Looking at Some of the Best Catfish Baits

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Looking at Some of the Best Catfish Baits

Ohio River Flathead Catfish Caught on Walleye
Photo via Christian Schultz/Premier Angler

Catfishing is an acquired pastime for many anglers.

For many of the 46 million Americans who fish each year, simply catching some fish – any fish – is a good time. For others, there are a few specific species they like to catch. At a certain point, size starts to matter and the thrill to catch bigger fish grows each time they hit the water.

For that very reason, one of the most popular species is the catfish.

Even a channel catfish that weighs six or seven pounds can put up a massive fight. When you start getting into the more sizeable flatheads and blue cats, we’re talking literal freshwater monsters.

Considering that the current world record blue catfish is 143 pounds (with a length of 57 inches), even coming within the vicinity of that mark is an amazing feat.

Now, throw in bullheads and other related species, and you’re looking at some of the most unattractive-yet-exciting fish you can catch in lakes, rivers, and ponds.

But what are the best baits for catfish?

Below, we will look at some of the best live, dead, and artificial baits to attract catfish of any size.

Live Catfish Baits

Using Crappie as Catfish Bait
Using freshly-caught crappie or other smaller species often makes for effective catfish bait. (Photo via Christian Schultz/Premier Angler)

When considering the best catfish baits, what’s better than the fish they already eat?

Once catfish reach mature size, their primary food source is live fish. If the catfish can fit its mouth around the fish, it is likely prey.

That means many of the following species make for excellent catfish baits:

  • Bluegill (and other sunfish)
  • Crappie
  • Yellow Perch
  • Shiners
  • Suckers
  • Goldeneye
  • Minnows

Now, you don’t want to rig up a trophy-sized bluegill or crappie and throw it out. Instead, focus on finding the average and going a little below that.

For instance, a 14-inch crappie probably isn’t best suited for catfish bait. A 6 or 7 inch fish, however, might be a good option if you are fishing for big flathead or blue cats. A 2-5 inch live bait is going to be a good option for channel cats and “normal” sized flats and blues.

If using a live fish isn’t your style, you can always try you luck using using conventional night crawlers. Worms and other invertebrates round out the typical catfish diet.

Now, that said, there are several other species that also make excellent catfish baits, but are better when they are dead.

Dead Catfish Baits

Catfish Boat
If you are fishing for catfish, you will want to provide plenty of scent to attract them. (Photo via Christian Schultz/Premier Angler)

Using dead fish as bait isn’t the most typical approach for most species.

Unless you’re targeting catfish. There’s a reason you can read stories about people catching catfish on Koolaid-soaked hotdogs or fried chicken.

While this does happen, if you are looking to chum-it-up, try sticking to a variety of the species listed above, as well as some of the following:

  • Sauger/saugeye
  • Walleye
  • Drum

Now, you won’t want to just hook up a dead fish and chuck it into the water, though. You will need to cut the body into pieces, removing any excessively spikey or spiney sections.

Really want to attract the fish? Using a fish head often makes for one of the best catfish baits! If you can snag a nice walleye head, the flatheads love those!

Some catfish anglers also swear by chicken liver. Others like to diversify and also throw turkey liver. The biggest knock on both is that they are harder to keep on the hook than other baits.

Also, while plenty of folks have had success using them, the pre-packaged shad and other dead fish you can buy at big box stores aren’t always the most effective.

Instead, consider your pursuit of bait fish a great opportunity to get in another few hours of fishing! The scent that emanates from freshly-cut fish – especially if you are covering a wide area with multiple rods – will be much more natural and attractive to the catfish.

Artificial and Pre-Packed Baits for Catfish

Big Flathead Catfish
Photo via Christian Schultz/Premier Angler

Now, here’s where the jury is split.

Some folks absolutely swear by using artificial baits for catfish.

You can pick up liver-scented Magic Bait Dough Bait or Stick-It Punch Bait, but is it really the best bait for catfish? It’s hard to imagine even the best artificial baits outperforming live (or freshly-cut) fish.

Even products like Team Catfish Sudden Impact Fiber Enriched Catfish Bait, which looks more like a pre-workout supplement you would get from GNC than something you would use to attract fish, can’t replicate the authentic scent and taste of real fish.

In a pinch, however, you can absolutely use these baits. If you don’t have the time or resources to go catch your own baits, then you can pick up the artificial stuff at most big-box retailers who carry fishing supplies.

Because we love fishing, though, and want to see you get as much time on the water as possible, we highly recommend going and catching your own bait.

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