When I was a kid I spent a lot of time on the water with my grandfather, Gene Gilmore, who loved to fish for catfish. From then until now, I have used just about everything as catfish bait including chicken and rabbit livers, store-bought “stinkbait,” raw hotdogs and nightcrawlers. But the best catfish bait I ever used is raw bacon.
Yes, I know. Bacon is not the first thing you think of when you’re trying to figure out what bait to use for catfish. It wasn’t my first choice either, but neither was a chunk of raw hotdog. I was out on a lake near my home and fishing for crappie when I saw some guys who were having amazing success catching catfish. I asked them what they were using for bait and they said raw hotdogs!
These work best in waters with little or no current as the rushing water can sweep it right off the hook.
Image via marine discovery
They were cutting small chunks off and sliding them on just past the barb of a large bait hook. I have tried that but guess I don’t know their secret. I have never had their success with it.
But that encounter came to mind one night while I was at a friend’s house as he was cleaning out his refrigerator. He found a few strips of bacon that had been sitting in his fridge for a long time and was going to throw them out. That’s when I had the thought, “If catfish will eat hotdogs, why not bacon?” I asked him if I could have the ancient pork.
“I wouldn’t feed that to my dog!” my friend responded.
“I’m only going to use it to try and catch catfish,” I assured him.
He handed me the bag and wished me good luck.
I put the “aged” bacon in a lock-top bag and left it in my garage overnight. The next afternoon my friend and I went to a small but heavily fished lake within walking distance of our neighborhood. Many people had told me that the catfish in the lake were picky and preferred live bait. After trying several store-bought baits that proved unsuccessful, I came to the conclusion that my informants were right. This “catfish lake” was a good place to catch bass and crappie.
I wanted to try the bacon and see what would happen. Given my experience with the lake, I wasn’t expecting much in the way of results. I figured I would toss a line out and secure the rod with rocks. That way I could keep an eye on it while tossing a crankbait for bass. I took a pair of scissors and cut about a 3-inch strip of bacon and baited it like a worm. I wound it along the hook, leaving a small strip hanging off the end.
I’d made two or three casts with the crankbait and was in the process of retrieving it again when my friend told me to look at my bait pole. It was pleasantly bent over! I dropped my bass rod and picked up the bait rod and set the hook. I reeled in a good-sized cat, unhooked it, and released it.
To my surprise, the bacon was still on the hook and mostly intact! I tossed it back out and a short time later had another catfish on the line. I caught four catfish in less than two hours on a heavily fished lake. That little experiment really opened my eyes!
That’s been my experience with catching cats on pork ever since!
I typically use a slip-weight on the main line tied to a swivel that’s 9 to 12 inches above the bait. Obviously, you can fish bacon however you normally would fish bait for catfish.
The best thing about using bacon is that it’s greasy and it has a strong smell so the cats can find it. That’s especially true when the pork is near rotten. Although it is soft then and easy to run the hook through, it can be slippery. But the stuff does tend to stay on the hook. I’ve caught up to five catfish on a single bait strip.
And the catfish don’t care if it’s the cheapest store brand or the expensive name-brand bacon. The key is that it’s raw, not the pre-cooked stuff.
I have found that leaving it out in a plastic bag for 24 hours works best to age it. Pick a spot that’s out of direct sunlight. That works best to get it smelly and greasy. You don’t want it to “cook” at all, so leaving it in the sun is not a good idea. And when you leave it outside, bear in mind that catfish aren’t the only things interested in eating your bacon. Keep an eye on it or put it somewhere that cats, dogs and other neighborhood scavengers would have difficulty getting to it!