What types of live bait work good for catching Catfish?

What types of live bait work good for catching Catfish? Can I catch my own?

As many anglers know, catfish are predominantly bottom-dwellers, whose ability to locate food is based mostly on their sense of smell. For this reason, catfish tend to seek out food which they can locate by scent from a distance, and only take other food as a meal of opportunity, because they happen upon it in their travels. Further, of all the species of catfish in North American waters, only the Flathead Catfish is an aggressive hunter, while the other major species, Channel Catfish and Blues, are more given to eating less active food that either drifts into their space, or attracts them with its scent. In addition, the largest specimens of any of these species tend to gravitate almost exclusively to a diet of fish, and mostly dead fish, refining their tastes over the years, from a more omnivorous approach to eating, when they were smaller. Since dead fish has far more scent than live fish, it is infinitely easier for a catfish to locate it in the dark realms in which they live. Because of these reasons, live bait for catfishing can be a hit and miss proposition, especially if you are chasing Channel cats or Blues, unless you are after the smaller fish in the waterway. Small Channel cats and Blue cats will eat almost anything, as they clamor to gain a size advantage, so live fish are definitely on the menu, if they can catch them. However, remember that these two species are not great hunters, and so, they won’t likely chase your bait much. Accordingly, using nightcrawlers or small live fish on a slipweight rig, so that they can’t swim far, has been known to produce some good results. Using four or five-inch live baitfish in Flathead waters is definitely effective, too, especially in the dark, when the Flatties come inshore to feed. Since it’s hard to keep a bait fish alive on a hook for long, anyway, though, you’re almost better off to get it over with and use dead fish, instead… then, you’ll have a better chance at the bigger cats, too, especially if the local fish are Blues or Channel cats.


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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