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How to Fish for Catfish

Ian Fortey by Ian Fortey Updated on July 2, 2020. In Fishing

Fishing for catfish is not like fishing for other fish. You can use many of the same techniques, but they’re not always the best. If you are serious about catching catfish, you need to put in the time and effort. That means understanding the best techniques and using the best gear. That doesn’t mean you have to spend a lot of money. It just means you need to be well prepared. Learning how catfish think will help your success. They can be quirky fish. And they definitely have unusual appetites. The more you know about them, the more successful you’ll be.

Catfish Types

There are over 30 species of catfish that you can catch in the United States alone. Most anglers are only looking for The Big Three. Blue catfish, channel catfish, and flathead catfish are the top priorities. Knowing which kind of catfish you’re going after can alter your approach.

The technique for catching each of these catfish is not the same. Blue catfish, for instance, can grow well over 100 pounds. The way you catch one of those is much different from how you might catch a 10 pound channel catfish.

Catfish Rigs

There are endless rigs that anglers use to catch catfish. Some definitely work better than others. It’s often a trial-and-error process to discover which rig will work best. It also depends on the kind of catfish you’re looking for. Carolina rigs or Santee rigs are very popular for catfish. Channel catfish and flathead catfish respond well to these rigs.

Circle hooks are a necessity if you plan to catch and release catfish. Treble hooks are good if you are looking to eat what you catch. Other hook styles can work depending on the rig setup you choose.

Catfish Rods

A good catfish rod is long and strong. Focus on rods that are 7 feet long or more. They also need to be durable as catfish put up a good fight. A trophy blue catfish can’t be reeled in if your rod snaps. You want to make sure you have a tough rod to handle a fish like that.

Catfish Reels

Just like getting the proper rod, you need the proper reel to catch catfish. You need a reel that has room on the spool for a high pound test. It’s good to have extra features as well, such as a bait clicker and a solid drag system. Baitcasting and spinning reels both can be used for catfishing.

Catfish Fishing Bait

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Nothing causes more debate in the catfishing world than bait. Many anglers swear by their own favorite kind. Some anglers will even make their own bait at home. There are benefits to nearly any kind of catfish bait that people might use. From live bait, to lures, to more exotic things. Some catfish anglers will even use hot dogs or soap. The best way to determine what works is to try many things. It’s a trial and error process and there is no right answer for the best catfish bait.

Some popular catfish bait include:

  • Chicken livers
  • Threadfin shad, skipjack herring or any cut bait
  • Punch bait
  • Dip bait
  • Stink bait
  • Nightcrawlers or other live bait
  • Bluegill and other bait fish

Catfish Fishing Techniques

There are several catfish fishing techniques that can help catch many catfish. How you plan to catch fish alters based on a few factors such as:

Time of Year

Depending on where you live, you could find catfish any time of year. Typically, catfish want to avoid cold water. That means fishing in the winter will not be a good choice if you live further north. That said, blue catfish will remain active even in winter months.

The spring time is often best for catfish fishing. As spring moves into summer catfish start spawning. The fall is also a great time to catch catfish.

Time of Day

Some catfish anglers swear by night fishing when it comes to catching catfish. Realistically, you can catch catfish at any time of day. There are some clear benefits to fishing during the day rather than at night. For instance, you’re less likely to knock things over by accident during the day. And catfish are very active early in the morning. But at night you may have fewer insects to deal with. In many ways it comes down to personal preference.

Fishing Style

Bank Fishing

When fishing from the bank of a river a Santee rig and some kind of cutbait like skipjack is a great choice. Cast your fishing line out to where you want to go, reel in the slack and simply wait for a bite. This is the most basic method of catfish fishing. It’s a solid choice for blue catfish, channel cats, and flathead catfish.

Trolling

Some catfish anglers prefer to troll for catfish. This is the technique where you draw the line in the water and let it drift behind you in a boat. This is especially popular if you’re fishing from a kayak. You can also work from larger boats as well. The difference between this and bank fishing is the movement involved. When you fish from the bank you let your bait sit until the catfish shows interest. When you’re trolling the bait moves with you to catch the fish’s attention with movement.

Noodling

Catfish noodling is a very unusual method of catching fish. This is not a typical fishing technique. It’s not always the safest or easiest method. The difference between fishing and noodling is that you don’t use gear for noodling. The fish is caught with your bare hands. It’s also not legal everywhere.

The idea behind noodling is that you have to find a catfish hole. These are often around rocks and under logs in the water. You reach in with your hand and grab the fish. The potential danger is that there may be something else in that hole. If you’re in water where gators or snapping turtles live, it could be disastrous. If you’re interested in this technique never try it alone. Some catfish noodlers have become entangled in debris and drowned.

Yo-Yo Reel

A yo-yo fishing reel looks like a small metal wheel with line strung on it. Kind of like a very narrow reel for a fishing pole. You can string one of these over a branch. The entire device works thanks to a spring in the center of the wheel. The spring has a nylon trot line attached to it. The other end has a barrel swivel. All you need to do is put a hook on the swivel. Hang it from a tree and drop the line into the water. Bait with whatever catfish baits you like. Even dip baits and live bait will work. As soon as a fish takes the bait, the spring will set the hook. It’s simple and effective.

Jugging

Catfish jugging is an unusual but effective technique for catching catfish. The process involves rigging up a float in the water. Anything from a 2-litre soft drink bottle to a piece of pool noodle will work. The fish don’t seem to mind or notice the floats. Many anglers prefer the noodles.

You need to tie a fishing line around the bottle or the noodle. The loose end of the line has a baited treble hook and a weight on it. It works with any kind of catfish bait from cut bait to chicken liver. Then you toss it in the water. The best method is to rig up several of them. You can toss them in the water and then watch to see if any of them get bites. The float will show whether you’ve gotten a hit.

Some anglers use trot line rather than monofilament fishing line for catfish jugs. Trot line is made of cotton. It’s still strong enough to catch some fish, though. The important difference is that it will dissolve over time. That’s good if you lose one of the jugs in the water. You don’t have to worry about the line entangling any animals and killing them.

Despite how simple this sounds, it can be very effective. You can catch catfish that weigh between 30 and 40 pounds easily with catfish jugging. Sometimes even 60 lb blue catfish. It’s an exciting method because you don’t have contact with the line. Unlike when you get a bite on your rod, you can’t get a feel for what you might have on a jug. That means you could have a small fish or a big fish. You never know until you check the line.

Limblining

This technique involves tying a line to a branch overhanging the water of rivers or ponds. Use circle hooks and a braided line with chicken livers or your choice of bait. When it’s ready, set it into the water. It’s a bit like jugging, only you are using the natural landscape to help you. Many catfish like to hang out under overhanging branches. That makes them ideal places to set up lines for catching them. Watch for the branch to shake to see when you’ve set the hook. This is a great method for catching flathead catfish and channel cats.

Set-Poling

Set-poling is essentially the same as limblining. The big difference here is that you set up an artificial limb. You sharpen a pole and plant it into the bank. A line is tied on to the end of the pool and hangs into the water. You need to make sure it’s sturdy enough to handle when a fish bites. This may not be ideal for catching blue catfish. However, for smaller catfish like channel cats and flathead catfish, it can work.

As you can see, there is a lot to take in when it comes to fishing for catfish. Even though there’s a lot to consider, it doesn’t have to be complicated. There are many variables, but not all of them will always be relevant. Once you have a feel for what works best for you, it can become a simple process. When you have your rod, reel and bait down, the rest comes naturally.

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