How to Attract Catfish
There are many varieties of catfish, from the small white catfish (generally tipping the scales at three pounds) up to the wels catfish in Europe, specimens of which weigh as much as 1,000 pounds. Because of the variety of catfish breeds, there’s no right or wrong way to attract them. It is generally thought that catfish are scavengers, but their powerful sense of smell (stronger than that of a bloodhound) is paired with an aggressive nature something like a shark. Catfish are “scavenger-predators”, and their dual nature has been confusing fishermen for hundreds of years.
Two Schools of Thought
The great debate in attracting catfish centers on bait. People who want to play on the scavenger aspect of a catfish’s personality prefer prepared flavored bait. Sometimes called “stinkbait”, these baits mimic the appearance and smell of wounded or even dead prey. Stinkbait plays on the catfish’s scavenger personality more than its predator aspects — you’ll see some fishermen using dip baits, pastes, and “nuggets” of bait manufactured for just such a purpose. The other camp believes the best way to attract catfish is to use only natural baits, including live bait, cut bait, freshwater clams, shrimp, liversm, and good old nightcrawlers.
When it comes to selecting live bait or stinkbait, remember that no rule in fishing is worthwhile if it can’t be altered. If natural bait isn’t working, have some stinkbait as a backup. If your stinkbait isn’t working, make sure you have some nightcrawlers in your tackle just in case.
Different Types of Stinkbait
Proponents of stinkbait catfish attraction say that the scent trail left behind stinkbait works like any good chum, drawing catfish from all over the area as long as you use the correct fragrance. Here’s a quick breakdown of the most popular stinkbait methods.
Dip baits — These baits require a specific type of lure, most often built by the fisherman out of sponge. A good dip bait lure should have lots of holes or pockets to trap the smelly dip bait. Arm your dip bait sponge with a treble hook, dip your lure in a container of stinkbait (whether you buy it in the store or use a homemade recipe is up to you) and then cast from the shore or dropped into the water from the side of your boat.
Paste baits — Paste bait comes premixed in a tube and is squeezed out into any soft plastic lure. Ideally, your lure with paste bait should have a big pocket on the inside to hold the paste, and it should be armed with double or treble hooks.
Nuggets — These manufactured bits of stinkbait are best when they’re threaded directly onto a single hook. Alternatively, you could bait each spike of a treble hook.
Limburger cheese — Some catfish aficionados swear by this stinky cheese. Take a piece of limburger, wrap it in cheesecloth, tie the whole thing to a hook, and you’re ready to go.
When using any of these types of stinkbait, set up your rig on a leader behind a sinker, on a three-way swivel above a weight, or just directly on the main line.
Different Types of Natural Bait
Natural bait anglers have one big thing on their side — some fishermen just prefer to use bait as God intended, live and bloody, not bought in a big box store. Natural bait catfish angles generally use single hooks, although there is no reason why natural bait has to be on a single hook only. In fact, natural bait anglers can use the same variety of fishing gear as stinkbait users.
So what makes a good live bait? That depends completely on what is available in your neck of the woods — fresh is best. Generally, you’ll want to use a minnow or shad, bluegill where it is legal to do so, or pretty much any live bait you can fit on a single or double hook.
One way to pick natural bait to attract catfish is to figure out what species of catfish you want to attract. Here’s a breakdown of what different species of catfish love to eat:
Flathead catfish — many flathead catfish anglers prefer live bluegill, while anglers targeting big blue cats or channel cats often prefer live shad, minnows or menhaden.
Channel catfish — Any small aquatic life such as crawfish or aquatic insects.
Large catfish — Big cats tend to hit on different bait, and prefer crawfish or nightcrawlers.
Blue catfish — Mostly scavengers, blue catfish have been known to feed on bottom. Especially delicious to these cats are fish, frogs, crayfish and mussels.
Alternative Methods of Attracting Catfish
As with any great piece of fishing lore, the list of items that anglers use to try to lure and catch catfish is extensive. Here’s a list of alternative attraction methods that catfish anglers swear by:
- Ivory soap cut into small chunks and floated on the surface of the water
- Uncooked hotdogs cut into chunks
- canned cat food sprinkled in the water like a chum
- roadkill tied into a bag and weighted down to draw catfish to a feeding area
Almost all of these tactics depend on good science, namely that catfish have a strong sense of smell and tend to be attracted to heady scents. Trial and error is the name of the game when attempting to attract catfish, and you should use any method of attracting fish that has worked for you in the past.
No matter what method you use to attract catfish, remember that they are excellent hunters and scavengers — catfish have a built-in ability to steal bait, mostly because of the gentle way that they approach your bait. Catfish anglers tend to combat this weak approach with special reels that help you feel light bites — bait clickers and other devices can ferret out even the gentlest catfish. When attempting to attract catfish to your line, remember that there are no hard and fast rules for fish attraction, and that what works one day may be complete failure the next.