How to Catch Catfish

Along with bass, catfish is another interesting trophy that any anglers want to get. They come in different sizes, species and live in many places such as river, lake, ponds. But, in general, they are a freshwater fish.

And a funny thing is that, other than a ton of questions about bass fishing tips, I realize that so many of you ask for catfish, too. That’s why in this article, I will share you an ultimate guide to countless useful tricks and tips on How to Catch Catfish. Without further ado, let’s get straight into it!

How to Catch Catfish: Essential Gear You Should Prepare


Catfish rod is one of the essentials that must have on your list. But in here, I won’t talk much about this gear as there already has a particular article about it.

Marker float

It’s hard to tell how deep the water is when you go shore fishing but it’s really important to know that’s where the marker float comes in handy. It tells you how deep the water is and what the bottom is like.

Marker float

Image source: Atomic

How does it work?

It’s basically an aerodynamic floating bobber that you should tie at the end of your line to have a sliding lead.

Put it in between the rod and float. You cast this out, the lead drags the float to the bottom and then you slowly let out line to tell your marker float pop up to the surface.

After that, measure how much line it takes to make that marker float come back up. That tells you how deep the water is. And by dragging and let it across the bottom, you can tell whether there’s gravel or weeds or muck or silt or what it what’s out there.

My tip to easily measure it is based on the distance between the real and the first eye. Usually, it’s roughly 24 inches so that you just count how many times it takes to get the marker float up.

Another tip for shore fishing is to opt for a braided line as there’s no stretch in them so that they give your extra sensitivity to tell what’s going on your marker float.

Bite alarm

If you are going to sit in a hammock waiting for fishes coming, then chances do you need some bite alarm. You don’t need to go for expensive alarm, just those with affordable price are okay. It’s because we need something to tell us that fishes are coming.

However, I don’t say that you can’t go with pricier fishing alarm. The biggest disadvantage of those cheap alarms is its lightweight that sometimes, they don’t go off and the result is that you will lose the fish.

On the contrary, with better alarms arriving more expensive price tags, they will come in heavier weigh to alarm you better. In another word, you get what you paid for. But, if you’re new to fishing, go for those cheap ones first, and update your gear gradually.

Now, after setting up your rod holders and fishing rods, climb the bite alarm on the rod. The number of alarm you will need depends on how many rods you have.

There will be a little hook on the alarm, just hook the line into it. When the line goes tight, the hose gets pulled out and then, this really obnoxious alarm goes off.

I highly recommend using bite alarm if you go fishing with multiple rods, bring kids along or try to get a little nap while you’re fishing.

Bite alarm

Image source: Bristol Angling Centre

Fishing line

When you cast with braided line, make sure you cash with your drag crank all the way down as what will happen is if that drag slips while you’re casting, it will be like a saw to cut through your fingers. Just REMEMBER that!


There’s just one thing you should keep in mind is that no baits work well in every situation. Different types of catfish and water require different types of bait. And while shad may catch much bigger blue catfish than chicken livers, there’s a time when you want to use chicken livers and not shad.

But here, to round up to the best baits for catfish, I need those ones that consistently catch catfish in many different places and times of a year. I also want baits to catch different type of catfish, too. For example, channel catfish, blue catfish, white catfish, etc.

To make the list, the baits are also easy to find. For instance, cicadas are an awesome catfish bait, but I didn’t put them on this list as they are not available most of the time.

Now, here are my top baits for catfish:

Schooling baitfish

Including gizzard shad, threadfin shad, American shad, hickory shad, skipjack, herring, mooneye and golden eye. This is a key ingredient in growing large catfish. For those who don’t know, almost everybody of water that contains trophy-sized catfish also contains large schools of baitfish.

Schooling baitfish

Image source: Finterest

The size and population of the bait are linked to the size of the catfish. Remember that big shads make big catfishes.

To catch fresh baitfish, just use a net, throw it in the most common way and you can catch a large number of them. In some places, gill nets are allowed. Snagging, dip nets and an umbrella net can also be used effectively where it is legal.

Meanwhile, mooneye, goldeneye, herring and American shad will actually bite a hook. Sabiki rig, small twisty tailed grubs and shad darts are popular lures. Small chunks of worms or crickets under bobbers can work well for mooneye and golden eye.

The biggest downside of these baitfish is that many of them a particularly fragile and are hard to keep alive if you want to use them for live bait. For instance, usually about half of your gizzard shad will die in the live well within an hour or two of catching them unless you are extremely careful and have a large well oxygenated live well.

Spinney baitfish

They are fish that have spinney dorsal fins, like bluegill, sunfish, pumpkin seed, white bass, and bullheads. These baitfishes are easy to catch. They work as bait in almost any place that has big catfish and they are all very tough so they make excellent live bait.

On the other hand, they can catch all 4 species of catfish, the only difference is the preferred sizes. Because live bait is so popular with flathead fisherman, many flathead guides prefer spinney bait fish over more fragile bait fish, like shad.

The best way to catch them is with a rod and a reel. A little bait under a bobber can get you a ton of bream.

Fish strap, like the four-leaf clover trap, can also catch a load of bluegill.

Spinney baitfish

Image source: Cool Green Science Blog – The Nature Conservancy

The biggest downside of this bait is that prep time in catching it and keeping it alive. And when using live bait, make sure you obey local laws and catch your bait from the same body of water where you will be fishing so as to avoid spreading diseases, parasites of introducing non-native fish.

Rough fish

They are non-sport fish that aren’t commonly fished for. Carp, goldfish, suckers, quillbacks, carpsuckers, fallfish, chubs and buffalo. They make fabulous live bait and they tend to draw to real big flatheads.

On average, most of these fishes can get pretty big so you have a range of size to choose from. But, this variation in size can be a problem. Not only do you have to catch your bait, but you also have to catch them in the correct size.

Additionally, these fishes tend not to be schooled up or thickly concentrated so it can take a long time to catch enough bait. I usually need roughly 12 fishes to go night fishing with live bait. It takes me less than 30 minutes to catch 12 shads, but it can take me an entire day to find that many fallfishes or baby carps.


Image source: Wikiwand

Rough fishes can be caught by rod and reel, cast nets, seines and fish traps. In rivers where there are lots of fall fish, I like to use a small white soft plastic minnow on an ultra-light rod.

I find that worms or a seine network best for suckers. Buffalo and carp can be caught on sweet corn or cast nets.


They are small boiled balls of bait that are used by carp fishermen and European catfishermen. Unlike a lot of American catfish baits, boilies are not messy and generally nonperishable. They come in all flavors and a variety of sizes. Thus, they are very effective that most US carp fishermen have trouble keeping catfish off their hooks long enough to catch a carp.

The biggest downside of boilies is their cost. You can make your own boilies or buy them online. It’s up to your budget!

Generally, boilies are attached to your hook with a hair rig, a baiting needle, and a bait.

This type of bait works effectively for channel catfish or small blue catfish, but occasionally they will work for flathead, too.


Type of bait Pros Cons Work greatly for
Boiled feed corn Cheap Take much time to prepare

Not work well with bullheads, or flatheads or large blue catfish

nice channel catfish and small blue catfish
Chicken livers Put out strong scent trail to catch a lot of fishes. Come off the hook easily. Small to medium size of Channel, and blue catfish
Hot dogs Don’t have mess or perishability of chicken livers.

Stay on the hook better

Just effective with small size catfishes Nice channel catfish
Earthworms Don’t take much time to prepare

Can buy with a huge amount to catch a lot of fishes.

All fishes love earthworms


Bullheads and small channel catfish

Choose fishing spot

One of the most important things about bank fishing is choosing your spot. Most the time, we usually choose those ones near out parking lot or closes to the dock. You will have to do this. Get up, walk, get off the beaten path and find some new spots that nobody else is fishing. It will take a little bit more time and energy, might be a big pain in the butt, but you will get big payoffs.

Catfishing tips

Things to consider when you go fishing in a lake

DIY rod holder

If you don’t have a rod holder, I will show you a small trick to DIY one for your own, which is also the traditional way. Using a solid stick as a rod holder. You just need to put it nearly the shore that its edges are put on the ground whereas the body isn’t to make a gap where you will place the rods.

To make the stick unmoved, use a bigger log spans the distance and then pin it down on both ends. By this way, the stick will play the role of a big rod holder.

Now, just set the drag to the max without fears of your rods going in the water. It’s different when you use ordinary rod holder as with them, you need to set loose to avoid rods go in the wallet.

For more solidness and sturdiness, you can use a rope to tie your rods to the stick, it 100% won’t go in the water.

How to fish if there’re too many weeds and algae

Let’s start off with a bobber and some worms underneath it so that you can move around to fish above the weeds.

How to fish if there’re too many weeds and algae

Image source: Pinterest

There are obviously some lakes that are retaining wall on completely along the shore as well as there’s no tree overhang the water, no sunken logs or debris the water. In other words, they are clean featureless bottom!

When there’s not a lot of feature like that, it makes what features there are ever more important. From that point, to find out them, switch to the bottom led and cast this let out to check the bottom. By dragging the led across the bottom, you can tell where the weeds end. Besides, you can also tell whether or not there are any ledges.

You cast out into the center and about 30 yards out there, you can feel a ledge. There wouldn’t be many weeds stuck on your lead when pulling up around that spot.

See it on the map to round up which place is ideal to catch catfish

It’s necessary to have a look at the map where you are going to fish. For example, if it’s a lake, you need to search for its map and take a look from above. This will give you a whole seen to find out which spot is ideal to catch fish.

If that lake has a trench which runs in the middle of the lake and it’s kind of long and narrow, that spot is perfect for fish. All the catfishes will hang out such that trench in the daytime. Besides, there usually don’t have a lot of weeds there, which makes a perfect fishing bottom, too. Opposite to bass fishes that often swim around the weed bed, these guys like clear bottom with featureless.

Now, after identifying the position of catfish, you need to find a spot to stand. Just measure a reasonable distance and this task is going to be easier. There’s just one thing when finding out the standing spot is remembering to consider what gear you are going to take along to fish.

Pay attention to the spot

I mean while you go fishing, focus on where you were casting and try to cast back to the same spot that you got bites. Just keep hitting over and over again!

On the contrary, if you get your bait sitting there for about 15 minutes without a bite, let’s pick it up and move it.

Things to consider when fishing in a river

When going fishing in a river, what I usually need is a bobber, a circle hook and a little bit of fish. That’s also all you need!

Fishing in a river is really different, especially in small rivers with lots of currents. It’s a lot more like fly fishing and less like the catfishing you’re used to.

You don’t generally catch big fishes, but it’s really engaging.


The very first thing you should take notice is choosing a 7-foot rod because it’s very sensitive than that one-piece rod. There is a lot of backbone to it. A bass rod is really a good match for this.

In terms of action, opt for the light-medium one to get the best trophy.

Where to fish

Small rivers and creeks are all about current. The fish wants to be close to the current, but not in the current as they want to be able to gobble up food that’s wash downstream without fighting the flow.

Where to fish

Image source:

From that point, places underneath spillways or Weir’s are really great. So, take your bobber, drop it in, let it drift into the pool and if there’s nothing hits, move it down a few feet and just work your way across the entire bottom of the spillway. Now, just work that bobber through all the different nooks and crannies in the pool.

If that river has a deep pool with a little creek coming in, it’s another great spot. Start close to you and work further away. If you catch a fish, you are not as likely as scare the other fishes in the pool.

The next good spot is where the current gets a little slows down as the water gets deeper. Start really close to shore and then, fish gradually further away meanwhile work your way through the pool.

The final great spot to catfish is a deep pool where water is flowing into it.

Besides, you also need to consider when fishing in lakes.

Things to consider when fishing catfish in the winter


When fishing in winter time, location is very important.

However, when I said location, often we are talking about is depth. The fish tend to all hold the same depth. You can use a fish finder to do that job for you.

Of course, catfish tend to be where the food is. That’s time to look for shads, too. Usually, shads are hanging out at under 20 feet. From that point, all fishing spots for catfish should be under than 20 feet.

It’s based on the temperature. On these days, it’s about 40 degrees and the water is 43 degrees. Obviously, air temperature is lower than water temperature so that shads are way down deep. The hotter, the shads will come closer to the water surface. This effects on where catfishes are.


Of course, the best baits ever to catch catfish are shads.

If you have a boat, like an inflatable boat, now, to get the shads, you need a big cast net that can go deep so, you need a rope at least 26-30 feet long. Meanwhile, you want that net stays open as long as possible so, you will need either a big cast net or a deep hole net.

In case, you don’t have a boat, try throwing your net from bridges, just make sure to add some ropes to the handle so, you can still reach the bottom.

If you can’t get live shads, the frozen is okay or you can go to Asian supermarket for mullet, herring or some similar catfish baits.

Anchoring the boat

When I find out where to fish, I put my boat about a good casting distance downwind from wherever I think the fish is going to be. Check your anchor in roughly 20 feet downwind of where you think the fishes are. Then, reverse the boat back and stretch out the anchor line.

Don’t forget to throw another anchor off the back of the boat. After that, pull both anchor lines as tight as you can to keep the boat stay pointed into the wind.

This method works really well in lakes and reservoirs where there’s no current to keep the boat pointed in one direction.

Anchoring the boat

Image source:

Fishing gear and rigs

As usual, I catch catfishes on winter time with a 7 ½ foot rod, a circle hook and live gizzard shads as baits. One thing you should keep in mind is the place to hook them. This is very important!

When you go fishing in the bottom and still water, hook about a half an inch behind the dorsal fin and about a half an inch deep into the back. Remember to hook as close as to the body where the catfish is most likely to strike. Hook the shad in the back also seems to help it swim naturally in still water.

Casting and fishing bells

When casting, I jerk to rod tip up twice. But I’m doing as I’m pulling the line out so the debate sinks as straight down as possible. Remember to cast to different features.

I’m casting to the banks on either side of a trough and I’m casting to the middle of the trough. Then, I’m casting to the flats on the edges of troughs. After that, try to see where the catfishes are holding around this deep structure full of shads.

Also, don’t forget to mark where you are casting to cast back there. You don’t want your bait to swing around as it sinks down. Thus, let’s give yourself about 15-20 feet of slack so, the debate sinks more or less straight down where you cast.

The reason why I advise you to use fishing bells is that this tool will help you notice when fishes are coming. Without it, baits are easily ripped out the hook without unnoticed and chances do you sit there all the day long.

Other tips

If you are on a budget, a live well can be a luxurious item. From that point, your solution is to use a collapsible laundry basket. Mine is Ikea!

It has some little Velcro straps and just pops up on its own. There is also a lid with little Velcro strap and two handles. Just need to put a rock on the bottom of it and this basket will sink down and be fulfilled with water.

While fishing, just throws them in this basket to keep them alive and fresh. You can even tie a rope around the handles, throw it off the dock or boat if you want.

It is catfish time!

Hopefully, this article about How to Catch Catfish was able to reveal some nice tips and secrets of the catfish fishing world. Whether you are a beginner angler or already have experienced, catch catfish is fun, right?