Night Fishing For Catfish – A Complete Guide

Night fishing for catfish is perhaps one of the best hobbies an avid angler can embark on.

It’s an adrenaline rush, requires some different techniques and presents just enough of a challenge to keep it interesting each time you drop the bait into the water.

It’s not overly complicated but some initial pointers, tips, and techniques can get you off to a great start.

It’s important to understand the different ways catfish behave at night and what fishing gear you should be packing in the back of the pickup truck. A little preparation, some inside information and you can make for a killer night fishing for catfish after the sun goes down.

This guide is to break down everything possible for you.

After reading through it, you should have a good foundation at what it will take to be successful night fishing for catfish.

I will also include a quick infographic of my top tips and tricks for night catfishing to give you just that little extra meat and potatoes to give you an edge over the other catfish anglers fishing the same waters.

How do Catfish Behave at Night?

First and most importantly, catfish at night are no longer hiding, they are hunting.

Catfish will come out of the deep holes and structure that they post up in during the day and begin scavenging more shallow waters hunting for active food sources. This will continue from dark until the sun begins to rise in the morning.

Understanding how catfish to behave is going to be the first key to success when night fishing for catfish. If you haven’t done so already, you should start with my ultimate guide to catfishing.

It will give you a nice foundation to start with. If you have already covered that post, let’s discuss what you can expect from catfish after the sun goes down.

How Far do Catfish Travel at Night?

A catfish may swim a combined few miles up and down the shallow and active food source areas and then return to cover and deeper waters.

When I discuss how far catfish travel at night, I’m referring to how far they will swim away from their original nesting and covered areas. Most catfish anglers believe they don’t go too far.

Why is this Important?

This becomes essential toward your success with night catfishing for a few reasons. First and most importantly, we know that locating catfish is essential. Especially during the daytime.

We discuss in many of my posts, the importance of using the Deeper Smart Sonar Pro+ to locate catfish. At night, this doesn’t necessarily change.

If you know the areas that the catfish prefer to actively hold up, you have a good idea at where they may be traveling at night to find active food sources. Again, it won’t be too far from there natural nesting and deep cover spots that they linger around during the day.

Attempt to go a bit shallower and near other cover and food sources and you stand an excellent chance of setting the hook in a nice channel, blue or flathead catfish.

Use Lights but Don’t Overdo it

Having a lighting system on your boat or even using a headlamp for some light at night when catfishing is essential for the obvious reasons. You will, however, learn quickly that you need to shut down the lights from time to time.

The bugs will be out like crazy and buzzing in your face if you keep those lights shining non-stop.

You can use a nice bite alarm to counteract the lack of lighting and they also make lights you can use on your rods that can help improve visibility if your struggling to have visibility or constantly swatting away mosquitos.

15 Pound Test Line Will Do the Trick!

When your night fishing to catfish, you don’t need to be overly concerned with the color or texture of your fishing line. Catfish aren’t nearly as picky as some other game fish can be.

A good mono-filament 15-pound test line will do the trick just fine. If your drift fishing at night, you can lean towards a braided line but it’s not necessary. Pick your poison and use what you’re comfortable with.

Cast in Different Directions and Different Locations

This can be a huge benefit for landing catfish at night. If your fishing from a boat, most of you probably have multiple rod holders. If your fishing from the bank you can use the same approach.

Feather and cast your lines out at different distances and different directions. This is going to have a few added benefits that can help the effectiveness of landing more catfish.

First, it’s going to keep your lines out of the way of each other which helps with reeling in the first pole to get a bite.

In addition, it’s going to allow you to test different spots, different depths and different directions which is increasing your odds off finding an active feeding ground for the catfish.

Think Hunting Grounds and Not Hiding Places

The approach shifts when the sun goes down and your catfishing. You must leave the mindset of searching for hiding spots for catfish at night.

Yes, during the day, the catfish will be posted up in these cover spots that for the sake of this post we will call theses “hiding places”. At night, they leave these spots and they are ready to feed. They turn into predators at night.

Change your thinking of searching for catfish that are actively hunting and not searching for catfish hiding understructure and cover. Shorelines, rock ledges and other areas heavy in baitfish are great places to start.

Be Careful Using Nightcrawlers

Nightcrawlers can be effective anywhere anytime but if you really want to see success night fishing for catfish, I’d recommend avoiding nightcrawlers all together. Too many other baitfish and species of fish will be hitting the nightcrawler.

You can’t be everywhere all the time. In my experience, I’ve noticed that using nightcrawlers results in fishing with no bait more than anything. Missing the nibbles from other fish can leave you either reeling in and rebaiting to often or missing the nibble and having your pole sit in the water bait less for too long.

Stick to larger cut baits, live baits, and baits that catfish happen to be the biggest fans of to avoid this issue from the get-go.

Find the School of Bait Fish on the Fishfinder or Sonar First

Ideally, you want to have already caught or purchased your bait for the fishing outing but that doesn’t mean to skip finding the baitfish. This is where most catfish will be lurking around at night.

Find the schools of other small baitfish. Remember, catfish are hunting at night so if you can locate the baitfish, you can find the catfish.

Bells or Bite Alarms on the Rods are a Must

We touched in this a bit before but at night these alarms and bells become essential. Especially if your fishing with multiple rods. It will help you stay alert and on top of all active bites.

Without them, it’s bound to get confusing and tough to tell which pole is getting the active strikes and bites.

Best Bait for Night Fishing Catfish?

The best bait for night fishing catfish comes down to live cut bait such as bluegill, shad or other perch or stink bait with the dip worms. These have always deterred the smaller bait fish from stealing my bait.

This is going to depend heavily on the kind of catfish you are targeting.

In addition, it always gets enough scents and attractants dropping into the nearby waters to get some activity stirring up. All the other common catfish baits will still work at night so don’t be intimidated if you already have a favorite bait. If you haven’t tried using live bait or stink bait yet, however, I’d highly recommend giving it a try to take your catfish angling game to the next level.

Don’t Ignore the Drift at Night

Drift fishing for catfish is effective during the day or at night. The biggest difference with drift fishing for catfish at night is that the catfish are already active and moving around. This doesn’t make it any less effective.

The same principals still need to be applied. Keep the drift slow and controlled. The slower the better. Your overall goal is to cover more ground and have a stronger chance of getting the cut bait right in the face of a trophy flathead, blue or channel catfish. Keep safety in mind in low visibility conditions or when drift fishing on rivers.

Be Diligent with Your Planning

Keep in mind, when it gets dark on lakes and rivers, it’s very dark. Know where you want to fish before it hits the night time. Doing some due diligence ahead of time will only increase your odds of having a successful night fishing trip for catfish.

You’re looking for a nice combination between deep waters, with shallow runs and structure still somewhat nearby. Most importantly, you’re scouting for what we already discussed. Find the baitfish and you will find the catfish. Plan ahead of time to avoid headaches and frustration.

Understand the Advantages and Reason’s Why to Night Fish for Catfish

I’m sure all the catfish anglers would agree that daytime catfishing is just as fun and just as lucrative. Catfish can be caught all day long and during all seasons of the year.

The two biggest advantages you’re going to run into when night fishing is cooler weather and less windy conditions in most circumstances.

These advantages can be somewhat counteracted with the annoying bugs that lurk at night but if you don’t overdo the lighting and have some decent bug repellant, night fishing for catfish can be 100% relaxing and a great way of getting more catfish landed.

Catfish Don’t Like Light – Catfish Like Eating

Keep in mind that you don’t need your boat to look like the Titanic when fishing for catfish at night. It’s a misconception that catfish flock to light.

Catfish flock to baitfish. Baitfish flock near bugs. You see the pattern here? If you can find the baitfish without making your boat a bug frenzy and shining every light known to man, you can still catch plenty of catfish.

Gear For Night Fishing Catfish

Gear is 100% Important for Night Catfishing!

Gear is important no matter when you are attempting to catfish but at night it’s especially important. Let’s cover some of the basics required to have a successful night catfishing adventure.

Night Fishing Gear Needed for Catfishing:

  • Headlamp or Boat Lights (Rechargeable Preferred)
  • Bite Alarms or Bells for Your Rods
  • Rod Holders – Either Boat Mounted or Shore Rod Holders
  • Plenty of Cut Bait or Your Favorite Catfish Bait
  • Fish Finding or Sonar Technology (If Within your Budget)
  • Durable Landing Net
  • First Aid Kit
  • 15-30 LB Test Line
  • Frosty Beverages
  • Bug Repellent
  • Cooler and Ice

FAQ: Night Fishing for Catfish

Does anything change night fishing rivers for catfish?

For the most part, it’s going to be all the same principals used for night catfishing any other body of water except for the fact that the drift can become crucial and key for success on rivers. Safety is also of utmost importance when river fishing at night for catfish.

Be aware of your surroundings and be willing to return home during inclement weather.

Drifting at night for catfish can be extremely beneficial on rivers. Locating catfish on rivers be somewhat challenging if you’re not using any sonar or fish-finding technology. You can counteract this by actively trolling your bait at slow speeds till you run into luck instead of waiting for it to come to you.

The biggest problem you will face when trying to drift fish rivers is that it eliminates all the shore anglers. Drift fishing without a boat isn’t going to work for the obvious reasons.

Keep your bait sealed up

Catfish aren’t the only creatures out hunting at night. If you are fishing from shore, keep that bait sealed up. The last thing you want is a bunch other critters and rodents creeping around from the scents your bait it is putting off.

No need to crack a beverage or reel in a fish just to turn around and find a furry raccoon digging through your jug of stink bait.

The hour before and the hour after

You can night fish for catfish all night long and have good luck. Don’t ignore the great times and heavy strikes that typically take place 1 hour before and 1 hour after the sun goes down.

The same applies for the early morning just before the sun goes up. The catfish get a little out of control during this time and you can really hook into catfish at a high rate during these 2-hour windows.

Make sure to still be active and fishing during these hours to really see the catch rates climb.

Do flatheads bite more actively at night?

Not in my experience. Flatheads bite any time of the day. It’s more about bait selection and location then the time of day when it comes to landing trophy flatheads. Try larger cut baits and live baits and drifting as opposed to only night fishing if you want to have better luck landing flatheads.

Is it possible to winter fishing at night for catfish?

It is possible to winter fishing at night for catfish. It can even be ice fishing for catfish at night. You can still land and be effective night fishing in the winter for catfish. Remember, catfish don’t hibernate, they don’t hide at night and they eat when they are hungry.

Don’t be discouraged by the time of the year or temperature. Some even say that Blue catfishing is at its peak during the winter and during the two-hour windows we mentioned previously.

Final Words

Night fishing for catfish is a sport all on its own. It requires different gear, a different skill set and some proper techniques to get it done efficiently.

Do any of you have any better recommendations for night catfishing? Have I left anything out?

Feel free to drop a comment below. I’d love to hear from the and will consider updating and adding other recommendations to the list.

If you haven’t done so already, be sure to subscribe to my email newsletter. It’s free and I will keep you posted on all my recent tips and tricks and the latest fishing gear coming out that every angler should give a try. As always, thanks for stopping and reading. I appreciate you. See you next time.

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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