Catfish Fishing Techniques

catfish fishing techniques

Introductory catfish fishing techniques by Ryan Dotson.

For most of my fishing life I have mainly gone after two primary types of fish.  I love fishing for largemouth bass.  There is nothing quite like the hit they put on a line.  I love seeing a big bass jump out of the water trying to shake my lure free.  I also regularly go after rainbow trout in the spring fed rivers of the Ozark Mountains.  These beautiful fish are as cunning as they are gorgeous.  

However, when I was in my early 20’s I had a life changing experience.  I was working as a sales manager and had recently hired a new sales rep.  After a great first week, he invited me to go catch some catfish on a friend’s lake.  Typically, when people invite me fishing at their favorite spot we do not fare very well.  Maybe that is just coincidence, but I always felt like I needed to be in my own favorite spots to do really well.

We picked up a couple tubs of raw chicken livers of all things.  Going after catfish was not completely alien to me.  My friends and I had used stink bait to catch catfish plenty of times before.  The chicken livers were a new one for me.  We put them on big weighted treble hooks and tossed our lines out to the center of the lake.  It wasn’t 30 seconds before he got a hard strike on his line.  The fish fought like a bass, and took a minute to reel in.  His first cast was a six-pound catfish.  From that point until the sun went down, we caught catfish on every other cast.  It was an evening I will never forget.

So, what caused us to have such success fishing for catfish?  It actually boils down to several different points that I never even noticed at the time.  We love cooking and eating our catch, and it doesn’t get much better than catching a mess of catfish in just a few hours.  In this article, we will cover the best techniques to catch your limit of catfish.

Catfish Bait

Catfish are aggressive feeders, but they vary in how selective they are about food.  Big channel catfish and blue catfish are more selective about their meals than the smaller catfish you might find in small lakes and ponds.  Their eyesight is not nearly as good as other species, but they smell incredibly well.  This allows them to find food in the muddy bottoms of rivers and lakes.  If you are fishing still water, you can use just about any bait that is meaty and puts a smell in the water.  Chicken livers are obviously an excellent option.  They are also easier to find than some of the other bait I’ve tried.  

Nightcrawlers, minnows, and crayfish(follow local regulations), can be found at just about any bait shop.  They all work well to get that smell in the water. Homemade or manufactured stinkbaits put more smell in the water than just about any bait you will find.  Some anglers I know swear by it. If you are shopping at the grocery store, hot dogs or canned ham work well.  You can also think back to fishing as a kid and use grapes, cheese, dog food, or raisins. We used these foods as bait when I still used a cane pole.

If you are fishing for trophy blues or channels, you may need some movement.  You may also want the bait to resemble baitfish found naturally in that body of water.  The general rule is to use live baitfish if you want to catch a catfish over ten pounds.  I have used goldfish before but getting them from the pet store was quite pricey.  Minnows work well, so you can catch your own with a trap or hit the bait shop. Oily fish like shad, suckers, and carp work best.  Be sure to hook your baitfish so they will stay alive and keep moving.  The right kind of bait can make all the difference.

Ignore Water Temperature

Many anglers assume that fishing for catfish should happen in the hottest months of the summer.  While that is typically when I have fished for catfish, we have had great results in colder weather as well.  Remember that catfish already prefer deeper, colder water.  While not all catfish will feed year-round, most will.  

You can have stellar results fishing in deep waters in the fall and spring.  You can also have good results in the winter as long as the water remains above freezing.  Really the only time you do not want to fish for catfish is during the catfish spawn in the summer.  During these weeks the catfish will bury themselves in the mud and often will not feed at all.

Hook Baitfish Properly

Many times, anglers will get frustrated fishing for catfish because the fish strike but get free.  Often the reason is that the angler is still baiting their hook like they were fishing for bass.  Catfish do not strike as hard as other sport fish.  You need to be sure that the point of your hook is exposed to be sure to land your fish.

People often shy away from leaving the hook exposed because they think catfish will see the hook.  This is simply not true.  In the muddy, dark waters at the bottom they will not know the difference.  In addition, many anglers hide the point of the hook to avoid snags.  Unlike fishing for bass, you will typically be casting your line and leaving it for a while.  There is not nearly as much reeling and casting, so there is less chance of getting snagged.

Watch Barometric Pressure

Changing weather patterns can often affect the feeding habits of catfish.  As a storm rolls in, the barometric pressure drops.  The lets the stomachs of the fish expand making them hungrier than usual.  Right before a storm is an excellent time to go after catfish.  However, right after the storm is one of the worst.  Catfish do not feed on the surface, so they do not get to enjoy all of the critters that get washed into the water in a rainstorm.  Catfish will hang out for a day or two and then resume normal feeding habits.

Pick Your Spot

As you will typically be casting your baited hook and letting it set on the bottom for a while, it is important that you pick the right spot to begin with.  I like to do research in advance to find the best spots for catfish. Catfish love hanging out in the channels found at the bottom of rivers and large lakes.  If you don’t know where these channels are, you can use certain types of fish finders.  You can also sometimes buy topographical maps of the bottom of large bodies of water. 

Catfish are like most fish in that they like structures.  Often you will find them just below a dam hiding in any still water they can find.  Blue catfish and channel catfish also like to hang out at the junction of two rivers or where a creek spills into a river.  The intersection of these two currents can make for perfect deep holes for catfish.  If you let your baited hook set for 30 minutes with no action, it is probably time to try a new spot.

Whether you like to fish at night, get up at the crack of dawn, or nurse a beer all afternoon, fishing for catfish can be a blast.  The best part about this type of fishing is that you can kick back and relax in your lawnchair while you wait for action.  Often these are the times we tell stories and enjoy the company of anyone with us.  It can get frustrating if you are short on catfish experience, so use these catfish fishing techniques to bring in more fish next time you go out.

Catfish Fishing Techniques

The great thing about catfish fishing techniques is that anyone can catch catfish, pretty much at any time. Fishing for catfish is a great way to spend the day.

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