Some folks say the largemouth bass, with its hard-hitting, high-jumping fighting style, is our finest sport fish. Others believe it’s the colorful, acrobatic trout, the good-things-come-in-small-packages bluegill, the scrappy crappie, good-eating walleye or numerous other game fishes, each of which holds a special attraction for its own group of fans.
For millions of anglers, however, Mr. Whiskers, the catfish, is the undisputed monarch of all pole-benders.
There are good reasons folks love catfish, chief among them the fact that cats always seem hungry and eager to bite. Everyone can catch them—young anglers and old, skilled and unskilled. And fun catching it is. A muscular catfish will do its best to throw a hook, and that bull-doggish ferocity puts smiles on the faces of all anglers.
Catfish are widespread, abundant in many waters, grow very large and are quite delicious, too. And your fellow catfishing enthusiasts won’t frown while you’re cleaning small fish for the table. For most catfish anglers, eating the catch is part of the joy of fishing.
If you want to increase the odds you’ll hook and land more catfish (and who doesn’t?) it’s important to realize that while catfishing isn’t a complicated sport, neither should it be oversimplified. You can’t just plop down in a lawn chair by the water’s edge, make a cast and expect to catch cats.
Instead, you should study the habits of your quarry and learn how to present the right bait, in the right place, at the right time, to entice the fish you hope to catch, whether it’s an eating-size channel cat for the dinner table or a trophy-class blue or flathead that will test your tackle and determination.
With that in mind, we offer the following 10 tips that can help you be more successful the next time you go catfishing.
- Catfish exceeding 10 pounds primarily eat fish, so when targeting heavyweights, you’ll be more successful if you use fish baits. Some, like minnows and goldfish, can be purchased at bait shops. Others are collected using hook and line, bait traps, cast nets or specialty products like sabiki rigs (check local regulations first). Oily baitfish such as shad, herring and suckers are tops. Others to try include carp, chubs, goldeyes and sunfish. Use live fish for big flatheads; they rarely eat anything else. Jumbo blues and channels will eat fish alive or dead, including cut-baits prepared by slicing fresh baitfish into chunks or fillets. Be sure, however, the baits are freshly caught. Fresh is best. Unlike heavyweight cats, which rarely eat anything but fish, eating-size whisker fish weighing just a few pounds aren’t finicky about food. Among the best baits are night crawlers, minnows and crayfish, which you can buy at bait shops or collect yourself. Commercial and homemade “stinkbaits” also work great on small catfish. The sporting goods departments of discount stores often carry a variety in the form of dough baits, dip baits, sponge baits and tube baits. Because stinkbaits are soft, you might need specialty items to fish with them, including catfish “worms” (ribbed, soft-plastic lures used for fishing dip bait), sponge hooks or spring-wound dough-bait treble hooks. Having trouble obtaining bait? Don’t fret. Head for the nearest grocery. Fresh chicken liver is one of the best catfish baits. For trophy blue cats, try Hormel Spam. A chunk of this spicy canned meat caught a former 116-pound world record. Jumbo channel cats love cheap hot dogs. Other supermarket items that work include shrimp, squid and cheese and even unusual items such as dog food, grapes, raisins and soap! Yes, they really work.
About the Author
With a resumé listing more than 3,800 magazine, newspaper and website articles about fishing, hunting, wildlife and conservation, Keith “Catfish” Sutton of Alexander, Ark., has established a reputation as one of the country’s best-known outdoor writers. In 2012, he was enshrined in the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame as a Legendary Communicator. The 12 books he’s written are available through his website.