Most fishermen consider catfish a great summertime target, but the fish eat the year ’round and can be caught in early spring if you use the proper catfish baits and tackle.
No matter what the time of year, catfish do most of their feeding within inches of the rocks, mud and gravel bottoms of lakes, ponds and rivers. The occasional catfish is caught by fishermen using lures to tempt other species, but 90 percent of whiskerfish are suckers that will fall for a wide variety of live, dead or cut baits.
Here’s a look at five sure-fire spring catfish baits that are cheap, plentiful and easy to use.
GREAT CATFISH BAITS: LIVER
Old-time catfishermen know that cats love liver. Chunks of beef or sheep liver with special flavorings added (cheese, blood, fish oil or similar “loud” offerings designed to bring catfish in via scent trails in the current) have always been a staple of summer anglers.
Spring cats go for liver, too, but some fishermen complain about the difficulty of keeping tainted or aged liver on a hook. The stuff can be quite mushy, but here’s a trick: Use deer liver instead! Whitetail livers are much denser and tougher than domestic livers and will stay on the hook even after several catches.
If you can’t find deer liver, tie your beef liver chunks in mesh or nylon bags to keep them from washing away in the current.
GREAT CATFISH BAITS: LIVE/DEAD FISH
Common panfish species such as bluegills or perch make excellent catfish baits. These fish may be used as live bait (where legal – always check local regulations) or in chunks. Large live or dead shiners are also popular catfish baits. Keep fish baits fresh by storing them in coolers filled with cold water or ice. This will make the flesh tougher and stronger so that the bait will stay on the hook longer.
Some fishermen double-hook their fish baits or sew them onto their hooks so that they last longer.
Image courtesy U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
GREAT CATFISH BAITS: PREPARED BAITS
Generally called “dough balls,” prepared baits for catfish consist of a base — most often cornbread, bread dough or the like — mixed with flavorings. Those range from chicken blood, cheese, meat juices and just about anything else that smells bad, sticks to the base well and can be formed around a hook with the fingers or a small scoop.
Prepared baits work best in waters with little or no current. Fast-moving rivers, for example, can clean a dough ball off a hook in seconds. For that reason, some anglers prepare their baits using nylon or mesh bags that are then tied securely to the hook.
Prepared baits also work as chum (again, where legal). Simply mix up a batch of bait, toss it into an onion bag or similar container and toss that into the water upstream from where you intend to fish. The odor of the bait will carry downstream and attract hungry catfish to your baited lines throughout the day or night.
Be sure to anchor the chum bag so that you can dispose of it at the end of the day.
GREAT CATFISH BAITS: CHICKEN PARTS
Most catfishermen also love chicken. Fried or baked, it doesn’t matter. But, catfish also love chicken — fortunately, the parts we humans tend to discard, such as the neck, gizzard, liver and kidneys. Some of those might be considered “soft” baits and should be bagged before offering them to the catfish, but the neck or gizzard can be chunked and hooked just like cut bait. If you are targeting “eater-sized” channel catfish or bullheads, simply use smaller chunks.
When fishing for bigger cats, use whole necks or gizzards. Marinate the pieces in blood, cheese or their own juices for added flavor and appeal.
GREAT CATFISH BAITS: FISH (OR OTHER) GUTS
These are perhaps not the most appealing of baits, but successful catfishermen have been known to use worse! The reason people are not fond of using guts is the same reason catfish love them: They smell terrible! But for the catfish, they are filling. Because fish and animal offal (a more polite term for guts) is usually loose, sloppy and all but impossible to place on a hook, it’s best to bag the stuff using fine mesh or nylon sacks similar to what trout anglers routinely utilize when using salmon egg clusters for steelhead.
Offal may be marinated, soaked, allowed to rot (in a glass or stone jar sealed with a pane of glass to allow gases to escape) and then bagged as bait when it’s time to go fishing.
Of course, preparing the more smelly baits for catfish should be done outdoors, not in the kitchen, garage or basement. There’s a reason why the most successful catfishermen are able to stay out all night — no one wants to be near them!
<h2>LIVER</h2>Old-time catfishermen know that cats love liver. Chunks of beef or sheep liver with special flavorings added (cheese, blood, fish oil or similar "loud" offerings designed to bring catfish in via scent trails in the current) have always been a staple of summer anglers. <br><br> Spring cats go for liver, too, but some fishermen complain about the difficulty of keeping tainted or aged liver on a hook. The stuff can be quite mushy, but here's a trick: Use deer liver instead! Whitetail livers are much denser and tougher than domestic livers and will stay on the hook even after several catches. <br><br> If you can't find deer liver, tie your beef liver chunks in mesh or nylon bags to keep them from washing away in the current.