How can I start catching catfish under the ice?

I’m having a hard time catching catfish under the ice. What could I be doing wrong, and what should I be using?

You need to understand the habits of your prey to be consistently successful. Catfish behavior changes significantly with the change in seasons, as do most fish. Most catfish are omnivorvous feeders, which means they will eat both meat, and vegetable material. The Flathead Catfish is the sole exception, being a complete fish-eater. Catfish will eat just about anything they find that they think is edible, including soap, garbage, rotten meat, cottonseeds, dog food, doughballs, corn, etc… They have an incredible sense of smell and are attracted to strong smells, such as oily fish, rotten meat, etc….. Under the ice, catfish metabolism is slowed way down and they feed much slower. Thier diet at this time of year will consist mostly of dead fish, and other dead, decaying aquatic animals, picked up off the bottom. Your baits should be smaller than usual. Try using frozen shad pieces, preserved or dead minnows, chicken livers, pieces of shrimp, sardines and mackeral (canned), and various dough-baits. To use bait that is delicate, wrap gobs of sardines, mackeral or anything that falls apart easily, in pieces of hose, or panty hose (and yes, your wife will think you’ve finally lost it when you ask her not to throw away her torn hose), then run the hook through it several times. This will keep it on the hook. The stronger the smell, the better. Under the ice, you want to concentrate you efforts in the deeper water 25-35 feet deep. In winter, the water layers ‘turn-over’ and the deeper waters become more oxygenated. This is where the catfish will be. Also, they will still orient towards structure, somewhat, so try along old creek beds and channels. Fish on or near the bottom, and use bait-fishing tackle, because it is not uncommon to hook into one bigger than you bargained for. You will have to pull it through a small hole in the ice, so be prepared. Happy Fishing!


Dan Eggertsen is a fellow catfish fishing enthusiast to the point of obsession. :) He's been providing solid advice on catfish fishing since 2004.

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