Best Catfish Bait: Every Cat Has Its Catnip

Best catfish bait
Written by Neal Walker

Catfishing can bring you a lot of satisfactions, which is why you should know what the best catfish bait is. And that’s what we’re here to tell you because one of the most spread disputes among anglers is whether you should use live animals, parts of them or maybe just artificial food.

While it’s true that most predatory fish are suckers for live baits since these animals put out a good fight and can be better noticed, other things work too. Which is why you should learn what your options are, but let’s start with:

Learning More About Their Eating Habits

You can’t catch your game unless you know stuff about it. The way catfish act around food and what they prefer is essential for you choosing the right bait, therefore you should know that:

  • These fish have a very fine sense of smell, and an acute taste, being able to differentiate between baits from very far away.
  • River currents bring more odors towards them, which helps them move less in search of that perfect scent.
  • Catfish are more active in lakes, seeing as they need to taste the water in order to find food.
  • Catfish are omnivores, which means they basically eat anything, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have some idiosyncracies.
  • The baits you should be looking for are small fish or critters they generally eat or substances they usually prefer.
  • Among the things you can try are worms, cut bait, and stink baits, but chunks and dips also work.

Also see our article on the best fishing times for the fish you want to snag – a great read!

Getting The Right Bait

With all that in mind, let’s see what works better to lure catfish and why.


These are some of the best choices you can make when it comes to catfish, no matter their size. It’s generally said that bigger catfish go for the bigger bait, but the truth is that none of them can refuse a tasty, juicy worm.


You can apply any technique when it comes to serving nightcrawlers to catfish, such as:

All these work fine, but the secret is to make a ball out of a few worms and put them onto a hook. No matter the season, this type of bait will prove a great attraction for catfish, because they smell appetizing and because they do a lot of jerky movements.

It’s also better to use treble hooks to increase your chances of catching big cats and try to get these baits as close to where catfish generally lurk, like crevices and undercuts, but you can also target water areas rich in vegetation.

Plus you can use crushed worms on other baits, to make them more appealing. Freezing doesn’t mess with their taste and smell, so you can do that safely if you have more than you need for one fishing trip.

Critters and creepy-crawlers

Studying the eating behaviours of various catfish, especially bigger ones, you’ll find they love eating small animals.

That’s why all these animals make for awesome baits, whether you use live or dead ones. Plus, you can prepare them in a plethora of ways, such as:

  • Put them directly on the hook.
  • Cut the lower legs out of mice and frogs so you can save space.
  • Use parts of dead critters so that the chemicals that compose their odor and taste have better chances of being sensed bu the catfish.
  • Crush these critters and put them on the hook for the same purpose.
  • You can even use some of their crushed parts on another sort of bait, like dough.

Pro tip: If you’re considering frogs or salamanders as valid baits, never use their larvae as a lure. That’s because they give out a foul odor to catfish and end up repelling them.

The most common sort of frog bait for catfish is the leopard frog because this is one little critter that’s abundant in their environment. And if the cats are used to eating it, they’ll find it easier by smell when you use it as bait.

Fishing for catfish

Leopard frogs are more commonly found by catfish during spring when they mate, and during winter, when they migrate to a nice hibernating spot. But you can use them during the summer too, that’s when this delicious food supply is scarce, and therefore, more appreciated by catfish.


Catfish love themselves some good invertebrate, which is obvious from the stomach contents of such predatory fish that often hold crayfish.

This is especially true for smaller catfish. Grown catfish don’t have as much access, nor speed to get to underwater areas populated with crayfish. The things you should know about these langoustes are:

  • You can prepare them any way you like, but it’s better to put them on a hook when they’re alive and use the bottom rigging technique.
  • Crushing their heads works even better in order to dissipate appealing fragrances in the water and attract the catfish’s attention.
  • If you prefer the drifting or floating techniques, use severed parts of crayfish, like their tails. This works better during the summer season.
  • Crayfish are a very common bait among anglers, because they’re fairly easy to catch if you have a dip net and a good headlamp.
  • They live in creeks and ponds.
  • You can find these fish under rocks or in other crevices at daytime, when they’re mostly inactive and hide from predators.
  • Crayfish like to party at night, and this is when they emerge from their hiding place in search for food. This is also when it’s easier for you to catch them.
  • The techniques you can use for catching crayfish involve setting traps and placing dead fish inside, so they can be lured by the smell.

You can try other invertebrates beloved by catfish, like clams and snails.


A very used lure, fish bait can be prepped in various ways, especially for bigger catfish. And it all depends on the species of catfish too, so it’s better to:

  • Cut live bait and use the floating and rigging techniques if you want to catch blue or channel catfish.
  • Use live ones directly on the hook in order to catch flathead catfish.

Wild or farmed?

At this point, you’ll have to choose what sort of live bait you get and whether that’s been grown in the wild, or farmed by humans. Most anglers prefer to catch wild live bait on their own, even if that’s a bit more work because home-grown live bait doesn’t know how to run from predators.

Fishbait catfish

That’s not an advantage for you if you want to use them alive on the hook because their jerking motions actually attract catfish. Besides, if live bait is afraid, they’ll secrete certain hormones that make them more appealing to predators, as well as more noticeable from further away.

See also: 8 Best Fishing Spinners: Hasta La Vista, Fish!

So you can either choose to use some worms in order to catch your live bait, or even train the home-grown ones to run away. For this purpose, you should place them in a water tank and release a catfish you’ve already caught inside.

What can you choose from?

When it comes to particular live baits you can use, you should try:

  • Smaller catfish. Yes, these fish are cannibals and they will eat their own without any sort of remorse.
  • Live carp are a delicacy for flathead catfish, which take great pleasure into hunting them. That’s why you should use them live on your hook, and never cut them. That goes double if the sort of catfish you’re trying to catch is the blue or channel sorts.
  • Catfish also enjoy goldfish, if you have a few in your home aquarium.
  • During winter time, catfish love eating some gizzard and shads, because they’re plentiful food supplies that give them a lot of energy.
  • Sunfish work well, either cut or alive, and flathead catfish usually go nuts for a juicy green sunfish placed on the line.
  • Panfish are something else you can try with some success.

Also, make sure that you do your research first regarding live bait because there are some states in which some of our suggestions above aren’t a legal means for catching catfish.

How can you use live bait?

You have a lot of options here, whether you place them in nets, or cut them in bits and pieces. The cutting and rigging on the bottom technique are amazing during the colder seasons, like early spring or late autumn. And this goes especially for bigger catfish that thrive on gizzards during the winter because:

  • In early spring they’ve already depleted much of their gizzard supply.
  • In late autumn they’re just beginning their search, which makes cut gizzards more appealing.

If you want to use live bait whole, you should save this technique for the summer season.

What’s the best live bait?

It’s true that you have to choose live bait depending on the season and the size of your catfish, but we feel some of the best are shads.

Best live bait

That’s because these are the preferred meals on fins of grown flatheads, which are some of the most commonly hunted catfish. But channel ones also love their shads once they get big enough for the job.

So why is this the best live bait?

  • It’s preferred by many catfish, and to prove that you can generally find catfish and shads in the same places, like river channels.
  • They work very well in rivers where their smell and taste are better carried by the water currents.
  • They’re an abundant resource, which means you can easily catch it.
  • You can readily replace shads with minnows because the catfish do the same substitution when they’re out of shads.

Prepping this baitfish is an easy job too, and you should know that:

  • The best way to do it, especially during colder seasons, is by cutting it or slicing it.
  • The rule of thumb is bigger bites for bigger catfish and vice-versa.
  • Cut off the head and tail of your shad first, and then cut bits or slices from its body.
  • The size of your slices is also determined by personal preference and how compact you want your bait to be.
  • The intestines should never be neglected because they’re an important source of odor that instantly stands out to catfish.
  • It’s better to use the intestines on rods because they vibrate quite enough to attract catfish.

The techniques you can use for catching catfish with shads are:

  • Rigging with various Carolina rigs. Their barrel weight should be big so that it doesn’t leave the bottom of the water. If you’re in a lake, spread the lines at equal distances and at different depths around your boat. If you’re fishing in a river, cast the lines downstream for catfish that hide in crevices.
  • Drifting with treble rigs, if you don’t know where the catfish are hiding, so you can cover more areas.
  • Placing live and medium shads directly on the hook to get flathead cats. Make sure the bait reaches the bottom, or very close to it at least.

Chicken livers

Though chickens aren’t usually on the dinner plates of your run-of-the-mill catfish, they can easily be placed at the end of your rod, for an effective lure.

Chicken livers

That’s because:

  • Livers have a poignant odor, they smell like meat and blood in the most profound way, which means they can be sensed from very far away. And once the catfish get a sniff of this delicious odor, they can’t say no.
  • They don’t cost so much.
  • You can buy them anywhere.

The disadvantages of using chicken livers are:

  • They don’t work on big catfish because they’re a small bait and usually work for channel catfish that don’t weigh very much.
  • They need a bit of patience when it comes to putting them on the hook, seeing as they’re so wobbly. The trick is to keep them in water a little before casting the bait.

The best ways to use chicken livers are:

  • On a treble hook. That’s because you increase the chances of getting a catfish stuck.
  • Cut smaller pieces, and turn them on the hook instead of simply hanging them. That will make them hold better, lowering the risk of losing your bait.
  • Use lob casts. The reason is that slower movements will keep the bait in place.
  • Don’t keep the liver on the hook for more than 20 minutes. That’s because water soaks them and depletes them of their taste and smell.
  • Change the liver every time you change your fishing spot, even when it’s been less than 20 minutes.
  • Find an area that’s filled with blue or channel catfish, because these ones are more attracted by chicken livers.
  • Don’t use chicken livers as bait if the currents are very strong, as that will make it tear off from the hook.
  • Don’t use a lot of weight to the line if you’re fishing in a small water area, but increase the weight directly proportional with the size and the magnitude of the currents.

Dip baits

Although some anglers prefer to manufacture dip baits at home and try different kinds of recipes they later pass on to future generations, other people think commercial baits work better. The characteristics you should take into account are:

The smell

Also known as stink baits, these are the sort of lures that will make catfish go crazy because of their stench.

Either way, the secret is to produce or get a dip bait that smells awful to you, maybe even rotten, and chances are it will smell great for catfish.

The composition

A stink bait has to be rich in protein because catfish are predators and that’s what they’re looking for. The best kind of protein you can use come either from raw meat, which smells like blood and fear, either from stinky cheese, which stinks.

Dip baits

So the point is not to use plain dip baits like dough balls unless you’ve soaked them in something like nightcrawler juice first.

The consistency

Finding the right balance between hard and soft is pretty tricky. If you make your bait too soft, it will disintegrate too fast in the water or be carried away by the currents. And if you make it too hard, it won’t disintegrate at all, and catfish may not get a sense of its presence.

So take extra care about this, especially if you’re fishing in an area with a lot of currents.

That being said, dip baits work wonders when:

  • They’re used in an area with a lot of currents so that bits and pieces of them can be carried away towards the catfish. Plus, they leave a trail the catfish can follow back.
  • They’re placed upstream.
  • You don’t limit to just one cast. More casts equal more smell and food particles leading back to you.
  • You use a rubber tube or a sponge so the bait holds in place and doesn’t disintegrate at once.
  • They’re kept in a dry and dark place until you use them, even on the field.
  • You use certain additives to your secret recipe that allows the dip baits to hold during hot weather.

Making Your Decision

We’ve covered various sorts of catfish baits here, and we hope we’ve been of some use to you. While it’s better to be informed, it’s also wise to make a decision after you’ve tried these on the field. You’ll find that knowledge is golden, but practice makes perfect.

Making Your Decision

So tell us, which sort of baits have you tried so far? What do you want to try next? Do you think commercial baits can be better? Do you plan on making your own stink bait? And if there’s anything we’ve missed here, let us know – the comments are right below.

For more tips on how to catch this prized catfish, read our earlier piece to learn more.


Neal Walker

Neal Walker started fishing when he was 4. His father took him to the fishing trips all over USA and Canada. Later he took Angling Education Program at Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, but most of his knowledge comes from experience. Now he takes his sons with him to share his passion.