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How to catch catfish

The great thing about catfish fishing is that catfish are everywhere.  The second great thing about catfish fishing is that catfish can grow very large.  Some of the largest catfish caught have weighed over 200lbs.  The demographics of catfish and thier large size make them a very popular sports-fish all over the world.  Their are a variety of techniques used to land a large catfish and I hope to shed some light on some fishing advice below.   

Channel Catfish

Channel Catfish

Catfish Facts

It is important to understand the anatomy of catfish in order to successfully fish for them.  One important organ of the catfish is their barbels or “whiskers”.  Catfish generally spend most of their time at the bottom of lakes, ponds or rivers.  The visibility in these locations is generally very limited which is why they have barbels.  They use their barbels to feel for prey that may be slightly below or to the side of them.  They can also be used to help them determine the size of a hole in a tree trunk that they may want to swim into.  Some catfish can actually use their barbels to “walk” on the pond floor or to help hold themselves in place in a moving current.  

Catfish have an incredible sense of smell as well.  They have about four times the smelling power of a Walley or Bass.  This also can be used to narrow in on their prey.  Keep this fact in mind when fishing for catfish.  Some anglers will actually “chum” for catfish which is a process of lowering a onion or burlap bag filled with decaying fish over the side of their boat.  This will draw in any nearby catfish.  Use baits that capitalize on the catfishes sense of smell.

Catfish prefer cooler waters and the larger catfish can be found in the deepest areas of the lake or river where the coolest water is found.   

Almost all catfish have a large bony head and small swim bladder which allows them to easily sink the bottom of the water.  Like Striped bass they do not have teeth, rather they suck in their prey by creating a vacuum by quickly opening their large mouths. 

Some catfish also have spines behind their pectoral fins so be very careful when handling them.  Some anglers say that it almost feels like a bee sting who have been pricked by one of their spines. 

Catfish has smaller eyes and rely more on their sense of smell and their barbels to help navigate for their food.  The color of your bait is less relevant to the vibration of smell that it is making when fishing for cats. 

Shiner

Shiner

How to Catch Catfish

As stated above catfish are generally found at the bottom of ponds, lakes and rivers.  This being said you want to rig you line such that your bait is near the bottom or resting on the bottom.  Different species of catfish prefer their bait to be either directly on the bottom or a few feet above such that they can ambush their prey. 

  • The first catfish setup that I use places the bait a few feet from the bottom.  It is referred to as a three way rig.  This setup can be achieved by tying a weight to the end of your line and then a few feet up from weight create a dropper loop.  Attach an eagle claw or similar hook to the dropper loop.  Bait your hook with either a shiner, bluegill, shad or similar bait.  I often spend my morning Bluegill Fishing in order to catch a few small panfish for bait before I fish for cats.
  • The next rig allows the bait a little more freedom to swim where it wants while still keeping it near the bottom.  It is referred to as the sliding bottom rig.  You can use an egg sinker or similar sinker.  Start by threading an egg sinker with your fishing line then attache a swivel to the end of your line.  Attach an eagle claw or similar hook to the other end of the swivel.  This will allow the line to flow freely once the egg sinker is sitting at the bottom of the pond or river.
  • The third setup that I use is more of a conventional setup.  Attach an eagle claw hook to the end of your line and then a few feet above the hook create a loop in the line and wrap the loop around a teardrop weight.   

I would recommend fishing in areas with slow moving current.  Bridges make an excellent place to catch catfish for a few reasons.  Generally their is moving water running underneath it which will supply catfish with a steady supply of bait-fish.  The second reason is that the cover of the bridge creates a shady area so it is easier for the catfish to sneak up on their prey.  Keep in mind that catfish are nocturnal so they feed at night.  The slight shade the a bridge offers is sometimes just enough to keep the bite steady throughout the day.  Use any of the rigs mentioned above to drop a line over the incoming side of the bridge and let the current drift the bait back to any potential catfish. 

Use bait that is about one fourth to one eighth the size of the catfish you are after.  If you are searching for larger catfish then use larger bait.  Some bait to use would be, shiners, pinhead, frogs, craw-fish, sunfish, shad or worms.   

Catfish Fishing

Catfish Fishing

Where to Find Catfish

In a single word, everywhere.  The catfish is one of the most successful feeders on the aquatic planet.  They have spread and inhabited just about every freshwater and brackish water areas with the exception of extreme conditions like Antarctica.  So any pond will do.  Different species of catfish are found in only certain areas however.  You can find the larger catfish inhabiting large rivers where their is a plentiful supply of food.  Large cats can also be found in the deep holes of ponds and lakes.     

When is the Best Time to Catch Catfish

As stated above catfish are nocturnal, so your best chances to catch a catfish would be in the early dawn or late evening.  In regards to the time of the year it depends on your exact location, but as long as their is not ice on the pond, lake or river you have a chance at catching one.  Some anglers will make a night of fishing for catfish, bringing a stash of live bait and plenty of batteries for adequate lighting.

2 Responsesso far.

  1. Joseph Reddaway says:

    I’m a new fisher, i started about two weeks ago. I was reading over this. I mainly fish at the Ohio/Eire Canal at the Cleveland Metro-parks. The water is about 5 feet deep and has a very slow moving current. Would this be a good place to catch cat fish?

  2. lamar says:

    i use to catch catfish is bluegill we cut them in half and we use egle hook so when u get one it dont get off a lot i now so much iam 11 years old how smart does tht tell u

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