If have ever been fishing then you are sure to have seen a catfish. For a novice fisherman, tips for catching catfish can be essential. Catfish are known to bite on just about anything, but knowing what to use, and where to use it can almost guarantee that every time you fish, you will catch plenty of them.

The most abundant breed of catfish is the channel cat. They are frequently found in large rivers and lakes, and even some creeks. Average weight is around 50-pounds with the record being 58-pounds. Other breeds like the blue and flathead catfish can exceed well over 100-pounds.

Down in the depths of the massive lakes and rivers of this country lurk many fish, each breed with their own traits, habits, and preferences. The catfish is no different. Despite the various breeds of catfish known, most of the characteristics are the same, with only a few exceptions. The coloring, body shape and size vary for each, but the habits are very similar. For this article, the information and tips for catching catfish are aimed more at catching channel catfish since they are the most common.

Channel Catfish

Channel Catfish

The channel catfish prefer warmer waters, thus they will swim downstream in the winter months to obtain waters with a higher temperature. In the spring and summer months, they will return back upstream for spawning. During spawning season the male catfish will stay on egg watch. They will stay with their young until they are about a week old. At this point, the young will venture out on their own. Their diet will consist mainly of small insects and other smaller fish. Once they reach about 12-inches long they begin to mate, and will search for locations that are dark, and enclosed. Locations with tangled roots and rock piles are the best places to find catfish during this season. If the males are disturbed while on egg duty they have been known to eat some of the eggs.

Outside of spawning season, the catfish prefers to lurk in the deepest parts of the water. They will generally feed on whatever happens to be there, although they have been known to creep closer to the surface in search of food. Most commonly they will venture closer to the surface later in the evening and into the night. This is why most anglers prefer to fish at night. Night fishing for catfish opens up a greater possibility for catching these fish since they will go to the schools of other fish, who tend to gather in brighter areas. This same concept can be put to use in the day near spillways, and bridges. Any area where bait fish may be in large numbers.

Smaller catfish typically dine on insects and other smaller live creatures. Older catfish have shown that they will eat just about anything. But they especially enjoy eating smaller live fish. Catfish do have a heightened sense of smell and because of this, they will go after the bait that has a distinctive smell. Their heightened sense of smell is possibly due to the fact that they do prefer the lower depths of riverbeds, and lake bottoms. These areas are typically darker, and dirty, which is difficult to see well. This may also be the reason why they bite on just about anything. This is why most anglers choose to use a stink bait.

There are a variety of options available for stink bait, either manufactured or homemade. Although the best bait to use is live, or cut bait of minnows, skipjack, and herring. Learning how to cast a fishing net, can be a valuable tip for catching catfish. Net fishing is the quickest and easiest way to obtain fresh bait without having to pay for it. Frozen cut bait doesn’t usually appeal to the catfish as well as fresh.

What gear do I need to catch catfish?

There are a million or more types sizes, brands and even colors of fishing poles available on the market. Which one do you choose? Many anglers believe that a large broomstick ocean pole is needed for the large tough and rowdy catfish. This is not necessarily true. A 7-foot pole with a bit of flex works just as well if not better. A long handled pole provides better control. Combined with an open face reel that allows for a lot of line. I have found this to be an optimal set up for a cat fishing pole. It is true that you don’t’ want a pole that bends too much, it does need to have some strength to the pole, but it doesn’t have to be stiff. The longer handle provides more control over the pole when trying to reel in the catfish. They are notorious fighters, a good combination of strength and length of the handle will allow you to do the job well. Once you make the switch, you will immediately notice the difference.


As with the types of poles available for all sorts of fishing, there are just as many options when it comes to the line. When choosing a line pick one that comes from a reputable source. Cheaper isn’t’ always better, and in this case, the line is not where you want to save a buck. Choose a test size between 12 and 20. The smaller test works great for smaller catfish if that is what you are aiming for. A test of 20-pounds works great for even the larger blue, and flathead catfish.

The hook you use is just as important as anything else. Many assume that a standard hook will work just fine, and in some cases it does. Those who say this commonly miss the fish because the hook fails to grab hold. Instead, skip this step and choose a circle hook. They are a bit tricky to use at first, but once you have mastered the ability you will soon realize that you are missing a lot less fish. When hooking these fish it is best to leave the hook exposed. It is a common misconception that the fish will see the hook, and not bite the bait. Leaving the hook exposed allows it to sink into the side of the mouth better, which in turn also makes releasing the hook easier.

What type of Bait Should I Use?

As I mentioned before the most valuable tip of this entire article is to learn how to cast a fishing net. Being able to do so will provide you with an endless supply of catfish bait, and the best available. Why wouldn’t the catfish bite on what they eat all the time anyway? Shad, minnow, skipjack and herring are the most common and highly preferred choice. Others like carp and drum work too but use shad and skipjack when available.

Stink bait is the second go to item that anglers choose to use. If net fishing isn’t an option and purchasing your bait is preferred, choose a good brand that you see the anglers on tv using. A home made option is another option that does work and in some cases can work quite well. I recommend trying a few different options until you find the one that works best on the fish you have. Keep in mind the blue and flathead fish will only eat the live bait, and typically won’t touch stink bait.


Dip and sponge bait are other options that have shown their value, but they require more tackle and added expense. Personally, I can’t say too much about them, because I don’t see the value in purchasing additional items to add to the tackle box. I believe that live and cut bait works great, so, for now, I choose to stick with those. Chicken livers were the preferred method for my husband to use for many years. This was until he found turkey livers. The difference is astounding! The turkey livers are tougher, thus easier to stay on the line. The catfish bite the livers just the same, if not a little better. This is probably because they don’t fall off the hook like the chicken livers do.

Shrimp is another option, and not the pre-packaged kind you find in bait stores. Go to the local shopping center and pick up a package of fresh, uncooked whole shrimp that you would take home to eat. Not only do the catfish prefer them, but they too stay on the hook better.

Other Techniques, tools, and tips:

There are two techniques that we use when catfishing. The first is simply keeping the line tight. When we are shore fishing, we are usually barbecuing at the same. We like to set out several poles bank side, and each one has a bell attached to it. Except one, it is an open face bite alert reel. This special reel has a built in detector that goes off with a light and tone when a bite is detected. We love this pole for many reasons. The first is not having to sit there and watch the pole, it allows us to function with the family while fishing at the same time. I personally love things that accomplish more than one task.

There are many options available for the angler to use when it comes to assistance in determining bites. Bells and bite alerts are not the only one. Find one that works best for you. You won’t regret the purchase.

Drift fishing is a great option for a day with a gentle breeze, simply find a location that is thriving with fish activity, stop the motor, and toss out a few lines from the side of the boat. Set the hooks on the pole to drag across the bottom of the water, to catch the attention of the fish lurking there. If the day isn’t quite as windy and the boat isn’t moving use a trolling motor. When assistance is needed move the poles to the back of the boat so the motor doesn’t catch the line.

Purchase, and learn how to use a fish finder. This tool is an amazing invention and will up your catfish intake for sure! Spend a great deal of time learning how to use, and read one. Combine that with the ability to move a boat just about anywhere on the water, and you are sure to catch more fish in a day than you have ever thought you could.

Pole holders are a valuable tool to have, and not just one. Each location has rules as to how many poles you can use per person when fishing. I recommend getting a full set of holders for shore fishing, and attached to the boat. Maybe even a couple extra just in case. Pole holders can be made from materials that you already have laying around. With a little creativity, you can create something similar.

Lure retrievers are a fantastic invention that removes most of the frustration with a snagged line and is sure to limit the number of lost hooks and sinkers when fishing. These little devices are designed to be sent down the fishing string and straight to the hook that is caught. Upon impact, the weight of the lure retriever should have knocked the hook or lure loose. It may not work perfectly the first time. When this happens it will require additional attempts or a slight jiggle of the line. There are four types of lure retrievers on the market that I know of. Each one works best for various types of lures. If you fish for more than just catfish it may be beneficial to acquire each one.

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