How to Catch Catfish in The Best Way and Time
Catfish are probably the most widely targeted freshwater fish across North America. They grow to huge sizes, are very strong fighters, and have a seemingly bottomless appetite for almost any bait you can throw at them.
When fishing for catfish, it’s important that you forget everything you think you know about sport-fishing and approach your catfishing trip from a catfish angler’s perspective.
Before we go into further reading on how to catch catfish, here are some well-known catfish fishing tips:
- Catfish are bottom feeders. They’re not going to be suspended 20 feet off the bottom like a bass holding tight to cover. If at all possible, focus on fishing areas that have something for them to hold onto or root around in. This can mean brush piles, fallen trees, rocks, bridge pilings, rip-rap, or the bank.
- Catfish have a strong sense of smell and taste, so if it won’t hold their attention chances are they aren’t interested. Your best bet is live bait, but be aware that many fisheries have restrictions on what you can use as live bait. In those cases, natural baits–such as shad or crawfish–will work well if they’re available in large numbers.
- When using natural catfish baits like shad or crawfish, cut them into chunks that are around 1/2 ounce in weight. This is heavy enough to cast well, but not so large they’ll foul the hook; most catfish anglers prefer circle hooks for this reason.
- When you live bait it’s best to use a hook that has needle-sharp points. The sharper the point the better because it will penetrate into what you’re fishing around more easily, thus increasing your chances of landing your fish quickly.
Best time to Catch Catfish
The best time to catch catfish is during spawning season–from March through June in northern waters and September through November in southern waters–when they tend to congregate around rocks, logs or brush piles near the bank looking for a place to spawn.
During the summertime, catfish will move to where they can find cooler water, and typically that means deep holes in creeks and rivers or down near the bottom of many lakes.
Overall, you can technically catch catfish year round.
The best time to catch catfish during autumn is early morning and late evening hours. This could be any time from just after dark until about 10:00 pm throughout much of fall. During warmer parts of autumn, fish tend to feed at night. When it cools off towards winter, more fish become active during daylight hours again.
The exception would be a cold front weather system that brings a period of warm temperatures following a bit of a cold snap. When that happens catfish will feed all day long until the warm spell ends.
Catfish are mostly nocturnal fish, however, they do have the ability to become more active during daylight hours when outside conditions warrant it. During winter months, fish can be found holding in cracks and under ledges on main river bends or anywhere where there’s some type of shelter from current or wave action.
Fish also tend to gather around points jutting into lakes as well as large creek channels leading out to deeper water. The best time to catch catfish during winter is late afternoon through early morning hours during mild weather spells followed by much colder temperatures–typically below freezing at night with daytime highs in the 40s.
Where to Catch Catfish
There are several places that are best to catch catfish and they are the following:
- Ponds and Lakes: these are where you find catfish in large numbers. Use cut shad or crayfish for bait.
- Creeks, Rivers, and Streams: the catfish here are smaller than in ponds or lakes so use live minnows for bait.
- Large Rivers: these are home to many big channel cats because they’re used to being caught by commercial fishermen. Use cut baits for bait–such as shad–and circle hooks when using natural baits like whole minnows or crawdads.
- Hole Fishing is best done at night with artificial lights–you can also use a black light if you have one available. Find holes along creek channels in creeks, rivers, or streams.
- Beaches: catfish are attracted to the sandy bottoms of these areas so use cut baits for bait–such as shad or crawdads, and be sure to check local regulations before fishing off a beach.
- Stump Fields: many catfish anglers feel that stump fields hold more fish than any other type of cover in rivers, creeks, or streams where the heavy current isn’t present. The best time to catch them is just after dark because they’re less active during daylight hours due to cold water temperatures.
- Pillow Fields: these are found along many rivers throughout the United States and Canada. Use natural baits like whole minnows or crawdads for bait; remember that most commercial baits are not legal in these areas.
- Docks: look for them along rivers, creeks or streams that have a good current flow because catfish tend to hang around the pilings. Use live minnows for bait.
- Barge Terminals are popular with catfish anglers because the boats coming and going stir up fish at all hours of the day and night–catfish can be found anywhere from 10 feet below the surface down to 30 feet deep where there’s little or no current present. Be sure to check local regulations before fishing here.
- Riprap Banks are great places to catch channel cats because they’re typically found close to deeper water in moderate currents.
- Beaver Ponds, oxbow lakes, concentration lakes, and deep lakes are also good places to catch cats.
Are Catfish Hard to Catch?
While they are not as easy to catch as trout or bass, catfish are not hard to catch. They tend to be nocturnal which means their active during the nighttime hours and tend to be inactive during the day. Their activity is determined by water temperature, so on colder nights they become less active, but if it gets warmer towards winter more fish are seen feeding in the daytime. During summer months many people go out fishing for them around docks because of all of the baitfish that end up there.
When using natural catfish baits like shad or crawdads you can expect them to come right up alongside the dock looking for food sources. Using circle hooks when catching them with natural baits will help ensure a safe release back into the water.
In shallow ponds or lakes, you can expect to use a bobber and worm rig, fishing deep into the holes where catfish will be waiting for an easy meal. In deeper areas, it’s best to fish with a slip-bobber rig which allows your bait to move freely above the bottom of the lake where most catfish are found. It is also wise to have a good set of polarized sunglasses so that you can see any changes in light levels underwater when feeding activity begins.
Most people who have been successful in catching catfish have caught them by going out at night and using cut shad, crawdads, or minnows as bait. For small ponds or rivers, you can get away with just hooking your catfish bait and throwing it out and waiting for a catfish to come up and take it. For larger lakes or rivers circling hooks work best so that the fish feels more comfortable biting your bait off.
Fishing for catfish can be done with many different methods; some may be more effective than others depending on the body of water you’re fishing, the time of year, and what type of cover is available.
- Wading or bank fishing with live bait (live earthworms work great during cold months) is best done at night when fish are feeding heavily under lights along banks; each cast should only last about 10 seconds.
- Using electronics to find catfish in deeper areas at night.
- Drifting for catfish using cut bait such as shad or crawdads.
- Casting slip sinkers with a bobber and worm or chicken liver for a natural bait, or try hooking a piece of cut bate to your fishing line before casting.
- Drifting a nightcrawler or fathead minnow behind a boat.
- Pitching jigs at wood or current breaks, or underneath docks at night.
- Trolling with cut bait such as shad for channel cats in rivers and bays.
Gear for Catfish
The following gear to help you catch catfish are as follows:
- Cut bait: The best catfish bait is a cut shad or crawdad. These both will catch the catfish that you desire.
- Slip Bobber: Slip bobbers can be effective for catching catfish. This allows you to see the bite better and hook the fish easier.
- Catfish Rod/Reel Combo: Make sure you get a strong fishing rod and reel. Catfish can test the angler’s patience, so be prepared with good equipment. A good catfish rod and reel combo is the Abu Garcia.
- Test Line: When it comes to fishing for catfish, using the right pound test line is essential for success. In general, you’ll want to use a fishing line with a higher pound test when fishing in deeper water, as fish in these conditions can be heavier. In shallower water, a line with a lower pound test can be more effective.
There are a variety of factors to consider when choosing the right pound test line for catfishing. The size and strength of the catfish you’re targeting, the depth of the water, and the size of your tackle all play a role in determining which fishing line is right for you.
In general, heavier catfish can be caught with a heavier fishing line. If you’re targeting particularly large catfish, you’ll want to use a line with a high pound test. For smaller catfish in deeper water, a line with a test weight of up to 65 pounds can be effective. In shallower water, a line with a lower pound test, such as 20-30 pounds, can work well.
- Swivels: Swivels are important for catfish fishing because this is what keeps your line from getting tangled.
- Terminal Tackle (Weights, Leaders): You can use weights to fish your bait deeper. A good leader is also important because catfish have sharp teeth that can cut through monofilament very easily.
- Egg Sinkers: When fishing for catfish, egg sinkers can be a great choice for bait. These sinkers are designed to look like eggs, and they are often effective at attracting catfish.
- Hooks: Circle hooks are the best for catching catfish because it helps prevent gut hooking and is supposedly less cruel than using straight shank hooks.
- Fish finder: A fish finder can be really effective in finding the perfect places to drop your line with live bait or cut bait. The Humminbird Helix 7 is a great catfish fish finder but it is on the pricier end.
- Pliers/Cutters: Catfish have sharp teeth that can cut through line if you’re not careful, so a good set of pliers or cutters is a must.
- Gloves: Gloves can help protect you from the catfish’s razor-sharp teeth when handling a fish.
- Bucket: A bucket comes in handy when you need to carry your fish after catching it.
- Flashlight: It is important to get a good flashlight because you will need it when fishing at night or to see at night.
- Net: This is a good idea to have a net when fishing because it can be hard trying to get a catfish into a bucket.
- Polarized Sunglasses: This can help you see better when fishing at night so you can see the fish easier.
Baits for Catching Catfish
There are many different types of bait that can be used for catfish, but some are more effective than others. Here are some of the most popular types of bait:
Chicken livers: Chicken livers are a very popular type of bait for catfish, and they are often one of the best baits to use. They are a very good scent bait, and catfish love them.
Shrimp: Shrimp is also a very popular type of bait for catfish. They are good scent bait, and they are also good bait to use when fishing in shallow water. Shrimp can be fished on a hook or a jig head.
Popping hoppers: Popping hoppers are a type of bait that is becoming more and more popular for catfish. They are a type of bait that fish can see very well, and they are also a good scent bait. Popping hoppers are made up of a foam body with a rubber band that is used to attach the bait to the hook.
Dough bait: Dough baits are a type of bait that is made from dough, and they are often used to catch catfish. They are a good bait to use when fishing in deep water. Dough baits can be made from a variety of different ingredients, including cornmeal, cheese, and liver.
Stink bait: Stink bait is a type of bait that is made from rotten meat, and it is often used to catch catfish. It is a very effective bait, but it also has a strong smell.
Worms: Worms are one of the most popular types of bait for catfish, and they are a good bait to use when fishing in shallow water.
Basic Information on Catfish
Catfish are the largest freshwater fish in North America. The Mississippi River boasts some of the biggest catfish ever caught, with huge fish exceeding 100 pounds.
There are many different kinds of catfish; common types include bullheads, Channel Catfish (the most popular game fish in the U.S.), Flathead Catfish (known as one of the tastiest catfish), Yellow Bullhead, Yellow Pickerel, Blue Catfish (popular among southern anglers), and Mudcat (most commonly used for ice fishing bait).
Catfishes have flat heads and barbels that help them locate food on river beds or lake bottoms. They eat dead plant matter and smaller organisms if they can find it.
Catfishes spawn during springtime. Some of the smaller catfish species will spawn several times throughout the year, but others, like the Channel Catfish, only spawn once a year.
Genus/Species: Ictalurus punctatus* *The Channel Catfish is the only species in the genus Ictalurus. Channel catfish (Ictalurus punctatus) is a type of North American catfish that are found in rivers and streams. They are a popular game fish, and their flesh is considered a delicacy. Channel catfish can grow up to 36 inches in length and weigh up to 30 pounds.
The channel catfish has a long, slender body with a deeply forked tail. They are typically a bluish-gray color on the dorsal (upper) side and white on the ventral (lower) side. The channel catfish has two pairs of barrelsisk (where on) its upper jaw, which it uses to find food in dark waters.
When catching channel catfish, you will need a sturdy fishing rod and reel, as well as some fresh bait. Channel catfish are attracted to live bait, such as minnows, crayfish, and worms. You can also use artificial lures, such as spinnerbaits and crankbaits.
Smaller catfish species can be found throughout North America. The Bullhead Catfish is the most common type of catfish and can be found in lakes, streams, rivers, and ponds.
Large Catfish like the Blue Cat or Flathead Cat can only be found in larger bodies of water such as the Mississippi River (flathead and) the Missouri River (blue cats).
Life Span: Unknown for most species however at least 16 years have been recorded for channel catfish.
Age to Maturity: 5-8 months for Channel Catfish
Male vs Female: Males tend to grow larger than females and may become aggressive during spawning season. However, both genders will secrete a milky substance from their eyes if threatened.
Catfish Size (Length, Height, Weight): Maximum lengths and weights of catfish species are as follows:
Smaller Catfish Species: Maximum length – 8 inches, maximum weight – 1 pound.
Medium Catfish Species: Maximum length – 14 inches, maximum weight – 9 pounds.
Larger Catfish Species: Maximum length – 3 feet, maximum weight – 100+ pounds. The world record for a flathead cat is 99 pounds!
Diet: Smaller catfishes eat insects and plant life, however, larger species will consume fish and other animals such as amphibians or water fowl if they can catch them.
Habitat Preference(s): Larger catfishes generally prefer deeper waters where prey cannot easily escape from the pressure of their teeth. They may be found in shallow water from time to time, however.
Catfish as food: Catfish are used for human consumption in the form of catfish fillets, commonly sold in grocery stores. Blue Catfish is considered a delicacy among some southern states, hence the saying “the South shall rise again”
Predators: Large-bodied predators such as alligators, sharks, and bears may occasionally prey on adult catfishes during certain times of the year (i.e., when they are hibernating or are weak from spawning). However, smaller predators like otters, herons, and turtles may prey on young catfishes at any time throughout the year.