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Best Catfish Bait for 2022 (12 Top Picks & Catfishing Guide)

Catfish baits would seem like a pretty straight forward subject.

However, you would be surprised what makes the best catfish baits; some items can be downright stinky.

squid used as the best catfish baits
Squid worked for this catfish! Source: Sean Nash

This type of fishing does not require intricate rigs, baits, or special lures. In many cases, you already probably have good catfish bait in your refrigerator!

This article will cover some of the top catfish baits, some of our personal favorites, and a bunch of catfish baits tips.

Grab your favorite catfish rod and reel and let’s get catfishing!

What Do Catfish Eat?

Catfish are opportunistic feeders and will eat just about anything they can find. This includes other fish, small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, insects, crustaceans, and any plant matter they encounter.

While catfish have a reputation for being bottom-dwellers that scavenge for food, some species of catfish are very active predators. 

The size and type of catfish you are targeting will dictate what bait you should use. For example, smaller catfish species will typically go after smaller prey such as insects, while larger species like the flathead catfish will target larger fish and mammals.

Types of Catfish 

There are around 3000 species of catfish to date. Still, only a few have captured the attention of most catfish anglers. That includes the blue catfish, channel catfish, and flatheads.

Types of Catfish

1. Blue Catfish

The blue catfish have a flat dorsal, deeply forked tail and a slightly extended lower jawβ€”silvery blue, with darker shades on the dorsal area. The body is elongated and compressed laterally.

Blue catfish are not as big as the flathead or channel catfish, but they can still grow to impressive sizes. The world record is 143 pounds, caught in Kerr Lake of Virginia on the North Carolina border. While they are most commonly found in large rivers and lakes, they have been known to enter brackish water in search of food. 

Blue catfish are aggressive predators who eat just about anything they can fit in their mouths. This makes them perfect targets for anglers looking to catch a trophy catfish.

2. Channel Catfish

Channel catfish swim and breed in fresh and brackish worldwide. But they were originally from the Gulf States and the warm waters of the Mississippi Valley and provinces in Mexico and Canada. 

This type of catfish has a cylindrical body with no scales. Their fins are soft except for the pectoral and dorsal fins. Those have sharp spines that can inflict deep and painful wounds.

Their undersides are white to silvery; they can be anything from olive to blue-gray at the top. They have dark spots on their sides that help camouflage them in the water.

Channel catfish are scavengers and will eat just about anything. But they prefer live bait such as minnows, nightcrawlers, and crayfish. The largest catfish caught weighed 58 pounds from the Santee-Cooper Reservoir in South Carolina.

3. Flathead Catfish

Flathead catfish are one of the most popular types of catfish to target. They are freshwater fish that is native to the Mississippi River Basin. But they have been introduced to other river systems in North America.

The flathead gets its name from its distinctively flat head and wide, flattened mouth. They are pale yellow hence their other nickname, “yellow cat.” They also have dark spots on their sides.

Flathead catfish are ambush predators and will lie in wait for their prey to swim by before striking. Their diet consists mainly of live fish, but they also eat sunfish, bluegill, live perch, goldfish, or mudcats.

The world record flathead catfish weighed 123 pounds and was caught in the Kansas Elk City Reservoir.

Best Catfish Baits for Blue Catfish 

Blue catfish eat almost anything, but the best catfish bait for this fish is a fresh mud shad, cut herring, or menhaden. Always use fresh baits as this can catch dozens of large blues daily.

Shad can be hooked whole, or you may cut them into small chunks. Meanwhile, skipjacks are larger and may be used to bait huge competition-quality catfish. 

But if shad and skipjacks are not available in a river or lake, choose the catfish’s natural food source. But baits such as drum, buffalo, perch, and bluegill may not yield consistent results. Blue catfish are well known for preferring large chunks of fresh bait.

Best Baits for Channel Catfish 

Channel catfish are voracious. They prefer all kinds of bait, including worms, shad, and minnows. Anything that puts scent in the water will attract channel catfish and other cat species. 

When preparing worms, suspend these under bobbers. Use worms to catch cats in rivers, ponds, creeks, and reservoirs. For eating size channel catfish, small pieces of shrimp or fresh bluegill and carp work great!

When fishing for channel fish in stagnant water, use live shad and minnows. Use dead bait when fishing in moving water. Dead shad and minnows smell will attract and get channel catfish out of their hiding zone. Be sure to cut small slits on your bait as the smell and flavor are irresistible to catfish. 

Catching Channel Catfish and Stripers in the Imperial Valley

Best Baits for Flathead Catfish 

Meanwhile, flathead catfishes are picky eaters and will prefer nothing but live bait. These extra-large cats are trophy fish but can be a challenge to catch. Expert flathead anglers use live bait and fish only during the warm months into mid-fall. 

Look for flatheads in large lakes and rivers. They love to stay in steady flowing water and look for shad and large sunfish. They are common, especially when you’re fishing in Southern waters. 

You may also use domestic bait fishes such as shiners and goldfish. You must check local laws about the bait to use to catch flatheads. And since these are super-sized catfishes, use strong and heavy fishing gear. Otherwise, the fish might come off the hook or break the line. 

No matter what catfish you wish to catch, it takes the right kind of bait. Not to forget, good quality fishing gear and a lot of patience. Take your time and use different bait until you find what works best for you. 

Ask any catfish angler about the best bait, and you’ll probably get different answers. Catfishing using lures and baits is one of the greatest fishing sports. Since catfish are attracted to almost all kinds of bait, you can use anything to catch their attention. And voila, you’ve got yourself a catfish!

But some baits are more efficient and effective than others. Let’s explore how nightcrawlers, shad, crawfishes, chicken livers, and other live catfish bait work. 

This list could go on and on because catfish will quite literally eat anything. We have included some of the more popular and easy to get baits in this article.

best catfish baits

Popular and Easy to Get Types Of Catfish Baits

There are different types of baits you can use to catch catfish. The best bait will depend on the catfish you wish to catch and where you’re fishing.

But some general tips about the kinds of bait that work for all types of catfish may be helpful.

The baitfish include:

Catching Channel Catfish and Stripers in the Imperial Valley

Catfish Stink Baits

If you want to attract catfish, using stink baits is the way. Stink baits are made from putrefied fish parts and other stinky ingredients that catfish can’t resist.

While they may not be the most pleasant-smelling baits around, they get the job done to catch catfish.

There are many different recipes for stink baits, but they all have one thing in common – they’re smelly!

The key to using stink baits effectively is to use just enough bait so that the scent is detectable but not overwhelming. You also want to keep your bait fresh, as the stinkier it is, the better.

One of the most popular stink baits is called “stinky finger” bait. You’ll need putrefied fish parts, cheese, and eggs to make this bait. Mix all of the ingredients and form them into small balls. Once your baits are ready, you can fish them like you would any other bait.

Chicken Livers (Rooster)

Chicken livers are a favorite of catfishing anglers from all over. More precisely, “rooster liver.” Using rooster livers instead of regular chicken livers is because rooster livers are tougher and stay on the hook better.

Chicken livers store a lot of blood in them, and between the smell of the liver itself and the smell of the blood, catfish can’t resist it.

We use it as we do most of our catfishing baits with a bobber and set it close to the bottom. However, it works just as well sometimes to set it straight on the bottom. They will find it!

Tip: We freeze our chicken livers. This keeps them firm throughout the day of fishing and helps them stay on the hook better.

blue catfish baits
A beautiful blue catfish. Source

Hot dogs

Who does not like a good hot dog? Catfish are certainly the same way. Hot dog weiners make a very common catfish bait.

Cutting them into decent-sized chunks, putting them on a circle hook, and letting them set will almost always produce results.

Beef weiners will work better because the skins are tougher and better help them stay on the hook. The strong smell of the weiners will draw catfish and, often, other fish as well. 

If you have problems keeping hot dogs on the hook, many old-timers use various methods of curing bait, from salting to using Cool Aid drink mix; even laundry blueing solutions can help firm up a hot dog, or most baits even.

Cheese

We all know cheese has a strong smell depending on the variety. This also makes it a great catfish bait. Because of the strong smell of cheese, this will instantly draw catfish in thinking it is a dead animal or other meal, following the amino acid trail in the water.

Cheese that comes in blocks is the best choice and holds together well in water. Cut off a decent-sized chunk, put it on your hook, and wait. (You won’t be waiting long!)

Catfish Dip Bait

Catfish dip baits are usually in a liquid or paste form. This is a bait you can “dip” any deep water lure you are using in, and the scent disperses when it hits the water.

The upside to using a catfishing dip bait is that you do not have to carry baits along; that can often become messy, especially on a hot day.

Add a little flour or pancake mix, cornmeal, or even sawdust to thick dip baits. To thin them out, add a little water. 

Cut Baits

Cut baits have long been a go-to for catfishing anglers. Catching a few smaller fish such as bream, skipjack herring, carp, or buffalo and using pieces or the heads will often produce good results.

This is true with just about any form of baitfish that happens to be handy. You can use any part of the baitfish or if it is a smaller fish, whole.

This is a great method for trotline fishing as well. Always check regulations to see what’s legal bait in your area.

Be aware that this too is a certain turtle attractant as well. Often, if there are several turtles in the area you are fishing, they will steal the bait before a catfish sees it.

Catfish Dough Baits

fishing in bangkok giant mekong catfish
Here’s the biggest Mekong Catfish Jon caught at Bungsamram.

When Jon was fishing in Bangkok after Giant Mekong Catfish, you know what his guides used to get the fish? Stale white bread dough balls.

Yup! His 120+ pound catfish was caught on a big bread dough ball. Catfish aren’t picky eaters. They are more like the vacuum cleaners of their homes.

Nightcrawlers

The most common type of bait is the good old earthworm or nightcrawler. You can find these squirmy guys anywhere, and they work like magic when fishing for catfish.

If you want to use fresh bait, go outside and dig around in your garden until you’ve found a few. If you’re not a fan of getting your hands dirty, you can also purchase them from most tackle shops.

While nightcrawlers work well for just about any type of catfish, they are especially effective when fishing for channel catfish.

Channel cats have a keen sense of smell and will be attracted to the scent of the worms. For this reason, they are also a good choice of bait when fishing in murky water.

To use nightcrawlers as bait, thread them onto your hook and cast them into the water. You can also rig them up under a bobber if you’re fishing in shallow water and want to keep them off the bottom.

Crawfish

Crawfishes, or crayfish, are another excellent bait for catfish. They are especially effective when targeting smaller species, such as bullheads. Crawfishes can be found in most streams and rivers and purchased from most bait shops.

To use crawfishes as bait, hook them through the tail and cast them into the water. You can also rig them up under a bobber if you’re fishing in shallow water.

Shad

If you’re targeting bigger catfish, such as flatheads or blue cats, shad is one of the best bait you can use. Shad are small, oily fish common in most lakes and rivers. They are a favorite food of larger predators, such as catfish, bass, and pike.

Shad can be difficult to catch, so your best bet is to purchase them from a bait shop. Once you’ve got your hands on some, cut them up into small pieces and use them as bait. You can also use the whole fish if you’re targeting larger catfish.

Catfish Live Baits

Aside from the baits mentioned above, catfish are also responsive to the following live baits: 

  • Brim (often bream, sunfish, or bluegill in regulations) 
  • Perch
  • Goldfish
  • Black Salty
  • Small live carp
  • Small buffalo
  • Tilapia

Catfish can also be easily lured with the right presentation, apart from live baits. If you’re using a rod and reel or a trotline, hook the bait through its back.

Place the hook under its dorsal fin. This allows your bait to swim but will appear to be injured or in trouble. 

For larger baits like shad, perch, and bream, make small incisions on the body. This spreads the scent throughout the water. Place the bait in a cooler area, away from the sun.

Secret Catfishing Baits

Some anglers have developed their brand of “secret catfishing baits.” Most have had proven results. I’ve even seen some catfish soap baits used from time to time.

Often these secret homemade catfishing baits will comprise the smelliest substances available. This is a true way to attract catfish.

You can make your secret catfishing bait if you want to get creative. Just remember to make it smell as bad as possible!

A deadly, underused technique is a long strip of carp or other tough bait on a heavy lead head; keeping it moving over a mixed bottom can be a great tactic to get some flatheads and other fish, even largemouth bass and stripers, don’t say Coach didn’t tell you!


Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best catfishing bait?

Very simply, whatever smells the worst. Catfish are not picky eaters, and a strong smell will bring them right to your hook.
Coach prefers fresh bait, either strip, chunk, or live. If it’s in the water, they may well find it!

Where can I get catfishing bait?

It depends on what type of catfishing bait you are looking for. If you want dip baits or dough baits, your local sporting goods online will work.
If you are looking for any of the other baits in this article, they can be found in your local grocery store.

How long do catfishing baits last?

Any of the baits mentioned in this article will last quite a while if kept frozen. Dough baits often come in resealable containers and last a long time.
Cured baits can be stored in a bag for quite some time or bagged and frozen. Baits stored in airtight containers tend to last longer, while vacuum-packed bait lasts the longest as a general rule.

Insider Advice

There are a lot of catfishing stink baits on the market that deliver results. However, some of the best catfishing baits can be found in your grocery store, and even fresh chicken is known to catch catfish.

As a kid fishing in Alabama, I remember that we did not have anything listed in this article available as fishing bait, so we used plain loaf bread.

We caught enough catfish for a fish fry by using stale loaf bread. It was hard to keep on the hook, but it worked.

I hope you have found this article helpful. Hopefully, it has given you something you can use on your next fishing trip.


The Anglers Behind This Article:

Jon Stenstrom
Founder & Angler

Johanes Godoy
Fishing Editor

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Jon Stenstrom
Founder & Angler
Jon Stenstrom is a fishing and spearfishing enthusiast. He's been fishing since he was 5 years old in the backcountry of Yosemite for trout and in the surf near his home in SoCal. Over the past 4 years, he's been spearfishing up and down the coast of California. He started Cast and Spear to help inspire others to get outside and chase their dream fish. Notable catches include spearing a 65-pound white sea bass, large grouper, and yellowtail down in Baja. When he's not in the water, he's usually fishing from his Gregor Baja aluminum boat or inflatable Takacat catamaran.
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Articles Β» Gear Reviews Β» Natural Bait, Hooks, and Terminal Tackle Β» Best Catfish Bait for 2022 (12 Top Picks & Catfishing Guide)