Catfish Bait Guide: Don’t Get the Wrong Catfish Bait



Whether it's the chase you're after or tonight's supper, catfish are among the top game fish in North America. Catfish live in a multitude of freshwater lakes, rivers and reservoirs. A select few live in saltwater. When you're looking for the best catfish bait to snag these feisty fish, you'll be happy to know there are quite a few options.

Where's your favorite fishing hole?

Known for their acute sense of smell, catfish are bottom dwellers that live in freshwater and saltwater locations. Catfish are fun to catch and can really put up a fight. While most people catch these fish to enjoy as a meal, you might just like the challenge they provide. If you plan to catch and release, be sure to use a hook without a barb.

The ideal bait for catfish depends on the fish's habitat. Freshwater catfish that live in a pond may not be attracted to the same types as catfish from a river. Also, those that live in saltwater are used to a very different natural feeding selection, so choose the right bait for these habitats.

Which type of bait do catfish prefer?

The best catfish bait is similar to the foods found naturally in the fish's habitat. For blue catfish, either cut or whole fresh fish is ideal. Channel catfish prefer stinky baits --and the smellier the better. Prepared baits like dip or punch catfish bait will do best for these catfish. They also like freshly dead perch, bluegill or shad. Flatheads like active, lively bait. Smaller fish such as sunfish, goldfish and perch are good catfish bait for this species. When you purchase fishing hooks and lures for freshwater fish, look for those that work best with live bait.

For saltwater catfish, you need bait that is an easy target and does not move. You also want it to sink so that it sits close to the bottom. Cut bait or dead shrimp do well. Baits that are bloody and smelly appeal to their keen sense of smell. The nice thing about saltwater catfish is they take very little equipment to catch.

Fish vs. bait

Type of catfish Location Bait General info Freshwater catfish Channel Mostly central and southern states • Dip and punch bait, soap bait
• Fresh dead fish whole or cut
• Shad, carp, perch
• Cut baits

Most freshwater catfish prefer live bait, so when buying fishing gear and accessories, make sure to buy traps and containers that will keep the bait fresh and alive. Blue • Gizzard shad
• Herring
• Prepared bait
• Drum, carp, buffalo
• Fresh dead whole and cut fish

Flathead • Large lively bait • Perch
• Bluegill
• Sunfish
• Goldfish


Bullheads One of the most common throughout the U.S. • Dip and punch bait
• Soap bait
• Fresh dead fish whole or cut
• Shad, carp, perch
• Cut baits

Saltwater catfish Gaff-topsail Deep channels, bays and estuaries with sandy bottoms that have high organic contents Saltwater catfish will eat most anything as long as it's an easy target and doesn't move at all. Color and size appear the same as freshwater catfish with one major difference: their fins have spines that can be uncomfortable if they prick your skin. Hardhead Near sandy bays, muddy water and shallow coastal water Create your own bait

Dough bait and sponge bait are easy to create and effective for most catfish. You can pick up the ingredients anywhere fish supplies are sold. Stink baits or prepared baits come with options. Common stink baits are punch bait, sponge bait, blood bait, dough bait and dip bait. Once you know the secret to making your own catfish bait, you'll do it often.

Shopping list to create your own bait: • Thickening agent: Punch and dip baits will need a thickener like flour, cattail fibers or other synthetic fiber. • Fish attractant: Dead fish like shad, minnow or crawfish combined with other strong smelling ingredients like garlic, onion and anise. • Blood: Blood bait needs either chicken or beef blood.
• Dough bait: This one needs flour, cornmeal, water and an attractant.

Basic dough bait recipe for catfish:

• 1 cup regular flour
• 1.5 cups cornmeal
• 15-20 ounces Big Red soda
• Anise oil -as much as needed for a strong scent
Combine cornmeal, flour and anise oil in a pot with the Big Red. Cook over medium heat until the liquid is absorbed and the dough is stiff. Pour the dough on a floured countertop and knead, as you would bread dough, adding more flour time if it isn't sticky (at least 15 minutes). This works best with a treble hook. Just put some on a hook and go fish.

Whether you make it yourself or pick up a live or pre-made bait, snagging a catfish is fun and can make for a pretty tasty meal. Remember to use the right kind of bait for the particular type of fish you're after, and don't forget to cry out "Fish on!" when you feel that first tug.

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