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Catfish Bait: Cats LOVE Raw Bacon!

Catfish Bait: Cats LOVE Raw Bacon!
According to the author, all you need to catch catfish are a few strips of bacon, a plastic bag for "aging" it, and your favorite fishing rod. Photo by Michael Gilmore.

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!

Chicken Livers

Sticky and smelly, chicken livers are a time-proven catfish bait. They're usually fished on a treble hook.


Like most things that swim, catfish love crawfish. Fished live or dead, they are effective on all species of cats.

Cut Shad

Whether used live or as cut bait, shad can be irresistible to channel cats and big flatheads.

Dip Bait

In waters with a current, the right dip baits (either homemade or commercial) will often lure cats from downstream.

Hot Dogs

Cut a cheap package of hot dogs into bite-sized pieces. Put the pieces in a zip-seal plastic bag. Add two or three heaping tablespoons of chopped garlic and one package of unsweetened strawberry Kool-Aid. Add enough water to fill the bag about halfway full, zip shut and refrigerate overnight. Put a piece of hot dog on your hook when you're ready to fish, then hang on. You'll have cats chasing dogs in no time!

Dough Balls

These prepared baits 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.

These work best in waters with little or no current as the rushing water can sweep it right off the hook.

Raw Bacon

All you need is a package of raw bacon and a plastic bag for "aging" it in the fridge. Think of it this way: if you wouldn't feed it to your dog, the cats will eat it up!


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 via marine discovery

Sponge Bait

Buy a bottle of anise extract, which smells like licorice, in the spice and extract section of your supermarket. All catfish love this stuff. When you get to the lake or river, pour a little in a plastic container and drop in a sponge hook. Let the sponge absorb the extract, then cast it to a spot where a hungry catfish is likely to be waiting for dinner.


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.

Ivory Soap

Another great way to catch cats is using ivory soap on bush hooks. Use dove original soap and add garlic powder. Put it in two zip lock bags to cover the garlic smell. You'll be getting hits in no time!

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!

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