It’s easy to just think in terms of catfish and then choose bait accordingly. However, there are different catfish out there, and they don’t always prefer the same thing. There are also brackish water catfish that occasionally venture into saltwater territory.
Its often thought that the best bait for catfish is a combination of chicken poop and blood. That’s because a lot of anglers assume that catfish are bottom feeders, which is only partially true.
A catfish will certainly eat stink bait but only in situations where it’s pretty hungry and didn’t have much luck finding food throughout the day. So what do they love? Well, that depends on the catfish and the situation.
Best Baits for Catfish
Counting off the different baits that really make a cat’s day is an exercise in generalization because the term “catfish” is a generalization. There are a lot of catfish out there, 3,000 species, in fact, including 35 families.
Of course, these are including catfish all over the known world. We are sticking with roughly 17 and what they like to snack on throughout the day. Several different catfish will be happy to bite into a number of the same baits, across the board.
- Shrimp: Especially a favorite of Channel Catfish, but you’ll find that most of the others will go after shrimp as well.
- Skipjack Herring: A favorite with anglers fishing for trophy catfish or in tournaments.
- Gizzard Shad: One of the more popular baits anglers use for catfish because they work.
- Nightcrawler: It’s hard to go wrong with nightcrawlers, regardless of the species of catfish. They’re best for bluefish and flatheads but they also work well with white catfish and bullheads.
- Chicken Livers: While catfish don’t relish the bottom feeder status some anglers would attribute them, these work well in general. Most anglers wrap them in gauze, so they don’t come apart in the water.
- Bluegill: Bluegill are already a small but delicious fish. A few baby bluegill make for an excellent cat snack.
Channel cats and flatheads are two of the most popular catfish that anglers and their families love to eat. Blue cats are right up there as well, but the prized catfish are the flats and the channels.
Then you have the other side of the spectrum, namely sea cats or catfish caught in brackish or saltwater. Most anglers, especially those you talk to in Florida, off the Gulf of Mexico, will tell you to toss them things back. “They ain’t no good.”
But, there’s a growing interest in sea cats as edible catfish, and catching one typically involves different baits than the ones an angler would use in a freshwater environment. Most anglers who catch sea cats weren’t fishing for them.
They seem to prefer shrimp, which isn’t the meal of choice for some of the freshwater variety, though they will eat it from time to time. The point is, there is a degree of change, depending on what kind of catfish you’re targeting. If you’re fishing on a catfish farm, by all means, go with stink bait. They’ll eat it up.
Out in a river, however, that stink bait probably won’t cut it.
Best Bait for Lake Catfish
Catfish, no matter where they are located, will eat a lot of stuff. But they do have their particular favorites. Nightcrawlers, minnows (dead or alive), and leeches stand above the crowd when it comes to lake cats.
Lake catfish will also go after a standard earthworm if that’s all you have on you. If you’re short on bait, you can probably nab a couple of earthworms just hand digging along the shoreline.
Catfish in lakes tend to head to the surface to feed at night, which runs counter to the general idea that they are only bottom feeders. That means a simple bobber and hook will do just fine for late evening fishing.
If you know the bottom of the lake you’re fishing and go to where the bottom is pretty hard, that’s where you will find your bottom feeders, and a good weighted hook will do nicely. All it needs is a fat nightcrawler on it.
Catfish are pretty predictable if you know the underwater terrain and their day or night habits, and it helps you pick the right bait for the right circumstance.
Best Flathead Catfish Bait
Flatheads make for an outstanding dish, so you want to be successful anytime you go fishing for these bad boys. They’re fun to catch and even more fun to eat. Live bluegill and live shad are your premium choices for flatheads.
A good round hook is a good choice, and make sure your bluegill or shad are pretty lively before you toss them in. Flatheads are pretty powerful so make sure you have a nice, rounded hook on there, ready for the pull of the fight.
If you have a mind to rob your kid’s aquarium, flathead loves goldfish as well. They may not pack quite the bang of lively bluegill, but it’s a pretty close thing. If you have a tank full of goldfish at home, maybe it’s time to start reconsidering your relationship status.
Flatheads are also very partial to black saltys, which are another type of goldfish. Largemouth bass are keen on them too, so you might catch something you didn’t intend. Crawfish are another delicacy that flatheads are partial to.
Since live crawfish will do everything they can to climb under rocks, you’ll need to rig it with something that restrains them from doing so. Three to five-inch crawfish are the sweet spot.
Best Bait for Blue Catfish
Another popular freshwater catfish, the blue catfish shares some of its appetite preferences with other cats. However, the blue catfish has a preference for cut bait. Don’t let that limit you, however, because bluegill, skipjack, and goldfish are still very much on the table.
One of the more popular rigs for blue catfish is the drift rig. All you need is a couple of lead shot weights on the line about 8” above the bait. Make sure the cut bait is as fresh as you can make it.
It’s a great rig for shallows or ponds like the kind you would find at a catfish farm. If you’re looking for bigger blues, the float-paternoster rig is a good choice, especially if you’re using live bait, which should be bluegill, skipjack, or goldfish.
Of all the fish in the sea, catfish are probably the least picky. However, that can sometimes be a bad thing for a frustrated angler. Since catfish enjoy so many different baits, it’s often hard to determine their preference on a particular day.
There are days when the live shrimp are lighting them up, and anglers with dead shrimp also have dead fishing poles. Now that you know what the favorites are for particular cats, it will certainly help narrow things down when you’re out on the water.
Catfish can be a bit tricky too. Since they aren’t always bottom feeders, it’s sometimes a good idea to switch your baits around and rig something that will settle farther up the water column. Either way, stick with any of these above baits, and your odds are good for bringing home plenty of cats.
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