Catching catfish is a thrill. Any catfish angler knows and seeks that fight and patiently awaits the hook set.
We also all try to develop our catfish skills and learn new ways to improve our chances of catching more catfish each time we head out onto the water.
River fishing for catfish is no different. It involves more knowledge and skill than other forms of catfishing. Learning how to catch catfish in rivers shouldn’t be overly complicated.
Catching Catfish in rivers just comes down to effective location, proper bait placement, and trial and error but some added tips will surely add to your success.
That’s what we are going to cover today in this post. I’m going to give you my top 21 tips and tricks to help improve your game river fishing for catfish.
If your brand new to catfishing, you can start with my full guide to catfish fishing. It can break down some initial fundamentals needed to learn to catfish effectively.
If, however, you’re just looking for a little edge and some added technique, then these 21 tips should get you well on your way. Let’s dive into them. Under the infographic, you will find all 21 tips listed out in more detail.
Table of Contents
- 21 Proven Effortless Easy Tricks for Catfishing in Rivers
- Location is Key When River Fishing for Catfish
- Proper Gear Is Critical
- Technology Can be Your Best Friend
- Boating or Bank fishing. Pick Your Poison!
- Bait Selection Always Matters for Catfish!
- Learn to Study and Understand Water Movement
- Don’t Ignore Bridges on Rivers
- Riffles Runs and Holes
- Stumps and Brush
- Active Catfish May be Shallow or in Runs, Not Always in the Holes
- Sideways Rods on Bank Fishing or Rod Holders or Bye Bye Fishing Pole
- Always Try the Drift
- Don’t Be Afraid to Use Bullhead as Bait for Flathead catfish
- Find Log Jams and Wood, and You Find the Catfish
- Use Clicking Drag on the Bait Caster Reels
- Use the Correct Fishing Line
- Get the Trigger Effect Going with the Circle Hook
- Take Advantage of Weather When Catfishing
- Find the Live Bait, Find the Catfish
- Catch, Photograph, and Release
- Be Ready to Move Around
- Have Fun
- Are You Going to Apply My Tips?
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21 Proven Effortless Easy Tricks for Catfishing in Rivers
Location is Key When River Fishing for Catfish
It always comes down to the location when river fishing for catfish.
You need to find the catfish to stand a chance.
Even if your drift fishing, you need to be drift fishing in the proper spots.
If it’s daytime, you should be searching the deep holes, deeper waters, and covered structure. This is always going to be the best places you can look and actively find hungry catfish on rivers.
Yes, you do have some exceptions to this.
In certain areas of the water you can find catfish in shallows or water not quite as deep but for the most part, stick to the statistics.
Deep waters, channels, holes, and structure is your key spots for locating channel, blue and flathead catfish.
Proper Gear Is Critical
I know, I know. If you read my other blog post, you’re probably sick of hearing this.
Unfortunately, I’m not going to stop bringing it up because it always remains a top tip for catfishing. You need strong durable gear that can take a pounding.
Technology Can be Your Best Friend
Don’t ignore technology when it comes to catfishing. Especially when catfishing rivers.
It can do nothing but aid your efforts in hunting and locating the perfect fishing locations.
Catfish are smart, sly creatures. They like to hide, and they know a thing or two about avoiding angler pressure and sticking to areas that they feel safe.
Technology can help aid you in finding structure and other deep holes where the large catfish are likely to be. Consider Sonar and fish-finding technology to help assist you to the best possible locations. It will save you time and effort in the long run.
Boating or Bank fishing. Pick Your Poison!
Determine whether you’re going to improve your skills as a boating catfish angler or a bank fisherman.
Each has unique skills and methods you can practice for optimal success.
I recommend not trying to be a jack of all trades early on until you have 1 mastered.
Expand out and use all the tools possible to increase your chances of landing more catfish.
If your bank fishing, attempt to read the rivers or bodies of water your fishing to find the best spots to cast from shore. If your fishing from shore you’re also going to be more limited on how deep you can get with your cast in certain situations.
Fishing at night or early morning may be beneficial.
This can allow you to target catfish strolling more shallow waters for active food sources.
If your boat fishing, you can effectively find the deepest waters with a fish finder or just out of your pure knowledge of the waters your use to fishing. Use the tools and this method of catfishing to your advantage.
Bait Selection Always Matters for Catfish!
Determine what size catfish you are planning to attack.
If you are targeting any catfish over 10lb, consider live and cut baits such as shad. If you are going for the total count and trying just to land as many catfish as possible and size isn’t a concern you can consider all baits.
Even the basic nightcrawler in the correct location and depths can be effective for smaller catfish under 10 pounds.
Learn to Study and Understand Water Movement
If you’re not a fan of using technology to help find the best locations where catfish are likely to be you can also learn to read water movement.
In rivers sometimes, you can look for the left to right moving current.
At the end of that current where the water appears to be calm, can indicate the sharp deeper area of water or a nice “catfish hole.”
Catfish love holding up in these areas of deeper water at the edges of the current and moving water flows.
Where the choppy water ends, is where you can find the catfish hanging out. Keep that in mind.
Don’t Ignore Bridges on Rivers
Bridges can be found in just about any river. It’s our primary form of getting over these bodies of water.
Yes, they can be noisy and annoying to fish near, but they typically provide tons of structure and cover. It’s rare that you can’t find some catfish lurking near bridges and other covers when fishing rivers.
Riffles Runs and Holes
Riffles runs, and holes are your main format of underwater bottom structure. A riffle is followed by a run, and a run is followed by a hole. If you learn to read the river effectively, you can easily find the holes where the catfish are likely to be hanging out.
Stumps and Brush
This is more common sense than anything and plays back into locating structure to catch catfish.
Catfish love logs, stumps, and brush beneath the water. Regardless of which method you are using to find this structure when you do find it, it’s likely you find some nice size catfish to go with it.
Active Catfish May be Shallow or in Runs, Not Always in the Holes
Catfish may lie in the holes, but that doesn’t always mean they are the catfish actively feeding.
Sometimes catfish will leave the area of the holes briefly and be in nearby runs and shallows actively feeding. If you do not have the best luck in the deep holes, try the runs nearby to see if you can find the hungry fellas.
Sideways Rods on Bank Fishing or Rod Holders or Bye Bye Fishing Pole
Learn to position your fishing rod to the side if your fishing from the bank.
You do this by placing the rod tip at an angle opposite of the direction you are fishing. If you line up in a straight line with the area you are fishing, and the catfish takes it or runs with the bait, your pole is likely running straight into the water.
Unless you watch your rod with 100% inventiveness, there’s a good chance you lose your pole by not placing the pole at an angle. When you set the pole at an angle, the pole will have to slide right to left or left to right before being taken anywhere.
It gives you more time to react, and you can typically see the bite sensitivity better and respond more appropriately.
Always Try the Drift
Drift fishing for catfish can be one of the most effective ways of catching catch catfish at high rates.
If you can keep a slow controlled drift and use a good piece of cut bait, you can catch some monster catfish.
Stay patient and keep it slow. Use sonar and fish-finding technology to help you even further.
Don’t Be Afraid to Use Bullhead as Bait for Flathead catfish
Many catfish anglers don’t know this, but bullhead can be one of the best flathead baits you can use.
Use the drift fishing techniques, and catch small bullhead.
Once you have your bait, use a large circle hook and hook the bullhead right near the tail fin. This will keep the bullhead not capable of going under logs or not moving around too much.
This will get the flathead nice and fired up and work great to get large flathead catfish enticed enough to strike.
Find Log Jams and Wood, and You Find the Catfish
This plays into tip #7. Always find structure. The more of it, the better. Catfish love hiding and staying beneath large areas of log jams, brush, and other wood.
If you can find these areas, the chances of striking out diminish greatly and the chances of going home happy increase significantly.
Use Clicking Drag on the Bait Caster Reels
If your reel doesn’t have a clicking drag, order a kit and get it installed on your reel. This can be huge. It will serve as an excellent warning signal that you have a catfish running or hitting the bait.
Side Tip: Always make sure to pull your drag out and test it before casting out for the first time each trip you take. Don’t take the chance of that drag being stuck and losing an expensive rod over something easily avoidable.
Use the Correct Fishing Line
This is going to depend heavily on which method of catfishing you are doing.
If your drift fishing a mono-filament line can work, but a braided line can be your best friend. It will help avoid snags and other underwater structure.
If you’re not drag fishing, most of the time if the test is strong enough, a mono-filament will work perfectly for you.
Get the Trigger Effect Going with the Circle Hook
When using a circle hook, make sure to come through the back of the eye hole first.
Come back through the front of the eye and get 7 or loops and tighten down. This is going to cause the hook to bounce and create a trigger effect.
This makes hook setting much more effective. This is called Snelling the hook.
If the hook pulls backward instead of forward you will lose more catfish on the hookset then desired.
Second Inside Tip: Make sure to use a large enough circle hook. Many people fishing for catfish misunderstand the size needed and go to small. Catfish have large, tough mouths.
Lastly, you need to keep the hook gap wide open to have the highest chance of catching catfish upon the hook set. To recap,
Keep the gap open, use a large enough circle hook and make sure it triggers forward and not backward. (Use the Snell Hook Method).
Take Advantage of Weather When Catfishing
Catfish are known to be very stir crazy and active before cold fronts and strong weather fronts. Learn to execute during these times. Also, after a strong storm, you can have a lot of success near feeder creeks and other areas of natural food source runoff.
Work those areas and work them hard for higher chances of catching any species of catfish.
Find the Live Bait, Find the Catfish
Catfish like to hang around where their prey and the food they plan on consuming.
Sometimes when using sonar or other fish-finding technology, it’s best just to find the shad and other live bait. If you can find the live bait and shad, you can usually find catfish lurking nearby. On a fish finder or sonar, you can look for the large clouds on the screen.
This will indicate you have found a large school of baitfish or shad. Let your kid take the wheel so you can get a net out into the water and catch a large amount of your catfish bait.
Catch, Photograph, and Release
This is more of a best practice. It’s not necessarily a tip. Catfish over 10lb, unless you have a strong desire to cook it, take a picture and get it back into the water. This helps all of us active anglers have a chance to catch these catfish again and again.
To recap, catch the catfish, snap a picture and get it back into the water.
Anything under 10lb, I recommend learning great cleaning and cooking techniques and start having some local fish fries. Catfish under 10lb make for some tremendous tasty nuggets.
Be Ready to Move Around
I’ve seen it time and time again. A lot of catfish anglers fishing from boats, anchor down and will sit around all day praying to the fish gods to send them a bite. It doesn’t work like that. You need to keep on the move. If you’re using a good catfish bait, it shouldn’t take longer than 20 minutes before you try a new spot.
Beating the dead horse again but the sonar and fish finding technology would help you avoid this issue by locating the best spots from the get-go. Move around. Don’t be lazy.
Catfishing is a fantastic hobby.
The fight, the adrenaline, the patience… It’s all part of it. Nothing beats catfishing if you ask me. Always remember to have fun. Some days will be better than others. There isn’t much you can do about that.
The longer you stick with it, the better you will get.
Are You Going to Apply My Tips?
Whether or not you apply each and every one of these tips, I promise your skills will slowly improve. Keep learning and utilizing some of these top catfishing tips when possible and begin to catch more catfish then you have in the past.
Use the technology for your benefit, try different methods and catch your next trophy cat this year.
Have I left anything out or do you have any tips for river catfishing you think should be added to our list? Be sure to leave a comment below, and I’ll consider adding it to the list. If you haven’t done so already, be sure to subscribe to my email newsletter.
I’ll send out my newest top tips and tricks on a weekly basis and keep you informed on the latest gear and fishing technology flooding the market today.