I grew up catching catfish. Not just for fun or to just eat, but as a business. I grew up on a tobacco farm just outside of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. In the wintertime when farming was slow, my dad and I would catch catfish and sell them to the locals. It was a cold, stinky and nasty business, but we made good money doing it in the winter. But that type of catfishing is not for everyone.
So, in this article I will share with you how I catch catfish today every time: by deciding which type I want, the places they are located, the specific ways to lure them with the specific type of bait based on the time of year and the conditions of the waters they live in.
There are a few different types of Catfish in the United States. From those types are three that most people fish for including myself. And there is a good chance that you will find them in most parts of the U.S.
Different Types of Catfish
Named for the square and flat shape of their heads, these Catfish are usually the ones most people think of when they hear the word "Catfish." They can get big, with some weighing in little over 100lbs. They are as hard to catch as they are big, and catching one is a great source of pride for any angler.
They are solitary creatures that stick to murky and deep waters or places with a lot of covers like river bends with a lot of vegetation or fallen trees and muddy riverbeds. These catfish put up a good fight when hooked so, be prepared to put in some work and have fun.
More common than the flathead but bigger as well, with many coming in at well over 100lbs. These are ambush predators and are more active in their feeding method than flatheads, so you can find them in deep waters using their heightened sense of smell and taste, looking for prey.
You can find them in lakes, rivers and inland brackish waterways like flatheads but swimming in deep waters with strong currents where prey is plentiful. They are social, so finding one means you will find more.
While not as tough as the Flathead, Blue Catfish won't go down without a fight. They are great if you are looking for an action-packed day of fishing. When setting up to drop your bait, head upstream of the strong current near holes and places where Blues would set up nests, and do not be afraid to try different spots. They are predators, so they will be on the move looking for their next meal.
Channel Catfish are the most abundant in the United States and can even be found in Canada and Mexico. They are also the smallest of the three, with the heaviest, weighing in around 50lbs.
Channels and Blues can be hard to distinguish from each other at times. Their colorings can be very similar in certain areas and conditions. The best way to tell them apart is the rays on the tail fins. Blues have 30-36 spins, while Channels have 25-28. Also Channel catfish tend to be more grey in color or least in the Southeastern U.S.
They will usually linger just off string currents near some cover like logs and rocks and ambush their prey, so set up in the deeper lake and river waters in places with ripples that provide them some cover.
Best time to catch Catfish
The biggest misconception is that catfishing is something best left to do at night. In truth, you can fish for Catfish at any time of the day and all year round if you know where to find them. That also means knowing what kind of Catfish you are fishing for and the body of water you will be fishing in.
During the summer, Catfish will follow their prey which often means other fish, and they will head for deeper, cooler waters instead of being near the surface where it is hot. That means taking a boat out to deeper waters or casting farther from the shoreline. This will be especially helpful if you are aiming for Blues and Channels.
Flatheads will stay to the deeps and be in places with more vegetation and cover. As I mentioned before, you will find them in river bends and deeper parts of the lake, where it is murky. Catfish will also have their homes or nests inside holes, rock formations, and fallen tree trunks where they lay their eggs. This can be along the shore of rivers and such.
This is ideal for those who use the noodling method to catch their fish. I’m not a fan of noodlings since I now live in Florida where gators like Catfish as much as I do.
The catfish are still active in winter, but they will head for slower and calmer waters. You will probably find them near the bottom of rivers and lakes. They are not exclusively scavengers but hunt using all their senses and will use them to find prey even in the cold of winter, leading them to adopt different habits for different seasons.
Best Bait for Catfishing
Like many hunting and outdoor activities, catfishing has a thousand different tips and tricks passed down by enthusiasts who have done it all their lives. Everyone has a long tradition for the line they use and the hat they wear, and many times this includes their bait as well. There are a few good options out there for bait. Here are a couple of suggestions.
Use local prey to catch catfish. I usually catch small Brim with crickets or worms then cut them up and use them for bait from the same place I’m fishing. Since these Brim are already the type of food the Catfish will recognize and eat, so it works out well.
I put the cut-up Brim on my hook and cast it just above a hole or bend in the river so the current will cause the smell of the fish to drift into the hole where the Catfish lay. It is a safe bet, natural, and will save you from having to bring along bait and deal with the awful smell of the store-bought catfish bait.
Since catfish are also predators, they love live bait or something that moves, so using locally caught fish that they usually hunt and having them wiggle around on the line is great to stir up Blues and Channels and may even entice a Flathead out of hiding. Again, I catch smaller Brim and hook them in the back just below the fin. Then I let them drift down stream into a hole or bend in the running water.
On the same line of thought for using local fish, keep in mind which Catfish you are looking to score, and if you are using bait you buy, then adapt it to the hunting styles and preferences for that Catfish.
For instance, there is a misconception that all Catfish love smelly stinky bait, and there are many Catfish baits on sale based on this assumption. The truth of the matter is that it is not always true. Smelly bait can work great on smaller Channel Catfish, but it may work against you if you aim for bigger fish like the Blue or even a larger Channel.
Get to know the area you will be fishing and the Catfish of that area. The right bait can make all the difference, and the wrong bait will leave you with nothing but a nice tan to bring home.
How to Catch Catfish
Catfish are a unique fish, and just as the fish is unique and diverse, so are the methods you can use to catch. When going Catfishing, please check your local and state regulations about what is needed and permitted when fishing for Catfish. Some methods for catfishing are not legal in all fifty states. Below are two of the more exciting ways I have done either myself or know people who use these ways to catch Catfish and one tried to true method everyone will be accustomed to using.
Noodling for Catfish.
Here is a catching catfish method that many would say is not really fishing. How to noodle for catfish requires almost no equipment if you prefer not to wear gloves. All that is needed is two hands, nerves of steel, and courage enough to stick your hands underwater into a dark muddy hole and let a Catfish bite you.
In this method, you locate a catfish bed and entice the fish to bite your fingers, and once it does, you essentially wrestle with the fish until you have a good grip on its body and hold it close to you and drag it to shore or on your boat.
My friends say, this method is exhausting, action-packed, dangerous, and potentially illegal, depending on the state you are fishing in. Aside from the fact that you are fighting with a hundred-pound fish on its own territory, there are several other risk factors as well, such as the chance of drowning, attack from another animal living or hunting near the bed or losing the fight with the Catfish and getting injured.
It not my cup of tea but Noodling for Catfish is a time-honored tradition for some and is one of the oldest ways to catch Catfish. It takes skill, strength, and a touch of insanity to try this way.
Using a Rod and Reel to Catch Catfish (My preferred way to catch catfish).
Here’s how to catch catfish on a rod and reel.
• You will need a sturdy medium-heavy to heavy 6-7' fishing rod that will endure a fight with an angry catfish. Catfish are known to be fighters and will not give up easily.
• Make sure to have an excellent bait caster reel as well. You will either be casting into the deep offshore waters or along the riverbed if you are looking for Catfish. A bait caster reel is best for this job.
• Use a monofilament fishing line and get it brightly colored. Most of the time, the waters you will be fishing in will be murky or muddy, and having a line with color too will help you notice if it is moving and have a bite.
• Have a good sharp hook at the end of your lines. I use a 2.0 or 3.0 circle hook, to push through the tough jaw of the Catfish. You can use this method either onshore or out on a boat. When you cast your bait, you aim for the deeper murky waters where Catfish like to hunt.
Jugging for Catfish (The easiest way to catch catfish).
Catfish jugging is another inventive way to catch Catfish. This method works more like setting a trap for the Catfish and just coming back to check on it later. You will need to check your state regulations for this method as well as it is not legal in every state.
You can get a little creative on what you will use for the jug or floating implement for this method. I’ve primarily use empty milk jugs. But you can use empty sport drink bottles, empty 2-liters, or jumbo-sized pool noodles.
The pool noodle method requires a bit of metal wire or nylon cord work as well as extra line and bait. I will recommend watching a video tutorial if you want to use that method for simplicity's sake.
The Easiest Way to Catch Catfish.
Below is how to make a jug using a bottle which is the easiest method to put together:
To make your jug line:
1. Spray-paint your jug.
2. With a permanent marker, write your full name, address, and driver’s license or vehicle’s tag number on the jug.
3. Cut 6 to 10 feet off your fishing line.
4. Tie the end of the line to the bottleneck (just below the cap threads) or the jug handle.
5. Halfway down, tie a hook onto the line.
6. At the bottom of the line, tie the sinker on.
7. Bait your hook with your chosen bait.
8. Place your jug in the water and watch for any bobbing or weaving of the jug(s). If the jugs are bouncing around, chances are you’ve hooked a cat! Sneak up to the jug, give it a pull, and bring your Catfish in!
How to catch 30 or more catfish at one time.
As mentioned earlier, Dad and I would catfish in the winter and would use either hooks tied to tree limbs hanging close the rivers surface (called cat-hooking) with Ivory Soap as bait (yep, you read that right) or we would you wire traps made from Chicken wire and bait them with Menhaden (a small oily fish use mostly for fertilizer). We would buy the Menhaden frozen in 50 lbs. crates and then chop them into frozen clumps and put them in our fish traps and sink the traps to the bottom of the river and the catfish would “smell” the Menhaden and swim into the trap.
As a kid, it was one of the most exciting things in the world to see that tree limb bent and even the leaves wet when you had a catfish on a cat-hook. Or as equally exciting was pulling up your fish trap and roll it into the boat with 30 lbs. of fluttering catfish.
By the time we would get back to the boat landing we would be soaked to the bone from fish splattering us and smelling to high heaven from the rotten Menhaden, unless of course we were only fishing cat-hooks with Ivry Soap.
How here’s my disclaimer. I was a child of 10 when we did this over 50 years ago. I don’t even know if it was legal back then. But I’m very sure that if it is legal today a commercial fishing license is required along with regulated fishing seasons, sizes and quantity limitation and many other restrictions.
So, if you give cat-hooking or catfish trapping ago, check with your local Department of Wildlife so you are legal. And if it is, them have a blast. I'll be thinking about you since I haven't done it since I was a kid.
By the way here's the best camping stove to cook on and some great ways to cook fish.
All the best,