How To Catch Catchfish

The first fish I can remember fishing for and catching, was the channel catfish. Growing up in Ohio and West Virginia, every lake, stream and river had a good population of catfish.

The rig we used was simple and still works well today. It consisted of a 1 to 2 ounce lead weight on the bottom of the line, and a 8 to 10 inch leader tied about 12 to 18 inches up the line. We used a single hook and most often a night crawler for bait.

We knew very little about fishing, but still managed to catch our share. This makes this type of fishing a great way to start out a beginner angler or a child, catching fish

Learn To Catch Catfish

Since my early days of fishing, I have found there is much to learn to consistently catch catfish. To learn to catch catfish, you first need to understand how a catfish finds the food it eats.


Take a look at the image above, and you will see what appears to be whiskers around its mouth. These are called barbels, and are the key to understanding how a catfish finds food. The barbels contain thousands of taste buds, and are used to taste and smell food from a great distance.

A catfish will usually sit with it’s head facing into the current, and when the barbels pick up a cent, move into the current towards the cent until it finds the source. The catfish can find food using this method in murky water, in low light conditions, and in the dead of night.

Best Way to Catch Catfish

Keeping in mind how a catfish finds food, the best way to catch catfish is by using their sense of smell. You always want to set up where the cent of your bait will be carried buy the current to the fish.

I always use a wide spread of 5 or 6 rods set in a row across the current. Having several baits in a spread will cause a strong cent to be carried into the current, and can draw fish in from a long way off. Along with the bait on he hook, I will throw cut bait or prepared bait into the spread to add even stronger cent.

Catfish for the most part are bottom feeders, and will follow the cent trail, feeling along the bottom with their barbels until they find the source of the cent. If your bait smells and tastes like something they eat, they will inhale it.  Most times when they inhale the bait, they will hook themselves, and all you will need to do is hang on to the rod.

This spread will work well for attracting, channel catfish, blue catfish, and flathead catfish. Keep in mind that the three mentioned species of catfish eat different baits, but can still be drawn in by this method. Channel cats like worms, dead fish, and even mussels, clams and chicken livers. Blue cats prefer shad, shinners, herring, and minnows. Flatheads are more predatory and prefer live bream, small white bass, shad, herring, and shinners.

Blue Cats
Blue Cats












Above is a nice mess of Blue Cats caught on a recent outing at Santee Cooper lakes. They were all caught using a 5 rod spread mentioned above. We used a prepared commercial catfish bait, which is sold at most bait and tackle shops, to draw the fish in. The fish were all caught in a 4 hour period of time, and the bait on our hooks was small pieces of cut blue herring.

Using this method, catches like this are common and make catfish one of my favorite game fish to pursue.

Let’s take a look at the rig we use.

basic catfish rig
basic catfish rig








The above slip sinker rig is the one I use most of the time. I use a strong black finish swivel. Above the swivel I use a 2 ounce sliding egg sinker. The hooks I use are eagle claw 1/0 or 2/0 nickle finish. I use a small hook so the bait doesn’t sink to the bottom. I add a slip float and peg it just above the hook. This keeps the bait floating and moving in the current.

Catfish don’t see well, and feed more on smell and taste so a small float doesn’t bother them. I have found that color does make a difference, and green or yellow floats get more bites than red or white.

Where to catch catfish

Catfish will spend most of the day in deeper water, and move in and out of shallow water to feed. Knowing a few places where the fish are going to feed, and setting up in feeding areas can be the key to catching large numbers of fish.

One prime area to keep in mind is the mouth of feeder creeks and streams. Any time a creek empties into the main body of water fish will sit and wait for bait to wash down to them. Catfish tend to sit in the deep water and move up when feeding. Look for any flat ares that are between 2 and 10 feet deep.

Other prime areas are backs of creeks, long tapering points, and any large flat area near deeper water. Look for baitfish in the area such as shad, shinners, herring and small fish like bluegill. If the bait is on the flats, the catfish will be there.

One other often overlooked area, is any flat where the wind is pushing water and bait up against a bank. As the bait stacks up so will the catfish.

The Best Time to Catch Catfish

As stated above catfish hold in deeper water during bright hours of the day, and tend to be less active and feed less. This make low light periods, when cats are feeding a much better time to hunt for them. It is said that channel cats feed only about 1 hour before dark and up until midnight. While I have caught channel cats at all times of the day these peak hours are most often more productive.

Lets look at some of my favorite times:

  • 1 hour before dark
  • The first 1 to 2 hours of daylight
  • cloudy and overcast days
  • any time the water is muddy or cloudy
  • all night

Fishing peak times, in peak locations, and giving the fish what they want to eat, is an exact formula for success. Get out and give some of these tips a try, and you will agree catfishing is just plain fun.

A few final thoughts:

The dorsal fin just behind the gill, are very sharp on the  tip, and can cut you.

Catfish can grow very big, my biggest blue catfish was 68 pounds. Take extra care in landing fish. I use a gaff, or a leather work glove.

Catfish are great eating, keep enough for a good meal.

Finally don’t be afraid to move. If you are not getting bit moving a short distance can make a huge difference.

Get out there and go fishing, and have some fun. Feel free to share your comments, successes, failures, or fish pics.



8 thoughts on “How To Catch Catchfish

  1. Great post , I just learned a lot about cat fish and how to catch them, no hungry nights for me…lol.
    Thanks for sharing this great information.

    1. Thanks Donna. Catfish from the Santee Cooper lakes are among the best eating fish, the meat cooks up white and flaky. Writing this article made me hungry. I think I will fry up some fellets.

  2. Good Evening,

    Man I really like your content and the information on this page. I have been fishing ever since me and my grandfather ( God Bless Him ) used to do it when I was a kid growing up in Kentucky. I would go with some of my friends also to a Lake called COX’S CATFISH LAKE. It was a stocked pond and we would go load up on some catfish and sell it to the African Americans that became customers after a while. Man those were the good ole days. MEMORIES AND FISHING JUST GOES TOGETHER. I am siting here after commenting with a BIG OLE SMILE ON MY FACE. Thanks for the post and I wish you the best success in your endeavours.

    1. Thanks Steve. My Grand father and my father were not big on fishing, but my grandchildren are fishermen, and I do what I can to pass what I know. We have many pictures of our fishing adventures together and many memories we share.

    1. Thanks Cris, hopefully I have given you something that will help you on your next fishing trip. Have fun and go fishing, feel free to share your fish pics here with us.

  3. Nice article. I remember my dad and grandfather fishing for catfish and they said they saw some people using greasy french fries as bait. Those bottom feeders will eat any thing.

    1. Thanks James, its true catfish will eat almost anything. some of my favorites spam, hot dogs, snails, chicken livers and oysters. The professional trout liners at Santee use soap, because it’s cheap

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