13 Irresistible Catfish Baits – Top Tips & Essential Guide


While catfish aren’t known for being fussy eaters, we’ve all had a day where we have blanked and caught nothing…

Do you know what the answer is? Making sure you’ve got the best catfish baits and plenty of them.

I’m going to show you a few that will almost certainly increase your catch rate. I want to show you a few good catfish baits and where to use them.

Let’s cast out and see if we can put a bend in that rod.

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Choosing the Best Baits for Catching Catfish

If you are new to catfishing, you might be wondering where to start when choosing the right bait.

Don’t worry, I’ve got you.

Here are the things you need to think about when selecting a good bait for catfish.

fisherman caught large catfish

Natural or Artificial?

I’ll be straight up.

Both can be really effective, so it will be a little bit of a trial-and-error process.

If I had to pick, I’d say that natural bait nearly always out-fishes artificial. You get a more natural look, a better scent trail, and it tends to be cheaper too!

Scent and Smell

Speaking of scent, when it comes to catching a catfish, this is your number one priority!

They use their sense of smell more than any other sense when trying to locate their food.

In short, the more stinky bait is, the better it is for catfishing!

Here are some smells that catfish go wild for:

  • Cheese
  • Fish smells
  • Seafood/Shellfish
  • Strong smells like garlic
  • Blood scents

Looks

This relates specifically to artificial baits. You ideally want them to look as realistic as possible. Unlike bass fishing, catfish aren’t huge on things that flutter and run. Instead, they look for bottom-dwelling species like nightcrawlers and crawfish.

If you are going for something artificial, you ideally want a bait that looks as realistic as possible.

angler holds catfish being in the fishing boat on the river

Casting

Wait, I thought you were talking about baits, not techniques?

I am.

If you have to cast 50+ yards, then any bait that won’t stay on the hook isn’t going to do you any good. Think about how hard and far you will have to cast to find the fish, and then choose a bait that makes this easy.

Choosing the right hook can make all the difference. Check out my guide to the best catfishing hooks right here.

With all of the above in mind, here are 13 great suggestions for some really effective catfishing baits. If you are going for channel cats, I’ve got a dedicated guide right here.

The Best Baits for Catfish – 13 Irresistible Suggestions

Chicken Livers

Alright, look, it won’t look the most appetizing thing when it is in your bait bucket, but for catfish, this bait is like fillet steak. The best thing about chicken livers is that they are pretty easy to get hold of. In fact, get friendly with your local butcher, and you might just get a few for free!

The trick to using them?

Change your bait often, at least once every 20 or so minutes. Chicken livers are packed with oils and release a long scent trail into the water that appeals to a hungry catfish’s olfactory senses. The scent trail is ‘slow release’, making chicken livers one of the best catfish baits for rivers.

Want another tip?

If you can find them, go for rooster livers. They tend to be a little tougher and stay on the hook better when casting.

catfish caught while fishing spinning rod

Asian Carp Fillets

Asian Carp have become a real nuisance species in the United States. The good news is that catfish love to eat them.

So, here’s what you do.

Indulge them.

If you have caught any Asian Carp, you can use their fillets as cut bait. They have really oily flesh that is great for releasing a trailing scent leading straight to your hook.

Crawfish

Anything that occurs naturally can make for a really effective catfishing bait. Crawfish are found down on the bottom in most lakes and rivers of the US.

Now, you have two options.

You could wade in and see what you can find…

Or.

You could use something entirely artificial and achieve exactly the same result.

If the water is clear, then an artificial crawfish is as good as anything. This particular lure can be left stationary on the bottom. Give it a little twitch now and again to impart a bit of life, and you should get some good results.

If you want to use live baits for catfish, it is well worth investing in a crawfish trap. If you’ve been smart and brought a few chicken livers, then use a couple as bait, throw your trap in and carry on fishing until you’ve assembled a few handfuls.

Stink Baits

If there is one thing that gets a catfish going, it is something that smells a lot.

Stink baits are about as good as it gets when choosing the best catfish baits for lakes. The beauty of stink baits is that you can create several different batches.

Same bait, different smell.

You can flavor your stink bait with a nice cheese dip, blood scent, or even something like garlic.

Literally, the more stinky, the better. Just make sure you wash your hands before getting into the car!

Punch Baits

Punch baits have always been a favorite of catfish anglers.

Here’s how they work. It is so simple.

Take your treble and punch the bend into your bucket of punch bait. Twist the hook through 90°. Pull it out. The entire hook should look like a blob.

A good punch bait for catfish will have a few elements.

It will have fibers, such as cloth or other solid material that binds the bait together.

And…

It will smell like something the catfish will normally like to eat. If you take a look at one of my favorites, CJ’s Catfish Punch Bait. You’ll see that the flavors are things you’ll find elsewhere on my list.

As good catfish baits go, you aren’t going to get better than punch bait.

Earthworms

As cheap catfishing bait goes, earthworms, or nightcrawlers if you prefer, are a great choice.

If you have a field nearby, then get a fork and head out and dig some up. A good hour’s work will easily allow you to fill a bait bucket with enough to last the day!

Nightcrawlers are good for several reasons.

First, they are a naturally occurring food source that catfish will eat anyway.

Second, they wriggle enticingly on the bottom. This alone can encourage a take

Finally, when pricked by the hook, they give out a scent trail. This is weaker than some synthetic baits like punch bait, so I find that nightcrawlers work best in still waters like lakes and ponds.

There is an alternative if you don’t want to spend an hour breaking your back digging.

Try using artificial nightcrawlers to catch catfish. Here are some of the benefits:

  • They last indefinitely.
  • They smell stronger.
  • You can reuse them!

Blood Baits

There is barely a fish species alive that doesn’t love the taste of blood.

It’s something about the red color and smell that does it for them.

In fact, if you’ve found that chicken livers aren’t working, artificial blood baits can sometimes outperform them.

Want an example?

Give these artificial blood baits a go!

Berkely are masters in producing the best artificial baits for catfish. They stay on the hook longer, can be reused, and don’t ‘wash out’ as easily, meaning you need to bait up less! I sometimes soak mine in a glug or dip to create a little bit of variety.

Shrimp

If you’ve ever spent the day fishing for catfish and used shrimp, you’ll know about it.

They absolutely stink.

The good news is that you can get hold of a bag really easily. I prefer to use raw, frozen shrimp. They are a little easier to hook, and as they defrost in the water, they gradually release their scent.

I’ve met other guys who deliberately leave their shrimp outside for the day, then it turns really stinky and ripe… It’s up to you which technique you opt for.

If you want to go for an artificial catfish bait, this is also an option with shrimp.

I like to double down a little and not just rely on the visual appeal. I leave my lures soaking overnight in a bucket of shrimp attractant. This impregnates them with a strong scent and means they can be ‘refreshed’ again and again.

I find that bait oils can be really effective too. Because they are oil-based, they tend to last a lot longer in the water.

Herring

Pay a visit to your local fishmonger and see if you can pick up a dozen herring. These small baitfish can be fished as chunks, or you can hook a whole one on a Pennel rig.

Herring is actually a saltwater fish, but because of their significant (and I really do mean significant) stench, they seem to be a magnet to a hungry catfish.

If you find that the traditional baits, such as chicken livers, are falling flat, herring can be one of the best baits for catfish.

If you are willing to invest a little, you can get a bucket of salted fillets that will keep for months. (Top tip, never open this bucket in the house, ask me how I know).

White Suckers

Here’s the thing about catfish.

They are notoriously cannibalistic!

White suckers are actually a catfish species. There are tackle shops where you can buy live ones.

But I’ve got a better idea.

If it is slow while fishing for big cats, set up another smaller rod and go after easier-to-catch white suckers. Once you’ve got a few in your bucket, use them as bait to catch the bigger cats.

You can use them in chunks, but they also make a really effective live bait. I tend to hook mine through the nose and the tail. That way, they can swim and wriggle freely. Don’t worry about them being too big. Catfish have a huge mouth and will swallow them whole!

Hot Dogs

Ever had one of those days where you want to go fishing but haven’t got bait?

Think again, my friends.

Hot dogs are a really great bait for catching catfish. A jar of hotdogs can be really effective.

Cut them up into two-inch pieces and hook them as you normally would any other bait. You will probably need to use a treble hook and cast really gently. Otherwise, they tend to fly off. If you are having issues with casting, you could always consider a firmer sausage. I find thin Italian salami works really well too!

Hotdogs release a nice oily trail into the water. The fish can hone right in on it!

Channel Catfish in river

Cheese

Remember how I said that catfish love anything that stinks?

This isn’t limited to fish-type smells.

Do you know what else reeks?

Cheese. I find that a nice block of some really mature cheddar or even blue cheese can produce results on even the quietest days.

Cheese is a good catfishing bait for several reasons.

  • It is readily available.
  • It stays on the hook.
  • You can also flavor (and color) it with other things.

You’ll find that some of the best baits are available in cheese flavor. Kill two birds with one stone and buy a cheese-flavored punch bait for the ultimate in catfishing treats.

Goldfish

Now, this won’t be for everyone, and live baiting is illegal in some states, so check before you try this.

Goldfish are a form of carp, and as you will have seen above, catfish love eating carp. These are really easy to spot (due to their bright orange color) and wriggle enticingly means that they are really effective.

The best place to hook them is right under the dorsal fin. That way, they can swim around naturally… until a catfish happens to see them!

Conclusion

When choosing the best catfish baits, whether real or artificial, you are looking for a couple of key qualities.

It must smell strong, and it must look good.

Provided you tick those two boxes, it could be really effective.

Catfish aren’t fussy eaters. I love catfishing. It is one of the easiest ways to catch a real rod-bending monster.

While you are here, why not check my other catfishing guides? I offer advice on the best rods and reels for catfish and even advice on the best catfishing lines. What’s the biggest cat you have ever caught? Let me know in the comments!

Bob Hoffmann

The author of this post is Bob Hoffmann. Bob has spend most of his childhood fishing with his father and now share all his knowledge with other anglers. Feel free to leave a comment below.

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