As most catfish anglers know, blue cats, channel cats and flatheads will eat darn near anything that fits in their mouths.
Live baits work great, including minnows, worms, frogs, shad, chubs and even grasshoppers and cicadas. Dead and smelly baits are well-known for attracting hungry cats, including things such as fish guts, shrimp, chicken liver, mussels and stinkbait.
Grocery-store baits like bacon, frankfurters and cheese work, too.
Even bizarre offerings such Ivory soap, dog food, Spam, blood and bubblegum will entice these whiskered warriors now and then. In fact, you'll probably hook a catfish sooner or later no matter what bait you use.
So why use artificial lures like jigs, crankbaits and spoons when fishing for catfish? Well, some folks just like to do things the hard way. If you prefer catching as many cats as possible, especially trophy catfish, you'll probably do better sticking to regular baits.
But if you enjoy more challenging endeavors, it may be fun to give lures a try. Catching cats on artificials adds another exciting dimension to this multifaceted sport.
The good news is, if water conditions are right, and the proper lure is used, cats will find the bait and strike. Many lures work, but they only work consistently if you understand what makes them enticing to catfish. The following paragraphs should help in that regard.
1. The best lures are impregnated with scent products.
Catfish have incredible senses of taste and smell. Taste buds cover the entire body, from whiskers to tail, and cats have special olfactory organs that will detect minute amounts of proteins in the water. It makes sense then that lures with built-in scent products are much better than "plain" lures for catching these whiskered eating machines.
Among the scented products I've used to catch catfish (even when bass fishing) are Berkley's Gulp! Alive products.
They look and feel like real bait animals: minnows, shad, worms, shrimp, leeches and more. And they're made of sponge-like resins that exude water-soluble scents cats can't resist.
In fact, Gulp! scents are so effective on catfish that Berkley even makes Gulp! Catfish Dough, Catfish Chunks and Catfish Shad Guts.
In my experience, these lures don't work as well as live baits, as Berkley suggests, but they are effective cat catchers and worth trying, especially where use of certain live baits is restricted. Other products may work equally well.
2. Lures with components that rattle and vibrate are more effective than unadorned artificial's.
Anglers often catch catfish when casting lures for species such as bass and walleyes, and the lures they're caught on run the gamut from jigs and crankbaits to plastic worms and spoons.
If you're targeting catfish specifically with lures, however, you'll increase the likelihood of catching some if the lures you use are made to rattle and vibrate.
Catfish have specialized hearing organs that detect rattling sounds even in muddy water. The sensitive lateral lines pick up vibrations from prey animals.
When these senses are stimulated by a lure you're reeling through the water, a nearby catfish is more likely to strike and -- fish on!
3. Fishing clear waters is likely to increase strikes on lures.
Many people look at the catfish's small eyes and think these fish probably don't have keen eyesight. That's not actually the case, though. Catfish living in waters with little turbidity regularly use their acute vision to help detect food animals.
This gives the angler an added advantage when fishing in a clear river or lake. In discolored or muddy water, lures must stimulate other senses before they will work. Where water is transparent, however, catfish can see lures and will strike almost anything that appears good to eat.
Scented lures that rattle or vibrate still work best because they stimulate multiple senses, making them easier for cats to detect. But in clear waters, sight alone may prompt a catfish to strike, allowing the angler to try a greater variety of artificials.
You can't cast a lure randomly and expect to catch a nice catfish like this. For consistent success, work lures in prime catfish feeding areas.[/caption]
4. Fishing like a bass angler often improves success.
You might cast a lure randomly and catch a catfish now and then. But if you want to improve your odds for success, you should fish like a bass angler, casting to specific components of cover and structure that attract fish.
This might be a toppled tree on an outside river bend where a flathead is likely to be hiding to ambush prey, or a deep creek channel used as a travel route by blue cats and channel cats feeding on shad. Learn the types of cover and structure catfish find attractive, then direct your casts to those areas to improve success.
5. Don't overlook real catfish "lures"
They don't work the same way as bass or walleye lures, but some manufacturers make plastic lures specially designed for use with soft stinkbaits. These aren't intended to be cast and retrieved repeatedly in a short period of time.
In fact, if you do that, you'll probably sling off the catfish bait that makes them effective. Instead, you fill the lure with squeezable tube bait or coat it in sticky dip bait, then cast to a good spot and wait for a bite. Good ones to try include Uncle Josh's Kat Lure, Magic Bait's Big Squeeze Bait Pod, Team Catfish's EZ Load Dip Tubes and Cat Tracker's Tubie Worm.
Artificial lures probably will never equal "regular" baits for enticing catfish. When you're wanting a change of pace, however, or wanting to make your cat catching extra challenging, try casting a jig, spinner, spoon, crankbait or soft-plastic lure instead of the real baits you usually employ. If you use the right lures under the right conditions, odds are you'll hook some nice blues, channel cats and flatheads.
About the Author:
Keith Sutton is the author of Hardcore Catfishing: Beyond the Basics, a 179-page, full-color book released in April 2015. It's full of catfishing tips that will benefit beginners and experts alike. To order an autographed copy, send a check or money order for $22.45 to C&C Outdoor Productions, 15601 Mountain Dr., Alexander, AR 72002. For credit card and PayPal orders, visit www.catfishsutton.com.