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Exploring the Best Baits for Catfish Fishing

If you talk with any experienced Catfish angler, you’ll quickly start to get a better understanding of just how many different types of baits can be used to catch these monster fish. Visit a different part of the country, and you’ll find an angler swearing by their favorite Catfish baits.

Catfish can be caught in streams, rivers, lakes, ponds, and reservoirs across the United States, and because of their diverse habitat, their feeding habits are equally diverse. When it comes to what they eat, Catfish are incredibly opportunistic, but that doesn’t mean that they’re going to just eat whatever you throw at them.

They have an extremely good sense of smell and, at times, can be extremely fussy about what they choose to devour, so getting your bait just right is extremely important.

In the following guide to the best Catfish Baits we’ll cover:

If you love catfish angling, or you’re just new to the whole Catfish scene, then you have to check out Reel in Big Catch: Your Ultimate How-to Guide for Catching Catfish! It covers everything you need to know about catching big Catfish!

Who doesn’t want to tussle with a giant Catfish? Not only are they fun to catch, but they are delicious to eat, too! However, even the best angler can do with a little help occasionally. Thanks to the Fishbox App, a premium Fishing App, you’ll know the best time to head out on the water after Channels, Blues, and Flatheads and when you’re better off staying home in the warm with an excellent coffee and a magazine.

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Expert Opinion on the Best Baits for Catfish Fishing

Pierce Latta

16 years fishing experience

“Being one of the most popular fish to catch in freshwater, a lot of people are interested in how they can up their catfish game and give them a better chance of success. I’m happy to say you don’t need to look any further. In this article, we get a comprehensive analysis of the best baits for catfish fishing that will hopefully give you guys a better day on the water. Let’s get straight into it. Right off the bat, there is a quick little summary of catfish in terms of what they eat and where they live. While most of us will likely just skip this over because we already know this, I’m sure there are some newer anglers reading this article, so it is important to pay attention. As soon as this tiny section finishes, we go right into the heart of the article and have a discussion about baits. The first bait talked about is stink bait. While I have never really preferred using stink bait over dead or live bait, I do know that there are a ton of anglers who swear by it. As the article describes, everyone is going to have their own recipe. This means you can use what works best for you and modify based on your applications. One thing I will say about stink bait is that it is harder to keep on the hook. I am a firm believer in using baits that stay on the hook well and it is sometimes difficult to get the stink bait to stay on. We then move into the next subcategory which is live baits—this is my personal favorite. I find it hard to believe that there is a better bait than a live bluegill—something catfish already eat in the wild. The action and presentation of this bait are almost always going to be unparalleled to anything else you could throw. Additionally, the fact that live baits generally squirm or swim around gives off their position to the catfish further increasing your chances of getting a bite. The next bait discussed is dough bait. From my own personal experience, I really don’t like to use them. They are just messy, tend to fall off the hook, and don’t seem to perform as well as live or cut bait. We then move into the next section where it talks about cut bait. Out of all the baits listed in this article, this is probably my second favorite. Whenever I am catfish fishing, I generally put a couple of rods out with live bait and a couple rods out with dead bait. Sometimes they definitely prefer one over the other but other times it doesn’t matter. There is just something about using the catfish’s natural prey that I think makes cut bait and live bait better than the others. The last bait section we get is artificials. Before I go any further, I do want to make a comment. By choosing to use artificial bait to catch catfish, you are objectively making your life 100 times more difficult—that is at least if you want to catch the most and the biggest catfish. Yes, in my fishing career, I have caught a handful of catfish on artificials and while it is not impossible, it certainly is way harder and I’m never targeting catfish when I do catch them. The article then wraps up with some helpful Q and A and then ends with a conclusion. I hope you have enjoyed reading this article and these comments and as always, good luck and tight lines!”

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The Best Bait Options

In this section, we’re going to cover the most popular Catfish bait options including stink baits, live baits, dough baits, cut baits, and artificial baits, including how to use them and even make them yourself.

Stink Baits

When you talk about stink baits and Catfish, you’re opening much more than just a can of worms. Experienced anglers across the country have secret stink bait recipes that have been used by them and their friends and family for generations, with many of the ingredients a family secret.

Stink baits are designed to emit an intense, potent, and strong odor into the water, which will appeal to the Catfish’s superb and highly evolved sense of smell. When the stink bait hits the water, if there’s a Catfish nearby, it’ll find it hard to resist.

In warmer waters, stink baits are highly effective, especially with some current or movement in the water, because Catfish are more likely to be moving around in warm water, actively feeding and hunting for food.

While many experienced anglers create their own personalized stink bait recipes and creations, there are also commercial stink baits available that are very popular. If you’re new to Catfish angling, then starting with a commercial stink bait may be easier than trying to create your own. If you know someone who regularly chases Catfish, then ask them for some advice about which stink baits they use or key ingredients they like to include in their stink bait recipes.

If you’re fishing in an area where the Catfish face a lot of angling pressure, then stink bait can be an effective way to make your bait stand out from the crowd.

When you’re handling stink bait, wearing gloves is a good idea. While you’re at it, be careful when you open the lids, as the last thing you want is stink bait spilled on your clothes, in your car, or in your boat. It’s not called stink bait for no reason! 

When the stink bait enters the water, typically applied to a hook or stink bait carrier, the odor begins to wash off quickly, washing away downstream and attracting any Catfish in the nearby area. Just like sharks following a blood trail, Catfish will quickly start following the aroma of the stink bait back to its source, hopefully discovering your bait in the process.

If you don’t have a recipe, there are a variety of commercial Catfish stink baits available, including Sonny’s Super Sticky, Junnies Wicked Sticky, and Berkley Power Dip. Don’t be afraid to mix things up and try different stink baits until you find one that works for you. And if the commercial stink baits aren’t getting the job done, you can always try to create your own homemade stink bait.

Some of the common ingredients used in homemade stink baits include chicken liver, chicken blood, cheese, canned sardines, sausages, canned tuna, sausage, shrimp, molasses, beef stock, hot dogs, peanut butter, worms, fish, pork, beef, or just about anything you have lying around. 

Live Baits

Live baits are perfect for Catfish, especially if you’re targeting larger Catfish varieties such as the Flatheads, who prefer to hunt for their prey live rather than cut baits. The movement and distress signals coming from a live bait are the perfect way to attract a curious Catfish into your area of operations and, ultimately, with a little luck, onto your hook.

While Catfish eat a variety of baits, there’s just something enticing about a live bait that appeals to their refined sense of smell and taste and triggers that predatory feeding response. Fortunately, you’re not spoiled for choice when it comes to which live baits a Catfish will eat. However, taking a few minutes to scout your fishing location to see what small fish, insects, or crustaceans are in the area will help you match your bait to the local environment.

In this section, we’ll look at some of the most popular live baits and how to use them.

  1. Crayfish/Crawdads – Not only is catching Crayfish or Crawdads fun, but they also make delicious Catfish bait. You can trap them, catch them with nets, or look under rocks and logs. In order for your bait to look as natural as possible, hook it through the tail for a backward retrieve and work it across the bottom with a slow stop-and-go motion. Remove the large pincers before you cast them.
  2. Night Crawlers – If you can’t find your own worms, you can purchase them at almost all good bait shops. Nightcrawlers work well when you drift them in streams or rivers but not so well if they’re spending their time in the mud at the bottom. A small float or bobber can be a wise addition to your setup.
  3. Suckers, Chubs, and Sunfish – These small baitfish are highly attractive to Catfish as they stay active in the water for long periods. You can either fish them on the bottom or suspend them under a float or bobber. You want to hook them through the tail, under the dorsal fin, or through their lips.
  4. Shad and Skipjacks – These oily baitfish can be caught with bait rigs, nets, or lures, and their oily flesh is extremely attractive to Flatheads, Channels, and Blue Catfish. Try cutting up a few into small pieces as a burley to throw into the water along with your live bait.
  5. Minnows – Minnows make an ideal live bait for all species of Catfish in almost all bodies of water. If you can’t catch your own, you can always purchase them from a bait shop or stand. To keep them lively on your hook, hook Minnows through the lip or under their dorsal fin.
  6. Frogs – Live frogs have been responsible for some monster Catfish being landed by anglers. On a rainy night, use a torch or headlamp to search for frogs out and about close to the water. You can hook your live frogs through the lips or the foreleg to keep them swimming naturally. Once in the water, the frog is going to head to the bottom, attracting the attention of any Catfish in the vicinity.
  7. Grasshoppers and Insects – There are a variety of different insects you can use as bait for Catfish, but large grasshoppers are particularly attractive. Grasshoppers can be hooked directly to the hook, or for maximum life and movement, try using a small rubber band to attach them to your hook.

Dough Baits

One of the most commonly used and popular baits used by anglers targeting Channel Catfish is dough baits. Like stink baits, dough baits are often homemade with closely guarded family recipes that have been passed down through generations of anglers. Luckily, there are a variety of different dough bait recipes available online, and if that fails, you can always purchase one of the many commercially made dough baits from your local bait shop.

If you’re fishing slow-moving or standing water, particularly at night or late in the evening, a dough bait can be an excellent choice.

Dough baits make a great option if you’re tired of handling or dealing with the stench of stink baits or punch baits and just want to mix it up a little bit and try something different. Dough baits are commonly flavored with fish flesh, chicken livers, blood, cheese, and a variety of other stinky ingredients, but they’re typically not as potent as stink baits.

Want to try a dough bait for yourself but don’t want to mess around with making it? Then try one of the many commercial options available, including Berkley Powerbait Chunks and Gulp! Catfish Dough, and many more.

If you want to make the most of your dough bait, then you need to rig it to your line correctly; otherwise, you’ll be just throwing bait into the river with no chance of catching anything. If you check with your local tackle shop, you should be able to purchase specialized dough bait treble hooks, which are equipped with springs to help the dough stay on the hook longer and not fall off when you cast it out into the water. 

Remember, dough bait is designed to slowly dissolve in the water, releasing its scent into the water and attracting Catfish, but it won’t last forever. Most experts recommend changing your dough baits every 20-30 minutes.

Cut Baits

Cut bait for Catfish can be any form of fish that you cut up and use as bait and is considered by many Catfishing enthusiasts as the best bait for Catfish including Channels and Blues. However, if you’re targeting Flatheads, then live baits such as the ones we mentioned above would be a better option.

While you can use store-bought fish for your cut baits, the best option is always going to be fresh fish and, in particular, fish that live in the area you plan on fishing in. That way, the Catfish will be familiar with the bait you’re using. A cast net or small bait fish rig is the easiest way to source your cut baits.

Some of the most commonly used cut baits include Carp, Freshwater Drum, Shad, Herring, Perch, Sunfish, and Bluegill. If you’re using live bait, you can always try mixing it up with cut bait, especially if you’re using them to chum the water. Oily fish tend to be the best option as cut bait as the scent from the bait drifts further in the current.

Preparing Your Cut Baits

Cut your fish into sizes appropriate to the size of the fish you’re targeting. Remember, large fish will take smaller bait, but smaller fish typically are limited to the size of the bait they eat.

You want to start by knocking all the scales off the bait. It’s easier to do this before you cut the fish up, and it will make slicing it up a lot easier. If you’re using larger fish with hard fins, you’ll want to remove the fins also. 

There’s no wrong or right way to slice up your fish, but most anglers will either fillet the fish or chunk the fish.

You can use your cut baits in almost any rig or method. You can float them under a float, drift them, or cast them out and use a weight to keep them on the bottom. How you rig your cut bait will depend on where you’re fishing, what species of Catfish you’re targeting, or what type of water you’re fishing in. It’s really up to you how you rig them.

When you’re threading your cut bait onto the hook, be sure to leave the barb protruding so that when you get a bite, you can effectively set the hook. If you’re fishing with large pieces of cut bait, using a double hook setup can be an easy way to ensure that you’ve got enough hook protruding.

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Artificial Baits

If you’re tired of using real baits, stink baits, or dough baits and looking for more of a challenge when it comes to landing big Catfish, then artificial baits and lures could be worth a closer look. While it might not be the most productive way to catch a Catfish, it could possibly be the most challenging and ultimately rewarding way to land one of these delicious monsters.

Giving artificial lures and baits a try is definitely an effective way of spicing up your next fishing trip and who knows, you might just discover your next passion. However, if you just want to maximize your catch and have the best chance of taking home a feed, then sticking with bait is probably the best option, especially if you’re new to fishing for Catfish.

The best artificial lures for Catfish are going to include a scent agent of some kind. If they don’t, don’t worry because you can always buy a scent agent and add it to the lure yourself. Berkley’s Gulp! The range of scent products works extremely well, and they have a variety of different scents available for anglers to choose from, so you’re spoiled for your choice.

The next feature you want to look for with any artificial Catfish lure is lures that either rattle or vibrate when they’re moving through the water. Catfish have specialized hearing organs that detect sounds and movement in the water around them, particularly in murky water, which makes lures that vibrate or rattle as they move through the water very attractive to hungry fish.

If you’re lucky enough to be fishing in clear water, then you have a lot of options, as Catfish are much more likely to hit lures in clear water compared to muddy or cloudy water.

For those anglers who still want to use baits instead of artificial lures, then there is always the option of using artificial baits. The advantages of artificial baits are:

  • You can keep them in your tackle box for longer periods of time, so if you feel like going for a quick fish, you won’t have to worry about organizing baits, especially if you head out in the evening or night when bait shops are closed.
  • Artificial baits are designed to catch fish. That’s their only job, and most baits do it very well.
  • If you’re fishing in an area you’re unfamiliar with, you don’t have to worry about matching the bait to the local food source, as most artificial baits are universal and will appeal to Catfish regardless of where or when you’re fishing.

Catfish Baits FAQs

1. Can I use chicken breasts as bait for Catfish?

Yes, but plain chicken breast by itself probably won’t be the most attractive option as bait for Catfish. However, you can always soak the chicken breast in other substances, such as tuna or sardine oil, to make them more attractive to fish.

2. Is cut bait or live bait better for Channels?

While Channels will take cut bait and stink baits, in most cases, they prefer live baits such as crayfish, Sunfish, Perch, or Bluegills. The livelier, the better if you want to attract big Channels, so be sure to check your bait regularly to ensure that it’s not dead.

3. Which natural baits work best for Catfish?

Any type of natural fish bait will work well for catching Catfish, including minnows, shads, Bluegill, and other fish species. You can either use them live, dead, or cut into strips and cubes, depending on what size Catfish you’re chasing and what species. Remember, big fish will eat small bait, but small fish are limited to the size of bait they eat, so don’t overdo it if you just want to catch some fish to take home and eat.

4. What’s the difference between dip baits and punch baits?

Punch baits use a treble hook, which is literally punched into the bait and is a lot thicker than dip baits and is a lot easier to rig to your hook. If you’re looking for a cleaner option that’s more hassle-free than dip baits, it’s definitely worth looking at dip baits.

5. What are the best baits to use if you want to catch Channel Catfish?

Channel Catfish are typically scavengers who prefer an easy meal over live prey and will utilize their excellent sense of smell and sight to locate their food. If you want to maximize your Channel Catfish catch rates, using prepared baits like punch baits or stink baits is very effective. If you’re planning on using prepared baits, try to get them ready a few days ahead of time in order to get them to maximum aroma levels.

6. How important is it to match the bait to the environment you’re fishing in?

You’re always going to have more success if you utilize fish or bait from the area you plan on fishing in. While Catfish may eat almost anything, some fish will be more hesitant to eat something that they’re not familiar with. It won’t ever hurt to experiment with different baits and techniques, as you never really know what’s going to work until you try.

Read also: The Ultimate Guide: Best Time to Catch Catfish Revealed

Exploring the Best Baits for Catfish Fishing – Conclusion

Now you’ll have a clear picture of the best baits to use the next time you chase after a monster Catfish! While these monsters can be quite challenging to catch at times, once you know their favorite baits, you’ll be much closer to reeling in a Catfish for yourself.

While the Catfish population is reasonably healthy and abundant in most environments, it’s vital as responsible anglers that we follow season, bag, and size limits along with returning any unwanted fish safely back into the water. Check your local regulations before you head out onto the water to ensure that you are aware of all Catfish regulations.

As responsible anglers, we can all do our small part to ensure that future generations of anglers get to enjoy the same great fishing opportunities we enjoy. 

The advanced forecasting technology in the Fishbox App allows you to track weather conditions accurately and also predict the optimal times to go Catfish fishing. Fishbox combines weather, lunar, and tidal conditions in conjunction with predictive fish behavior to deliver optimal fishing opportunities throughout the USA.

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If you would like to share any tips and tricks that you’ve learned about landing monster Catfish, then drop a comment below. You never know; your advice could help a new angler catch a giant fish, and we love to hear your thoughts and feedback.

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