The Cat’s Meow….

what is the best thing to use to catch catfish

I don’t think there is any such thing as the ‘best’ bait for any fish, within reason. Obviously, if your trying to catch crappie or white bass, which are almost exclusively fish-eaters, you are going to do better with minnows and fish imitations, than with worms or mayflies. With that being said, catfish are no exception. Part of the problem is that there are several species of catfish, and with overlapping habitats and habits. There are three main groups to concern yourself with. All other species will fall into one of these groups. The first group is the Flathead Catfishes. The main species is the Yellow Flathead (Pylodictis olivaris), also known as the Opelousa Cat, Pied Cat, Mississippi Cat, Mud Cat, Shovelhead Cat, and Flathead Cat. They differ from the other species in that they have a flat tail, rather than a forked one like the other catfish (with the exception of bullheads, which we will discuss shortly). And, as their name suggests, they have a flatter head that comes to a sharp angle at the mouth. They are mottled yellowish colored, or olive-colored on top, fading to whitish underneath. They can exceed 4 feet in length and weigh over 100 pounds. 50-pounders are not uncommon. They range from the lower Great Lakes all along the Mississippi River Drainage systems south to the Gulf States. They prefer slow moving streams with deep pools, and are also found in lakes. They are found in deep pools near structure such as hollow , logs, rock piles, and bank depression. At night, they cruise the shallows in search of prey. Once they exceed 10 inches in length, they become exclusively fish-eaters. They seldom scavenge or eat dead bait. The best thing I have ever used for them is a whole, live bluegill. Live large minnows and shad are also good producers. They rarely, if ever, hit on any commercial or prepared ‘stink’, dough, or punch baits. The next group is the Channel catfishes, which includes the Blue (Ictalurus furcatus), and Channel (Ictalurus punctatus) Catfishes. Both Channel and Blue Cats have deeply forked tails, and a streamlined appearance. They are bluish grey on the sides fading to whitish underneath. Channel cats often have a few dark spots on the sides, but not always, which makes them easy to confuse with Blue cats, as their ranges and habitats overlap. Channel Cats thrive in streams, rivers, lakes, and ponds. They can weigh over 50 pounds. 20-pounders are not uncommon. Channel Cats are more of a scavenger than the Flathead, or Blue Cats. They can be caught on almost anything organic, the more decomposed, the better. Stink, punch and dough baits work very well for them. But they are also active predators as well, and can be caught on live minnows, bluegills, shad, worms, crickets, etc. After they get over 5 pounds, they gravitate more towards live fish. Good baits for them are stink/dough/punch baits, chicken livers, shrimp, minnows- dead or alive, shad-dead or alive, nightcrawlers, and crawfish. Blue catfish are mainly big-river and large-lake fish. They require lots of water. They can exceed 100 pounds, with 50 pounders not uncommon. Other than that, their ranges, habitats and preferences are similar to Channel cats. The last group is the largest, the Bullheads (Ameiurus melas/natalis/nebulosus). This includes the Black, Brown, and Yellow Bullheads, and the White Catfish. They are much smaller than the other groups, seldom exceeding 5 pounds. They are all slow water and small stream fish, preferring muddy ponds and creeks. They are total scavengers, and readily bite everything from stink-baits to hot dogs, to worms. They are best caught on cane poles, with worms. So the ‘best bait’ would depend on both the species, and the targeted size. Other factors would include season, temperature, water conditions, etc… My suggestion, as always is …experimentation, and Trial-And-Error. 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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