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Catfish Fishing

Keep it Simple to Catch More Catfish

by Keith Sutton   |  February 28th, 2009 42

Fishing for channel catfish should be uncomplicated — but that doesn’t mean the smart angler doesn’t have a couple of tricks up his sleeve.

The channel cat is the pinup of the catfish world – sleek, muscular and one of the best of all reasons to be a country kid with school just out and a farm pond nearby.

Fishing for these widespread whiskerfish is beautifully simple. Yet many ardent cat fans take this simplicity a step too far. They have one favorite place to fish, one favorite rig to use, one favored bait and one way to go about it. And if those don’t produce . . . well, there’s always next time.

Fact is, you can greatly improve your catfishing success by trying a few new tricks and by focusing your fishing effort on the most attractive catfish habitat in whatever water you do fish. Use favored approaches when they’re producing cats. But when the old standbys fail, the following pointers could help your catch rate soar.

You can catch channel cats on almost every type of bait imaginable, from crayfish, night crawlers and minnows to commercial stinkbaits, chicken liver and even Ivory soap. If big channels are your target, though, you’d be wise to use cut baits as often as possible.

Cut baits are pieces of sliced baitfish. Body fluids from these baits attract cats over long distances. Use oily fish when possible – shad, herring, goldeye and the like – but when these aren’t available, almost any baitfish will suffice.

Cut bait is prepared many ways. Some anglers fillet strips from the sides or belly of the fish, saving the carcass and entrails for later use. Others cut the bait in chunks – head, midsection, tail. Vary what you use until you determine what catfish want.

Match the bait’s size to the fish you’re likely to catch. In waters with few cats over 5 or 6 pounds, use 1- to 2-inch chunks or strips of cut bait. Where bigger cats are common, 3- to 4-inch-long baits aren’t out of place.

Zach Sutton hoists a nice channel cat. Channel catfish angling is simple fishing, which is part of what makes it so popular. Photo by Keith Sutton

Smaller rivers tend to be formed with a series of rapids and pools. Just below each set of rapids, at the head of each pool, fast water carves the channel deeper, creating a depression or hole. This is the deepest part of the pool and the area where channel catfish are most likely to be found. Rocks, logs and fallen trees in the deeper upstream end of a hole make it even more attractive to catfish. Channel cats wait in ambush behind these current breaks, darting out to gobble up food or bait that passes by.

Other channel cat honeyholes in small to midsize rivers include eddies, boulders, low-head dams, logjams and channels to backwaters.

Big-river channel cats usually position themselves at strategic places to feed and rest, mostly near structure that breaks or reduces the current. Focus your fishing efforts around such structures, which include wingdams, rock, gravel and sandbars, deep holes and cover in outside bends, bottom holes or depressions, bottom humps and deep holes at tributary junctions. A sonar fish-finder helps pinpoint prime fishing areas.

Channel catfish inhabit many types of reservoirs, but reach their greatest numbers and size in bodies of water that are large, warm and fertile with plentiful cover near deep-water sanctuaries and shallow feeding areas. For consistent success, key on specific areas within each reservoir. The most important are old river channels, inundated lakes and ponds, tributary mouths, riprapped areas and bridge channels. A good bottom contour map of the lake combined with sonar equipment should be employed whenever possible to zero in on the best fishing sites.

Channel catfish, along with largemouth bass and bluegills, are among the primary game fish stocked in farm ponds. And because ponds are small, anglers have fewer problems pinpointing actively feeding fish. Portions of a pond where you should focus your attention include deep-water areas (often near the dam or along an inundated creek channel) where channel cats usually stay during daylight hours and during the temperature extremes of summer and winter; near the mouths of feeder creeks, if they exist; near the outside (deeper) edges of green aquatic vegetation; and near rockpiles, stick-ups, stumps, logs, trees, holes, humps and points.

Still-fishing for catfish is a sit-and-wait game. You present your bait on or near the bottom, then wait for a catfish to find it. You can still-fish from the bank, as most catfishermen do, or from a stationary boat.

When still-fishing from shore, it’s important to set up where action will be best. The area just below a river dam provides some of the best channel cat action, especially if you can cast to the slack-water areas between open gates. Many bank-fishermen set up below tributaries or at the junction of two rivers. Fishing near fallen trees at the head of a deep pool on an outside bend of the river also can lead to good catches. Carry rod holders that have long, sturdy spikes at the bottom to permit secure upright placement.

When still-fishing from a boat, carry two anchors to position your craft sideways in good holes. This way, your rods are spread out to cover more water and avoid tangles. Try to pinpoint prime catfishing spots, such as channel edges and humps, then narrow your fishing zones down to a few best areas – a stumpfield near the channel edge, for example, or a large snag along a riprapped bank. Position your boat for best access to the structure you’ve chosen, then cast your bait to that spot and wait for a bite.

Drift-fishing is an active approach that helps you help the cats find your bait. You can drift-fish in a boat or drift-fish your bait below a bobber.

When in a boat, use a drift rig comprised of a slinky or bottom-bouncer sinker placed on the line above a barrel swivel to which is attached a 2- to 3-foot leader with a 3/0 hook on the end. A small bobber added on the leader just above the hook floats the bait above the bottom so catfish can see it. Drift with the wind, or using a trolling motor, move back and forth over areas with catfish-attracting structure.

When wading or bank-fishing on a river, you can drift your bait beneath a bobber. This allows the bait to move naturally downstream, responding to the current. Use a slip-bobber on the line above your baited hook, and as the rig drifts, guide it alongside catfish-holding structure and cover. Keep a tight line at all times, and feed line as the bait moves downstream. Drift by one side of a hole, then down the other and finally right down the middle. If possible, shift sides of the river now and then to present baits in every likely spot as you move.

Keep your rod tip high when drifting a bobber rig. This keeps most of the line off the water, resulting in better rig control and hooksets.

Now you know where you can find channel cats and some methods of fishing for them. All you need are a few tips that will help you fine-tune your presentation and nab more cats. Here are four to consider:

Look At Hooks
If you’re having trouble hooking catfish (many anglers do), be sure your hooks are needle-sharp. Run each point over a fingernail. Sharp hooks dig in. Those that skate across the nail without catching should be honed or replaced. Second, instead of burying your hook in bait, leave the barb exposed. Catfish won’t notice. More hookups will result.

Rods For Shore
Use long rods (7 feet-plus) when bank-fishing. These offer several advantages, including increased casting distance, more “reach” for working rigs properly around cover, better bait control and more hooksetting and fighting power.

Quick Rig
One simple rig that works surprisingly well in many situations is just a lead jighead with a chunk of shad or herring impaled on the hook.

The Night Bite
When night-fishing, know when a cat takes your bait. Helpful products include: night bobbers (special floats with a light on top powered by a cyalume light stick or lithium battery); a 12-volt ultraviolet light, which makes fluorescent monofilament glow, allowing you to see line movements; rods with glow-in-the-dark or fluorescent tips; rod bells, which clip on and ring when a catfish shakes your pole; and electronic bite indicators, which attach to your line and emit an audible signal when a catfish runs with your bait.

Stick to traditional approaches when they’re producing cats. But remember: When other tactics fail, the tips presented above can make your catch rate soar. Give them a try.

  • how to fish catfish

    very useful info.thank you

  • athan

    i have tried it all! chum, submerged lighting, you name it. i mainly fish from the bank on flat rocks about 150 yards from a dam on a big river. sometimes at Tennessee river kentucky lake area. ive only caught a few bluegill and drum. caught a bowfin efforts are futile

    • caleb

      if you want more info go catch some nice bluegill and hook it below the dorsal fin and take a really sharp knife and cut it so it bleeds but DO NOT kill it. that will allow the fish to bleed and not die and spread blood around so the fish can smell the blood and lead it in.

  • Chad

    @ athan: Try jug fishing. Works great on the south end of the Chattahoochee just below dams! Just as the water is calming down after generating, drop a 2 L or Gal jug with a 100 lb test line tied to it with a circle hook on the end. We use either Mullet or chicken liver mainly, but they will bite almost anything if they are hungry enough. You can fish day or night, but I prefer night. I take a glow stick and stick in the bottle, drop it in the channel, and keep going. We usually drop 20 – 30 at a time. On a slow night, we will usually catch 5 or 6. If they are really hungry, look out. They will keep you busy until you run out of bait. Most of what we catch are between 2 and 15 lbs, but our record is about 40 lbs. Good luck!!!

    • Braces

      verrrrrrrrrrrrry cool i cught one to

  • Shana

    Thanks, Keith and Chad! And athan . . .I went for 2 months without a bite. Keep trying! My own secret weapon is a worm threader. Stringing a nightcrawler up the line saves bait and gets more bites :)

  • brandon

    The best bait to use is a frog, simply cut its back feet off,(blood cent attracts the fish) and disables the frogs from swimming. Try it out

    • Mike

      Your cruel

    • Logan Holst

      is this brandon patava i think so kuz we fished for big bullheads like that

  • mike

    gummy bears and gummy worms work great in ponds

    • lila


  • Brittney Chambers

    hotdogs are a good choice and also the liver. we put our liver in a piece of pantyhose to keep it from getting thrown off.

    • Dirty Cat

      She's catching them with pantyhose LOL! Catfish are so dumb.

  • Jakkub

    bars of soap……..thts one of the best baits

    • tom

      oh yes, but make sure you dip them in motor oil first. :P

  • Mike C

    I've found out that Cut bluegill is like crack cocaine to catfish. I catch flathead, channel and Blue cats with it.

    • Mike R

      You're right-on Mike C. I've always used bluegill and have caught plenty.

    • lila




  • Mike Frantz

    beef liver stays on the hook much better than chicken… you can also try leaving the liver in the sun for a day or so… it will stink more, and have a "heartier" texture, making it even harder to throw off

  • Beginner at fishing!

    I CANT CATCH SHIT!! well when i get some hotdog ill try! i wonder if only girl catfish go for hotdogs, if u know what i mean! haha lol

    • Kaylea

      Sucks for you

      • kaylea is a gay fag

        Kaylea sucks to be a lesbo like u

    • CHRIS


  • flathead hunter

    catfish are like us,, they like to be comfortable,, they stay warm in the winter and cool in the summer.. deep holes in the summer day..shallow water at night hunting..Circle hooks are a must, they set themselves,, let the fish run against the pressure of the drag for about 10 feet and you wont miss a fish.. i don't use anything smaller than a 5/0 hook..and only live bait, cut or whole,don't matter…Rods bent.

  • catfisher

    if you dont catch anything with live bait, there isnt a catfish around. bait isnt the problem, you have to find the fish. if you dont catch one in at the most 2 hours then there isnt one around, move every hour to a new spot with good structure, a deep hole, or something like that. if you still dont catch anything there isnt any catfish around, or you just need to stop fishing haha, and try a set line, that works good

  • bryant45

    i always catch plenty of cat fish off a peanut butter sandwich and then put garlic on the peanut butter find a still spot with no current and let it float to the bottom it works great guys

    • lila

      I might try it

  • Pipboy86

    Bank fishing for Catfish really is a game of chance in most lakes. You are either lucky and are where the fish are, or you simply are not and need to move or be prepared to sit a very long time with little return. If you are throwing good cut bait and not getting any fish or bites within a half hour, the big fish aren't there. If you are throwing stink bait you should should get bites within under 15 minutes from at least small catfish. If not, they aren't there. They can detect the smell of bait for quite a ways, but smelling it and and actually being attracted to it enough to move towards it are two different things. Fish are dumb, but they aren't that dumb. They are just like you and I. They want the most return for their work. Most lakes that have good enough fisheries to produce consistent numbers and sizes of catfish have numerous options for them to feed. So while they will detect that tasty piece of shad 100 yards away, chances are, there is something potentially much closer for them to feed off of. So you wait and you wait and you wait, until one that is hungry enough decides to amble along over to check it out.

    It is why most fisherman I talk to out at the dock usually kind of almost give me that half smirk, like you are some kind of lazy bum or something, when I mention that the Catfish were biting. Most always seems to have the stereotype in their mind of a guy sitting on the bank lazily drinking beers for hours with their pole sitting between a forked stick. You know, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Some of the best times I have had at the lake have been sitting on the bank by a fire on a hot night with a few buddies, catching more buzz than fish, but actively seeking out the cats is another animal entirely (especially on a boat) and it is hard to beat it for pure fishing fun around here. That is unless you are talking about spawning Crappie where two guys can fill a 50 fish creel in a couple hours when they are on and you are on them.

    • peter

      And your point is???? Wheres the tips dork

  • kyfishingdude

    as far as livers go I have always found rooster livers to be tougher and harder to throw off a hook than the chicken livers. Only problem is they are getting harder and harder to find in my area. But ultimately beef and pork liver are the way to go as far as tough. I usually buy it put it in the freezer and get it about half frozen the day before i go to use it. Then the morning I go out, take them out and let them start thawing as I am using them. It may sound like a hinderance and not quite the most productive way but it usually works for me

  • Kaylea

    THe pond I go to restocks every other Thursday at 3 and when I go out to fish I catch atleast 20 cats when i go wtih my stepbrother.

    • kayle is a fag gay

      Who cares lesbo

  • david pdx

    going cat fishing in portland oregon… any good spots and what to use….

  • Jimmy

    Fellas, I've tried every bait known to mankind to catch catfish for the past 30 yrs. Some worked better than others. Trail and error does have it's upside however. To be sure, nothing has produced more and bigger catfish than what I started using a few years ago. Place cut shad in a jar, pan, or whatever and add about 4 tablespoons of minced garlic mixed in a pint of water. Pour the mixture over the cut shad and place in the frig for 2 days. Then go fishing. You will catch so many catfish that you will have to hire body guards to fight off those whiskered raskels. Best of luck.

    • KITTEN

      your stupid jimmy

      • kittens an prick

        Your cocky kitten

  • lila

    what can use to catch cat fish

  • Pam Minix

    Huge catfish killed with nunchucks youtube

    • dick the troll

      Pam go suck another clam burger u retarded hoe

  • the cats ass

    Ive found that dried car turds work like a charm in catching cats. And no im not trolling sounds grose and it is grose. But i use gloves when i do it. Be sure to have a cat as a pet as to avoid embarassment when asking a neighbor or friend if you could use their cats turds. It also helps to moisten them a little first but dont use to much saliva or the smell of the turd comes back and smells terrible. But amazingly the taste is ok. Also dog turds work as well but lack the fiber that cats has. Again this is no joke as you all will think. But give it a try and trust me on this.

  • Thomas Scharkley

    Lila if your serious about catching catfish try garlic-chicken livers, chicken livers need to be a little rotten, it stink but hey, once again if your serious.

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