Catfish fishing is an entirely different ballgame than other forms of fishing. As most of you know, my two-favorite species of fish to target are catfish and carp. Carp fishing is an incredibly intense form of angling, but I would argue that fishing for catfish is equally as challenging, intense and an incredible fight each time you set the hook.
Catfish fishing is however not for the faint of heart and does require some skill to be built up over time. When your fishing for catfish there are plenty of tips and tricks you should plan on executing to up your chances of landing fish each time you hit the water.
Over time, you will learn how to catch catfish with more ease and efficiency.
That does not remove the purpose of why we are here today or why I’m writing this blog. Many of you probably follow my carp fishing blog, but I’ve been asked countless times the difference in the two species when fishing. Yes, we all know that some catfish baits work great for other fish species and the best catfish bait could arguably be one of the best carp baits as well.
Similarities do exist between the two. So again, you are probably wondering.
Why am I Writing This Blog or Nice Juicy, Lengthy Catfishing Guide?
First and most importantly. I love catfish fishing. Always have and always will. I’m not a professional catfish angler, but I do think I can bring value to the individual anglers looking for catfishing tips or just the individual looking for a good read on a Saturday morning while enjoying a cup of coffee.
I’m always asked for catfishing tips and tricks of the trade, so I decided I’d make this ultimate guide for all you BonfireBob fans to enjoy. We will cover everything from: the basic history of the catfish, how to catch catfish and my top 20 catfishing tips.
Also, I’ll throw in some top catfish baits and recommended catfish rod that you can see by visiting my recommended fishing gear area. I don’t like to clog my blogs with a bunch of images of products so if that’s what you’re looking for, I recommend you head over there and see If you can find what you came for.
If you’re here to learn and improve than grab a cup of coffee, pull up a seat and get ready for the best catfishing guide the internet has to offer.
Thanks for stopping by.
All About The Catfish – Everything You Need to Know
North America is full of catfish and more specifically channel catfish can be found basically anywhere you can imagine. I currently live in Central Illinois, so this makes me obviously a pretty lucky angler considering the Midwest region of the United States may be the most populated area for channel catfish and channel catfish fishing. More specifically,
Tennessee, Iowa, Missouri, and Nebraska are probably the top four states for catfishing in this area and possibly in the country. I know Texas is also a big area for channel catfishing. Catfish are a truly unique species.
They are all over the world and possess traits many other freshwater fish just don’t have. An incredible fight each time we set the hook, an unmatched sense of smell and an attitude that keeps it challenging is all part of the thrill with targeting catfish.
The Main Species of Catfish
Channel Catfish are not the only species of catfish. You have several options of catfish when it comes to this bottom feeding species. We have a total of 4 other species of catfish that exist. Let’s look at the Main 4, as I like to call them.
- Channel Catfish
- Flathead Catfish
- Blue Catfish
- Bullhead Catfish
Up First we have the Channel Catfish
The Channel Catfish is easy to spot and distinguish/identify. It’s known as the Ictalurus punctatus.
Currently, the channel catfish is the most common and widespread species of catfish in the US. They range from a light gray tint color to almost a muddy brown color. The easiest way to identify a channel catfish is the spotted black sparkle on the tough skin. It almost looks like the epoxy coating for your garage floor.
Channel catfish are also known for the forked tail identifier and have the curved anal fin consisting of 25-29 rays. The channel catfish can exceed 35 pounds but rarely does. Most commonly, channel catfish are 30 pounds or less. Don’t let this fool you, any species of catfish can grow to massive sizes.
Channel Catfish Spawning
Channel catfish along with other species of catfish only when the when the water is getting to an ideal temperature.
Usually anywhere between 70-84 degrees. Flathead catfish are the only catfish that tend to start the spawning sessions with the water temperatures a little lower usually around 65 degrees. In most circumstances, this will occur between late spring and mid-summer depending on where you live or where your fishing.
Channel Catfish Habitat
Channel catfish differ from the blue catfish. Channel catfish can be found in tons of bodies of water and aren’t nearly as picky as the blue catfish about where they live. Channel catfish are usually located in,
One thing that they do have in common with the other species of catfish is that they still prefer the bottom waters near the mud and rocky bottoms where it is easy for the catfish to dig and hide.
You will usually find channel catfish choosing areas that are known to be popular breeding areas with an adequate food supply. Channel Catfish also prefer warmer waters, and they build a nest for spawning.
From an underwater habitat perspective, channel catfish prefer hollow logs, rock banks or ledges and other cover areas in the deeper waters. Unlike the blue catfish, channel catfish prefer to stay out of the current.
Beaver dams, log jams, and dark deep holes can be great starting points to find a decent amount of channel catfish on your next fishing trip.
Next, We Have the Blue Catfish.
The Blue Catfish can be identified by it’s blue/white color. They can also be a much darker tint at times based on the water and overall climate and environment they are living in. Unlike the channel catfish, the blue catfish has a straight anal fin with 30-36 fins, and the tail is also forked.
These fellas can get massive. Often up to 100 pounds. Make sure you always have the proper gear when targeting blue catfish. The simple equipment just isn’t going to get the job done.
The Blue Catfish is known as the Ictalurus Furcatus. They have several nicknames including Humpback blue, hi-fin blue or the Mississippi white catfish.
Blue Catfish Spawning
Blue catfish typically don’t start getting freaky until they reach about 24 inches in length. Catfish can often be much harder to catch during these spawn times like carp fishing can be as well. Blue catfish and many catfish species for that matter spawn in the spring and the summer.
Water temperatures need to reach optimal levels for the catfish to be ready to get their “freak on.” For Blue Catfish this is around 70-84 degrees but right in the middle at about 80 degrees is the optimal temperature. This will depend very much on where you are located and the body of water you are fishing.
You will need to learn and do some research on your exact body of water to figure out the exact spawn times for blue catfish. Speaking to local anglers or others in the area that know the waters better can be a good start.
Surprisingly, most anglers or other fishermen are aware of critical facts about our favorite game fish.
Blue Catfish Habitat
Blue Catfish are mainly located in the Mississippi River. They can be found anywhere from Pennsylvania to South Dakota and even areas as far south as the Gulf of Mexico.They tend to stay in only large rivers or main channels and some large lakes. Blue catfish don’t surface like some other large fish due. They remain in the deeper waters with decent current and rocky/ sandy bottoms.
The Bullhead Catfish
Let’s dive into some information about the bullhead catfish. The bullhead catfish belongs to the Ictaluridae family and is extremely common all over North America. You have a few common kinds of bullhead catfish including the…
- Black Bullhead Catfish
- Yellow Bullhead Catfish
- Brown Bullhead Catfish
The most significant identifier on the bullhead catfish is the squared tailfins rather than forked tailfins like the channel and blue catfish.
Bullhead Catfish Habitat
Bullheads can be found in a variety of habitats. You can usually find Bullheads in
You don’t usually see bullhead catfish being stocked intentionally. They are like the other species of catfish since they will eat roughly anything on the water bottoms.
They are known to search for other dead fish, insects, and crayfish. This isn’t a full list of what bullhead catfish are willing to eat, but it gives you a quick idea of the diet they consume on a regular basis.
Bullhead Catfish Spawning
Bullheads will spawn in most bodies of water such as rivers and streams as spring continues and we push into summer. Water temperatures ideally need to be around 70 degrees, but sometimes you will find them spawning later in the year when the water temperatures are even higher.
And Finally, we Have the Flathead Catfish
The flathead catfish also goes by the name mudcat or shovelhead cat. It’s a common and big species in North America. It’s much more of a predatory catfish and has a strong focus on eating other live bait and other fish. It’s a part of the genus plyodicitis family. Well, it’s the only species that falls into the genus plyodictis. Some other common names you can hear them go by could include
- Yellow Cat
- Johnnie Cat
When to Catch Catfish With Ease?
This kind of falls into the same categories of what time to catfish but let’s cover this briefly.
The answer is going to be, it purely depends on too many factors to list.
Here’s a few of the factors that can make an impact on the best times to catch catfish
- What body of water are you catfishing on
- What’s the current season
- Whats the current weather report
- Are you fishing deep water and bottom fishing or fishing shallow or covered areas
- Which kind of catfish are you targeting
Depending on how you answer these questions will ultimately help you understand when the best time to catch catfish may be. Learning the ropes and figuring out the best time in your area or body of water you are fishing is always going to be the most recommended approach you can take.
Time of Day For Catfishing
This is a question I get all the time from the readers. This will also depend heavily on the kind of water you are fishing and what type of catfish fishing you are doing but overall, I’ve always had the best right luck before sunrise and when night fishing for catfish.They have always seemed much more willing to take baits and tend to be heavily active during this time.
Naturally this led me into falling in love for night catfishing but again, I’m confident you can catch catfish any time of the day because I have been there and done that but overall, I’d shoot for when the temperatures are cooling off for the day or haven’t quite warmed all the way up for the day.
The smaller the body of water the more it won’t matter what time of day you choose. I’ve caught catfish left and right out of ponds any time of the day.
With limited food sources in smaller waters, I feel like they are just willing to bite anytime and continuously are on the hunt for anything they can find.
Daytime catfishing has always proven more difficult for me unless fishing the smaller waters such as ponds. Usually, when I’m trying to locate and actively land catfish during the daytime hours, I try and up my game with cover fishing and reaching tough spots.Finding overhangs, downed branches or mossy bottoms can be a good start.
Overall, especially if fishing anything the size of a lake or better, I recommend planning your fishing times more accordingly not to have to fight snags and cover the entire trip.
If fighting snags and finding the perfect location to land the catfish is for you, I’d recommend using the depth finder or fish finder to help see the deeper holes and cover. This could save you substantial time and headache and may make it ultimately worth it to target these fish during the day.
This is perhaps the best catfishing you can do for catfish. Hands down. No questions asked. It’s cooler outside. It feels overall better even to be out on the waters, and the catfish agree and are much more active during this time. I like to think that most other anglers are calling it a day and I’m just getting started.
In the heat of the summer, this is more desirable for both you and the fish. The boaters have packed up shop and are clearing the waters. Not to mention the temperatures are cool and comfortable. Finding the deep calm waters in the holes and deep channels can be a great option to get started.
Keep in mind that when catfishing at night it’s going to be, well…dark to say the least.You will want to make sure you have the proper gear on hand to get the job done effectively. The bugs will also be highly active at this time, so I’d highly recommend having your best bug repellents and spray to fight this element.
Otherwise, it’s highly recommended and a top time to catch catfish.
Early Morning Catfishing
Early morning catfishing can also prove to pay substantial dividends. In my opinion, it’s the second most active time of the day for catfishing, and your luck should be comparable to the success you had fishing at night. The only element you must battle during early morning catfishing is the urge to go home too soon when the sun starts rising, and it starts getting a bit too hot outside.
This can depend greatly on which of the main catfish you are targeting. For me, I was always targeting flathead catfish and channel catfish. I’ve come to realize that channels can be caught about any time of the day without issue.
Catfish are probably doing 1 of a few things in the mornings. They are either returning to the rocks and shallows after a night full of feeding or potentially still actively feeding on the night before. Either way, a good bait selection, and a decent area to fish with bait placement can net you plenty of catfish in the early mornings as well.
Okay, now that we know the times that fishing for catfish can be best, we need to decide and execute based on the season and understand how catfish operate during different times of the year. Specific times are better than others, but personally, I know catfish can be caught all year long if you know the ropes, where to look and what to use to get the job done.
Let’s cover what I’m referring to here and break down catfishing by season briefly.
Seasons For Catfishing
I’m assuming and hope that everyone here knows that we have spring, summer, fall, and winter and that catfish will behave differently during each of these seasons. During the summer they become extremely active and, in the spring, you have the spawning taking place. Let’s go more in detail on each of these.
Catfishing in the Spring
Catfishing in the spring is overly exciting for a few reasons. First, many of us didn’t go through the year ice fishing and are ready to get back on the waters and target those catfish. Also, we know the catfish are coming to life and beginning to show some activity.
One of the keys to good catfishing in the spring is to get to them before spawning season gets too crazy. Right before spawn is when catfish go bonkers with feeding. They almost act as if it’s the last meal they may ever eat. The active feeding also allows the catfish to build up some reserves (fat) that aid in the spawning process.
Ideally, you’re going to want to target warmer waters and you often catch catfish in much more shallow waters during the spring as they head to these areas not only for feeding but for the pre-spawn rituals.
How about summertime catfishing. What’s that look like?
Catfishing in the Summer
This is probably the most popular time of the year hands down for catfish fishing. They are hot and ready to strike during this time, and everyone wants a piece of the action. Well, at least us catfish anglers wish to get a small part of it. What I haven’t mentioned is that although popular, it can also be tough to catch catfish during this time of the year.
We all know it can get crazy hot. Especially in warmer states. I’m in Illinois, and it gets plenty hot enough here for my liking so I can’t even imagine our anglers targeting catfish in August in Missouri and down to the Texas part of the country. I’m sure it can be downright miserable if I had to guess.
Here’s the key takeaway with fishing for catfish in the summer. If it’s too hot, fish during the times we discussed work best earlier. Target the catfish at night and early in the morning and avoid even attempting to fish for blue catfish. They are in the spawn and have no intentions of going after anything you have to offer on 100-degree day in the heat of July.
Channel, flathead, and bullhead are still 100% free game and good fishing during the summer. Optimize the times you target them, and you will always have plenty of luck. If you would prefer not to go this route and fish all day then well, thank god fall is here because we are touching on that next.
Catfishing in the Fall
In the fall, your going to have the catfish going through a period where the water temperatures are beginning to drop which is going to spark some different behavior. They are going to move from feeding flats and start looking for deeper areas with cover. Usually in the fall unless it gets cold in a hurry on a given year, you can still actively catch channel catfish anytime of the day during the fall.
Finding the channels in the bottoms near the mud or other cover is also very common this time of the year as they are preparing for the colder water temperatures and the winter that’s just over the horizon.
You have so many approaches with catfishing in the fall that we can’t list them all for the sake of not turning this into an e-book, but we can cover a few of them briefly.
Fall Fishing Methods
The first method is simply just change locations and move around. Unless your taking the water temperatures or have an underwater camera, it will be hard to know the exact behavior and what you’re working with. Move around and keep the universal principals in place and you will increase your catch rate and overall fishing experience.
Also, you can change up baits. Maybe chicken livers first and then move to cut bait or live bait in the form of chubs or a smaller bait fish such as bluegill. Just keep trying a few things until you have started seeing activity and ultimately some success.
Let’s briefly cover how catfishing works and what approaches you can take to keep fishing through the winter.
Catfishing in the Winter
Catfishing in the winter is not going to be for the faint of heart, and you need to be prepared for the cold weather and overall elements you are going to face. Also, you will have a few extra or slightly different approaches with the chosen gear you will need or use and also need to be prepared to try a few different methods to get the job done effectively.
Let’s dive into it.
We already mention this but I’ll say it again personally promise that you can indeed catch catfish all year and they do bite all year round. You can catch them in the winter just as easily as other seasons with some preparation, knowledge, and technique.
Why do we need different strategies? We have already touched on this some, but the water temperature is going to be much lower. Usually 50 degrees or less which makes catfish naturally a little lazier and not targeting bait and other food sources like a starving lion.
This by no means doesn’t mean they aren’t willing to eat a well-strategized bait so hang with me for a minute here. Don’t get lazy about this either. All it means is a little work on your part, and you can still fillet or make some catfish nuggets this winter. I personally guarantee that.
What to focus on during the Cold Months
In the winter you can focus on working the cover spots and ledges. Also, for added success, try following the bait fish. This is again, going to be much easier to do with a well-rounded fish or sonar finder. Following the baitfish can help you effectively find where the catfish are hanging out during these cold months.
Be patient. The catfish are moving slowly during this time and are not in the mood to be going crazy after baits. You should do the same. Relax, have fun and hit your mark with your bait and cast and wait for the strike.
Make sure to dress accordingly. This may seem like 100% common sense but dressing correctly and being prepared for the elements ultimately sets you up for success. Wear layers so your warm enough but can drop down a layer if need be.
It gets cold out there, don’t underestimate the weather and cut your fishing trip short because of something as avoidable as not dressing correctly for the trip.
You have two options to make things simple. Ice Fish it- Or Cold-Water Fish It. Choice is yours.
If your ice fishing, we are going to cover that more in depth later in this post. I can recommend one thing for now with ice fishing, and we will cover the rest later. Invest in an underwater camera. First, they work excellent in cold waters and second, it saves you the legwork of doing tons of scouting and learning the water your fishing.
Ultimately, you must do one or the other for success so if you want to speed it some, just splurge and get yourself the camera as an early gift and get to fishing that much faster.
If you’re not ice fishing and just planning on fishing colder waters with no ice present than you can get back to some of the core principals such as targeting ledges, deeper channels, and holes and searching and trying to place bait in the perfect spot near the cover to effectively make a beautiful presentation to the catfish.
If this gets done correctly, you will be surprised how much luck you have fishing for catfish in the winter or ice fishing for catfish. It’s still a ton of fun so stop rushing to pack the gear up in October and just learn the ropes of a new season of catfishing.
This way you can fish year-round which I think we can all agree will lead to more smiles and overall higher morale for all us anglers out there.
Boat Fishing For Catfish
Having a boat when catfishing is obviously a nice added benefit. However, a lot of the same rules and principals still apply. Even when I’m fishing for catfish from a boat, I always target the covered areas, the deep waters in the channels and areas I know debris and brush will be located.
A solid fish finder can help immensely with this but if you don’t have that option than just go with your gut the same way you would when bank fishing.
Being strategic about where you decide to place bait and target catfish will ultimately make or break your landing rate and success when catfish fishing.
Bottom Fishing for Catfish from a Boat
Now, this changes slightly if bottom fishing for catfish. My biggest issue I had with this method was a spinning, drifting or tailing of the boat. I always struggled to keep the line still which is critical. I’d recommend buying 2-3 anchors for your boat and having anchors at least at the 2 ends of the boat or even anchor down three corners of the boat to keep it completely still.
You can also attempt to tie off to something near a shore such as a tree or other brush.If you are using a fish finder or a depth finder, your searching for the deep holes where catfish tend to lounge around in. Try and learn to cast with accuracy and hit your spots and be prepared to start reeling in plenty of catfish.
Bank Fishing For Catfish
Bank fishing for catfish is one of the most common methods used today and probably will be going forward into the future. When you are bottom fishing from the bank, it essential to choose a location where you can reach the ledges or edges of the water. A good rock ledge is ideal, but a fallen log area will work just as well.
When fishing from a bank, especially with multiple fishing rods, it’s necessary to have a solid rod holder that has a long deep spike that you can get anchored down well.
You can elect to go the old school way and try and place your rod on the ground or using an old broken stick, but I’d urge against that method, primarily because you’re likely to find your pole skipping across the water and eventually sinking to its own death.
Catfish are strong fighting game fish, if they get ahold of your bait without you being ready, it won’t take much for that fishing pole to disappear. Trust me. I’ve been there. Several times.
Don’t get to Comfortable When Bank Fishing for Catfish
I know the feeling. We all like to pick a spot not in the 100-degree heat when he hit the waters and cast out into the water for the first time. We place a couple rods on the holders. After we grin for a moment about our excellent bait placement and casting abilities.
After we sit down, we are ready to sit back, crack a beer and wait for the first big bite of the evening or night. Whenever your fishing, the story doesn’t change.
What’s the problem with this scenario? You need to keep moving and trying new locations when bank fishing for catfish. You obviously don’t have the luxury of firing up the boat motor to move spots quickly, but most likely, you still have 2 legs, so be prepared to run and move around if you ultimately want to catch more catfish this season.
Factors Impacting Success When Catfishing
You must realize that many things can impact your ability to catch catfish regardless of the spot you are fishing. Water temperature, water levels, the actual season you are fishing and if no structure exists in these spots, you are going to be shooting yourself in the foot if you’re not willing to move around a bit.
I’d recommend giving a spot about 30-45 minutes maximum before grabbing the gear and trying to find a better place to cast your line out for ultimate success. Obviously, this is 100% up to you.
The Impacts of Weather Elements when Boat Fishing for Catfish
I think we all are aware that boat fishing can be excellent, but it can also be dangerous. It can also be challenging depending on the weather. If your battling some windy conditions a good strategy can be to move upriver a bit, so you can position your bait from the boat by about 10 yards ahead of your targeted area.
Besides that, make sure to be careful in the windy conditions especially when river fishing. You want to always maintain the ability to re position the boat if need be or get out of harms way so don’t be timid to drop the anchors or cut the lines if need be to get out of harm’s way.
Fishing Various Bodies of Water And Areas
I think you have spotted a common theme and trend here with catfish fishing. Everything matters. The weather, the time of day and yes even the body of water. I want to discuss briefly just a few brief differences between fishing for catfish on rivers, lakes or ponds.
Let’s dive into it.
Catfishing on Rivers
Catfishing on rivers can be tricky, but ultimately, it’s landed me largest catfish to date.The rivers are where you can find the big boys much more frequently. Don’t be discouraged if your fishing the lakes. I’ve caught plenty of monster catfish in lakes as well, but as far as size mixed with frequency, rivers have been the go-to.
Rivers, do, however, require a little more work and preparation. I personally fish from a boat for channel, blue and flathead when river fishing for catfish. It needs a little more development and work on my end each time I set out to hit the waters.
What to look for
When I catfish the rivers, I’m looking for a few things. First, you want to try find the same debris, trees, rocks, and another cover if possible. These rules will always apply and being on the river makes no difference.
You can also search for natural bends in the river. Bends usually create big runs beneath the water in an area where the water reaches more depth. Catfish love these areas and I have always had great luck in these areas. A good fisher finder/depth finder could help with this immensely.
How about some strategies for catfish fishing on lakes? Let’s dive into those for a moment.
Catfishing on Lakes
Fishing for catfish on lakes is going to give you a nice blend of all sizes of catfish. Sometimes you can’t stop catching the 2-6-pound catfish, and sometimes you can still reel in some monsters depending on your area and the lake your fishing. Luckily, all three of the targets we are looking for will be present in many lakes.
- Blue Catfish
- Channel Catfish
- Flathead Catfish
And yes, even bullhead catfish. Catfish will continue to maintain the traits and habits in lakes that they have in other bodies of water. Larger catfish especially will still be in the deeper waters with channels and areas that reach greater depths.
Anytime you can find any channel or cove your dramatically increasing your chances at catching more catfish. You can also use the depth finder or fish finder that we reference so often to look for the structure on the lake bottoms such as rock or other sand edges. If there is structure, there is most likely catfish. Trust me, it works.
One big key to take into consideration when fishing on lakes is that depth and water temperature do play a vital role when catfishing.
During the hottest and coldest months, almost all catfish will be bundled up and nested up tight in the deep waters but in the fall and spring, especially during spawn season, you can find them moving to more shallow areas of the water.
Over time you will learn the skills of locating and understanding the catfish as the whole, but these simple tips will at least get you started.
Now it’s time to work the ponds to test our success.
Catfishing on Ponds
I personally live very close to the country and grew up in that style of living. One thing I’ve never gotten around to but want to very soon is digging my own backyard pond and stocking it full of catfish. Man-made ponds are often stocked with channel catfish.
It’s not always necessarily due to the desire to fish for the channel catfish but the catfish work great for a natural pond management system. They can help keep the ecosystem beneath and above the water working in the manner it was intended too.
The first key to realize is that the rod holder will be essential when bank fishing. Yes, even from a pond. Most of us will have no reason to have a boat on the water so long rods and rod holders will ultimately be your best tactics.
Time of Day and Structure in Ponds
If your fishing in the middle of the day, try going deep into the center of the pond or the area where you know the deepest waters may be. This is likely where you will find the larger catfish hanging out. If it’s the cooler times of the day, you can adjust this strategy and go shallower and look for covered areas for success.
If your night fishing the ponds, the shallows will prove to be very fruitful. This is where they are often moving in for active feeding and searching prey, night crawlers and other forms of food such as crawfish.
The Beauty of Being the Pond Owner or Knowing the Pond Owner
Structure is beautiful when it comes to pond fishing for catfish. The reason being is you probably know where the structure is without any fancy tools. Most people when constructing the pond made decisions ahead of time on where they would like the structure to be. Some pond owners may have intentionally placed large logs, dug nearby large trees or even had some rocky bottoms.
If this is the case and you know where the structure is located, try and target those areas when catfishing. They are natural areas where the catfish want to be for cover, protection and to avoid the heat elements during the day.
If you don’t know where the structure is located, an underwater camera or depth finder could give you a fast head start in finding the best location to place your bait in a pond when catfishing.
Alright, now we get into an even more fun discussion. The gear for catfishing. Keep in mind I’m only going to be discussing some gear and some recommendations. This is more for educating than anything else.
Catfish Equipment: Rods, Reels, Fishing Line, Hooks, Rod Holders, And More
We all know we need the correct and best catfish gear when catfishing. We know these are fighting fish with the ability to get large and we know what they are capable of. Most of us anglers naturally like having some of the best gear money can buy regardless. Why?
I think the better questions would be, why not? The best gear improves your overall fishing experience and ultimately helps you catch more catfish, so it seems like a no-brainer to me. If you notice some missing gear from my guide, you can always feel free to check out my recommended gear section of the blog on the menu bar above.
Also, my recommended gear specifically for catfishing breaks down literally every form of gear you could imagine for all the catfish anglers out there. Make sure to drop by, I really put in some nit, grit and spit developing those to help us all know the latest, greatest gear available for superb catfishing.
… Now let’s cover some of the most essential gear to consider for catfishing.
Let’s kick things off with the importance of finding the best catfish reel. Your reel and rod are the two most important pieces of catfishing gear you will use. Going cheap and using low-quality equipment on these two items will ultimately make you pay the price and leave you frustrated instead of leaving, and firing up your grill with a days’ worth of catfish fillets.
Catfish Fishermen can break down the reel selection easily down to 2 options. First, you have your traditional spinning real, and you also have your bait caster reel.
Your spinning reel is always going to be easier to use of the two, and it’s depending on your overall skill which reel you should consider. Your basic spinning reel is also a more comfortable cast, so if you’re using slimy or the “hard to keep on the hook” baits, you want to stick with the spinning reel. Any reputable brand spinning reel will get the job done.
The fishing line used on the reel itself is also crucial which we will discuss a little further into a post but here are some good brands or spinning reel ideas you can use for catfishing.
Spinning Reel Options for Catfishing
Other populations could include the
- Shakespeare Ugly Stik Bigwater Spinning Rod (amazon affiliate link)
- Trion GX
Up next we need to cover the bait caster option for a fishing reel. Bait caster reels are going to be more difficult for the beginner or newbie to learn to cast. I recommend practicing with this a few times before entirely using it as your full go to method or reel of choice. These reels are also a little more on the pricey side compared to the spinning reels for catfish.
The upside to these is several things. First, they are highly durable and secondly, the bait clicker option is 100% ideal especially if you night fishing for catfish. A good bait caster brand to start with could be a few of the following.
- Abu Garcia Ambassador
I’m sure we are all aware that we can’t have a great reel without the right rod, so let’s dive into that next.
Generally, with rods for catfishing, a medium heavy action rod is the choice you will want to stick with. They can usually be found with good quality for a good price. Even the Shakespeare Ugly Stick would be a good starting rod although not the top of the line.
6.5-8 feet is the ideal length. There’s not much that goes into finding the rod you want to use, but we can touch on a few brief items.
You will want to ensure that the rod you choose has the correct
- Grips that are comfortable
- Enough Length For Fighting Power
- Reputable Brand
Ok, now we need somewhere for the rods to sit while we sip down a nice cold beer or other beverage while waiting for the big bite. First, let’s cover one thing about catfish fishing. In my mind and the way I’ve always approached it, is to relax, enjoy and not forget why you initially went fishing in the first place.
Fishing for other species of fish can be more interactive if need be but catfishing the strategy is patience, relaxing and outlasting the stubborn catfish until they feel like striking. So how do we do this effectively?
Here’s the best way!
An excellent rod holder is the best way to do this. A pole sitting on the bank angled, or even using the old school style of placing the pole on an old stick is not a suitable method anymore. You run a significant risk of losing your pole quickly doing it this way.
A decent size catfish will rip that pole right into the water in the flash of an eye. So, what are we looking for out of a good reliable rod holder for catfishing?
I personally think that for bank fishing for catfish, a good rod holder is the same one I use when fishing for carp from the bank. The Rogue 3 in 1-rod holder has never proven me wrong or failed me and tends to hold up nicely through all elements. It allows for a total of three different rods so you can have three different poles cast in different areas and at different depths which is an added perk.
You also don’t have to worry about losing your pole with this holder, it’s incredibly secure. Usually, you can find it for under 60.00 dollars which I think is a steal. For a full review on the Rogue 3 and 1 fishing rod holder be sure to check out my recommended gear area of the blog.
Boat rod holders for catfishing.
This is an entirely different story and needs more consideration before picking one avenue or another.
A few considerations need to be considered before going crazy on a rod holder for your riverboat. First, think of these few items to be sure you want to go that route.
- Do you want something permanently installed on your fishing boat
- Will the rod holder obstruct anything else on the boat
- Do you need the freedom to move or change areas on the boat you fish from
After deciding based on these questions, it makes it a little easier to determine if drilling a bunch of holes all over your nice riverboat is worth the time or money. Let alone professional installation is usually required which is another pain.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t think they serve a purpose, I just don’t personally use them on my boat and am waiting for the next good thing to be released in the niche area of catfishing before I pull the trigger on installation. Ultimately, the choice is yours.
Catfish Rigs, Hooks and Fishing Line
Fishing line choice and choosing the best fishing line for catfish is crucial, and we want to make sure we cover this so that you are prepared for this upcoming season.
Make no mistake, choosing the wrong fishing line with all other gear being correctly picked and put together will still ultimately lead to disappointment and no fish on your line at the end of the day or fishing trip.
Go Mono or Go Home- Mono Filament fishing line
Monofilament fishing line has always been my preferred choice for catfish fishing. It’s easy to use, has excellent abrasion resistance and it’s relatively cheap. Depending on the body of water you are fishing and the size of the catfish you are targeting, a 12lb test may do the job perfectly fine.
If, however, you’re looking for the 20+ pound catfish or possibly river fishing, you may want to consider a monofilament fishing line closer to 20-30 lb. test line to get the job done. You can investigate the differences more by visiting the recommended gear page that we mentioned earlier in the post or by using the search bar in the upper right. Just type fishing line, I’m sure I have plenty of other blogs breaking this down further for you.
- #2 Catfish Treble Hooks
- #4 Catfish Treble Hooks
- #6 Catfish Treble Hooks
- #8 Catfish Treble Hooks
Catfish hooks are just another part of the puzzle. All the gear you ultimately end up using can make or break your fishing outing, and hooks fall into this catergory as well.
Personally, I think treble hooks are the way to go. Just be certain to use a hook of quality and not skimp over pennies because the cheap quality purchase fishing hooks you can buy will usually lead to trouble.
You will want to be looking for treble hooks’ sizes #2-8. Put simply, you can choose either a #2, #4, #6 or #8 size treble hook. A few factors will determine which size you need.
First, what kind of bait are you fishing with? Smaller hooks will work better with smaller baits and vice versa. For the perfect middle ground, go with the #6. It’s probably the best all-around size treble hook I have used to catfish fishing.
Catfishing weights are pretty easy to figure out.
Here are some examples you could use.
Bell Sinker: This sinker is going to have your swivel at the top and is extremely common in today’s catfishing world. It works well for drifting.
Flat Sinker: This flat sinker is going to be more useful in the rivers because of the no-roll feature. It’s flat and sleek. It sits in place and can help eliminate snags in deep cover fishing when targeting catfish.
Egg Sinker: This is probably one of the most commonly used sinkers I use today. They are confused sometimes with the proper way to use them. The most ideal way to use these sinkers is for behind your anchored boat. Get your cast about 10-15 feet behind your anchored boat when using the egg sinker.
Split Shot Sinkers: The downfall to these sinkers is more limited ability on the cast, but they help serve as a line punch to stop the slip sinker if you’re using that in addition to the split shot sinkers.
Now we need to cover a few rig selections you can use when catfishing.
Here are common rig selections you can use when catfishing or at least a little bit of an overview on them.
Drift Rigs: A drift rig usually uses two split shot weights to help with casting. It’s placed about 12 inches behind the hook that way the bait presentation is nothing but the bait that can be visually seen by the catfish your targeting.
The Split Float Rigs: The split float rig keeps your bait moving slowly along the bottom at its current speed but if you typically won’t have very many snags like you may have with the drifting rig.
The Slip Rig: This is a pretty useful rig for live and dead baits such as shad or bluegill.The goal you’re trying to accomplish here is to allow the catfish to take the bait and begin swimming away while not feeling much tension in the line before having the chance to eject the bait.
What Other Gear do we Need When Catfishing?
Other Gear Needed when Catfishing.
Again, we won’t hit on every single item because you can always visit the recommended gear area of my blog to find catfishing gear but here are a few items that are must-haves when catfishing that you should consider getting as soon as you can or before your first trip onto the water.
Tackle Box or tackle storage
This is a no-brainer. You need somewhere that’s convenient to keep all your extra sinkers, floats, hooks and stoppers and leaders. Ideally, you want something easy to transport, and that doesn’t break the pocketbook.
Dip Bait Sponge Hooks
Dip baits are one of the most commonly used catfish baits and personally my favorite catfish bait to use which we will discuss shortly. Many reputable companies make perfect catfish dip bait worms or sponges that attach easily to your line. Always keep some of these on hand.
Catfish landing Net
Also, a must have. Can you land a nice sized blue or channel without the net? Sure. It’s not going to be the most delightful experience you have ever had while catfishing. You’re going to want a large landing net. Not the nets designed for the anglers fishing for the smaller game fish. We are in the big leagues and need the big-league equipment to get the job done.
Many anglers recommend using the Ranger 9950 Big Game Landing Net, and I’d agree because it’s the exact net that I use, and it works great.
It’s supporting a
- 48-inch handle
- 48 In Depth
- Lifetime Warranty
How do you beat that?
Needle Nose Pliers
You need something to remove those hooks from the fish, and this is going to be the tool.
Lip grips are going to allow you to snap down on the fish to help you handle them. Especially the larger catfish that can get a little squirrely on you if you’re not careful. If you don’t have them now, it won’t be long until you decide that you need them. Trust me. Made that mistake once before.
Who doesn’t want the ability to weigh in the most recent trophy catch of the season? Maybe you even want to get a quick weigh in before releasing back in the water. Regardless, a scale is going to be catfish item you eventually will want to have in the gear bag.
Electric Filet Knife
Electric filet knifes when catfishing can be an excellent investment if you plan on ever keeping a few fish for the friendly neighborhood fish fry from time to time.
This is basically just a set of heavy-duty scissors, and yes you will need them. These will be the best bet for cutting bait and cut through bones and this flesh when making cut bait on the fly.
Sun Glasses (Polarized Sun Glasses)
I talked about these a lot in my carp fishing articles especially the importance of them for stalking or seeing clearly to the water and watching for a moment. A decent pair of polarized sunglasses will remove all the glare from the water and give you that ability to stalk and find the fish with more ease. Especially if you’re not boat fishing and in the deeps. Sunglasses are a must when doing shallow fishing or trying to locate and see the fish decently beneath the surface.
Electronics For Catfish Fishing
Underwater fishing camera
Using an underwater camera system or even just sticking with a fish finder and depth finder can both play very beneficially into your favor. It will give you more knowledge and information about the water your fishing which ultimately leads to the ability to catch more catfish.
Digital Camera/ Go Pro
This is completely optional. I recommend having one though. Why not capture the moment of the most significant catch you have this season or can throw a YouTube video of your most recent successful fishing day? Optional but should be considered.
Coolers- Lunch is essential and so is your chosen baits
Always have two separate coolers. One for bait and one for lunch and beers. It’s gross to combine the two coolers and use just one, but I suppose that choice is yours to make. Nonetheless, you at least need a cooler for those purposes. Keeping the bait fresh and keeping your lunch the wife prepared for you cool until you’re ready to eat.
Alright, so we have our gear. We have the rods/reels and knowledge. All that’s left is to throw some bait on and see what we can land. Let’s look at some of the bait options we can choose from.
Catfish Baits And Best Baits to Consider
You have so many options to consider when it comes to catfish bait that we won’t be able to discuss them all in depth, but we are going to take a look at a few of them. First and foremost, I want to point out that I’m a huge fan of the dip worm set-ups and using stink bait.
Especially in smaller waters. My next closest favorite would probably either be live bait or chicken livers or just plain old nightcrawlers finishing as a close runner-up.
Common Catfish Baits
Here’s a look at some of the most common and best catfish baits you can use today.
- Live Bait- Shad and Sunfish
- Chicken Livers
- Dip Baits
- Commercial Power Bait- Store Packaged Bait
- Blood Bait and Cheese Bait
- Hot Dogs
This list is just scraping the surface for the best or known baits you can use for catfishing. Many people have their own style and own favorite, so I’m not going to try and convince you to go one way or another. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.
Let’s chat about the catfish bite when it occurs and how it happens, so you’re ready for action.
Understanding Catfish Biting and How to Know which one is happening?
You have a few different ways a catfish may bite when it happens. Three ways to be exact. You can break them down like this.
- Aggressive Bite
- Slow Bite
- Pecking Bite
Let’s touch on each momentarily.
The aggressive bite for catfishing
This is probably the easiest bite to react to. You will notice because the rod will be bent over completely. You may think the pole is getting ready to enter the water and be lost forever. The biggest thing to do is just lock the reel and set the hook with a quick motion.
The slow bite
The slow bite is much more apparent when you have some slack in the line. The line will either get tighter indicating the fish is moving away from you or taking the bait to one side or the other. You can notice as the line slowly begins to tighten.
Then you have the opposite. The line could also present with more slack after the catfish bites. Meaning the fish is most likely biting in a manner that’s drawing the line closer to you.
Usually, when this happens, my tactic is to slowly tighten up the line which increases the sensitivity in the pole so that I’m ready. You should have your hand ready to strike when this happens and wait for a good clean bite before getting overly excited and trying to set the hook prematurely.
Now, you have the annoying peck bites where your pole is annoying you as much as a Nat at a barbeque. It’s going to be those slow knocks like the UPS man is knocking on your door with only one knuckle.
When this is happening, you must be patient because it could still very well be a massive catfish exploring before finally deciding to take the bat. If you notice this, wait at least 5 minutes post-bite before finally reeling in to check your bait. This gives the catfish plenty of time to make their mind on if they are going to take the bait or not.
Once you understand the different bites you may see when catfishing, it’s time to set the hook. Let’s get you up to speed on that part of the game.
Becoming an Expert Hook Setter For Catfish
First, always make sure you follow the recommendations for the best fishing lines for catfishing and use the quality hooks that we discussed earlier in the blog. That’s the first key. When you set the hook, your goal is to get the end of the rod up in the air and quickly get the rod high and away from your body. During this process, you want to ensure that you are keeping constant tension on the line itself.
You can follow up with the second hook set to ensure that the fish is secured and hooked properly. Usually, the second hook set is not necessary, but it also never hurts to add that extra punch to make sure you’re ultimately going to land the catfish.
So, we have them hooked, and they are right in front of us. We are one step away from being finished catching our catfish. All we have left is landing the fish.
Catching And Landing Catfish
Catching and landing catfish
You have two crucial steps with landing the catfish. If your fishing in open water compared to bank fishing or cover fishing will be the key differences.
If your fishing open water, you can let the catfish play some and wear himself or herself out a bit. If you’re keeping the rod at a right angle and applying tension and pressure, you can drag the fish in closer at the correct pace. The pace is learned skill, and you will eventually just know what works and what doesn’t with this part of the step.
In a nutshell, as you are applying the pressure and reeling, you want to bring the rod back to drag the catfish into your boat or into shore slowly. Once you have the fish close enough, you can use the brand-new net we discussed earlier to complete the process and land your first catfish of the day.
Congratulations. That about wraps up the general catfishing 101 information, but I also wanted to briefly touch on two other fun of methods of catfishing and a few cleaning and preparation tips before concluding this blog post.
I realize the blog went a bit over what I intended, but I figured at this point, I might as well deliver everything you would possibly want to know from start to finish. I mean your already here so why not finish strong with the catfishing experience?
Noodling for Catfish
Noodling is a form of catfishing where you put the gear away and use your bare hands.It’s practiced often in the Southern United States.
The goal with noodling is to discover the catfish hole. Depending on where you live this may go by many other names such as mudding for catfish. Nonetheless, it’s used often to capture and catch flathead catfish.
It’s a method that honestly spooks me a bit for some reason. I must not have the itch to do this yes, but I do find it fascinating and can watch videos of it all day long.
It’s merely the process of locating the holes and getting down in the water and hooking the catfish with your own arm. It’s okay. It’s safer than you think. Catfish don’t have teeth in the traditional sense we would think of.
Let’s look at a video from Hannah Barron (a hit sensation that went viral on Youtube while noodling for catfish) You need the proper gear to do this correctly because the catfish can leave some nasty marks on your arm if not done correctly.
It’s a fun and growing sport, so it’s worth looking at.
Bow Fishing For Catfish?
We all know by now that I’m from Illinois and bow fishing for carp is a big deal. Well, bow fishing for catfish is also possible, and a lot of fun but some people have mixed feelings on the matter. If this is an area you’re wanting to investigate, I recommend you read my other blog posts about bow fishing for carp.
Also, depending on where you’re located I’d check with your local DNR standards and laws to make sure it’s a permittable species before getting too involved with it. Nonetheless, if it’s an area where it’s permitted, and you’re looking for something different than get ready for a lot of fun.
Bow fishing, in general, is an excellent experience and worth learning. It’s growing rapidly in popularity, and I don’t see it slowing down anytime soon.
Ice Fishing For Catfish
Ah, good old ice fishing. What can I even say about this except that I had massive failures with ice fishing for an entire season. I kept with it however and developed and learned the sport. Ice fishing for catfish is arguably just as good as ice fishing for other species or fishing for catfish during the prime seasons.
You will, however, need some background knowledge and the proper gear to have a chance to do this effectively.
Trust me and take it from me. I messed this up for an entire winter and finally wizened up, jumped on google and started learning everything I could. I have an entire area of my blog dedicated toward ice fishing resources so make sure to check it out.
Open and cover catfishing
The differences between open and cover fishing are simple in nature. One method you’re usually fishing deeper waters with plenty of room to fight the fish and your typically targeting deep, channels and holes for the catfish.
If your fishing covers your usually being strategic and trying to place the bait accordingly to land the catfish hiding within trees, rock and sand and in shallower areas.
Learning the differences is essential. Cover fishing you need to be quick with hook set and keep the tension tight and be alert because it won’t take much for the catfish to get you snagged. They know the underwater structure way better than you. Trust me.
Open water is fishing your usually targeting larger blue or flathead catfish and fishing from a boat in many circumstances. The proper sinkers and fishing line will want to be used to ensure you have a chance at landing the fish once you set the hook.
Now we move onto the final piece of the puzzle with catfishing and the last part of this blog (spoiler alert), that’s somewhat false because I’m going to provide you with all my top tips for catfishing after the conclusion of learning how to clean, prep and cook catfish.
Let’s get into it.
Only emphasis I want to place on this process beforehand is catfish due to tend to get harsher and less desirable to cook and clean after they get about 10 pounds or heavier. Not to mention these are the catfish that all of us anglers want to continue to catch. For the sake of not wasting the time cleaning or ruining the fishing for everyone, a nice catch and release policy should be considered and implemented for the catfish 10lbs or larger. Just my two cents. Ultimately that decision is yours to make.
Hopefully, most of you have at least tried catfish at one point or another because if cooked correctly, it’s fantastic. It does require a little prep however and possibly a few insider tipsbefore it getting it correct.
Many anglers target catfish for the specific reason of cleaning and filleting them. Doing so is worth it, and we will cover those steps here.
Cleaning the catfish is the first step in the game besides catching the actual fish. Hopefully, by now and after my in-depth guide, I’ve made that a bit easier for everyone.
The next step is understanding that you need some proper tools to get the job when cleaning, prepping and cooking catfish. Here’s a quick list of the tools you will need from the beginning of the process to the end of the process. It all begins with the bucket or ice to keep the fish fresh. Catfish don’t last long out of water in most circumstances so keeping the fish fresh is key.
- Bucket Or Live Well
- Fillet Knife
- Cutting Board
- Fillet Knife- Electric
This would be your essentials. The key is keeping the fish on the ice to ensure it dies a nice friendly death instead of the old school methods of beating it with a hammer. The ice will get the job and it will also keep the fish fresh instead of baking in the summer heat.
Now its time to move onto prepping the fish.
Preparing the Catfish
When preparing the fish, you’re simply going to begin by cutting a line at a downward angle from the top dorsal fin down to the lower pelvic fin. Once you hit the vertebrae, you can make your pivot and head towards the tail. Once you reach the tail, you can flip the filet over and cut it off.
That’s it. Easy as 1,2,3. No need to skin to the fish unless it’s your chosen method, but it’s not necessary.
You still need to cook the catfish. There are too many methods to go in-depth on every option, but we can list out some quick options you have for cooking catfish.
- Pan Fried Catfish
- Deep Fried Catfish
- Baked Catfish
- Grilled Catfish
- Oven Baked Catfish
As promised, I believe I owe you my top 20 catfishing tips and a visual to go with it. Take a look below and thanks for swinging through and good luck out there on the waters.
Top 20 Catfish Fishing Tips
- Have A Plan- Don’t go Unprepared – A solid plan will always help. Plan ahead of time
- Don’t Avoid Night CatFishing- It can be the best time
- Try Multiple Rods or Fishing Poles @ different depths and possibly different baits
- Mix Up Your Depths- Try shallows and deep water bottom fishing for catfish
- Try New Areas- Move Around and Mix it Up- Don’t sit still for to long- Give it 30-45 min than move
- Use the Correct Fishing Line- The wrong fishing can end a fishing trip fairly quickly
- Be Patient and Have Fun- Don’t stress and let them come to you
- Use the correct gear and gear recommended for catfish fishing
- Mix up Your Baits- Try New Baits- If something isn’t working than mix things up.
- Ask other Anglers- Often times other anglers or cat fishermen can give you some key tips
- Use a depth finder or sonar finder- This can speed up the learning of the water structure
- Track Results- Monitor where you have success. What bait did you use? What time was it?
- Target Structured Cover- This is catfish heaven and where they like to get cozy. Get Bait in there.
- Keep it down- Yes Catfish can hear and fishing is always better when you learn some stealth
- Get Stinky- Stink bait is my personal favorite bait for catfish and many use it. It works greats.
- Invest in a Good Net- Without a net, good luck landing a nice blue. Record it, should be funny to watch.
- Have the correct lighting- When fishing at night be sure to plan and have a nice head piece or lighting system handy.
- Try Early Mornings- Early Mornings can be just as fruitful as night fishing for catfish
- Give it Time- Don’t reel in every 5 minutes or after every nibble. Give it some time. Relax
- Try River Fishing- First, it’s fun and second. It’s landed me all my largest catfish to date.
- Learn Learn Learn!- Keep learning and keep improving and eventually you will have this down!
Do you Feel you know the essentials to begin catfish fishing this season? Have I left anything out?
That about wraps my ultimate guide to catfish fishing and everything you need to know to get you started into a new hobby. Take it from me who has been doing it for years. It’s not a hobby to miss out on and can bring a lot of fun and thrill into your angling adventures.
The essential tools, gear, and knowledge, are critical, but you will learn as you go and, on the fly, so stick with it. As promised when we started this journey, I stated this would be one of the most in depth guides for beginners trying to start the catfishing experience.