Do you struggle to rig live bait to your hook? Are you tired of your shad coming off the hook shortly after rigging it up? Knowing how to hook live bait for catfish properly is necessary if you want to start targeting more sizable catfish species like blues and flatheads. For instance, live baitfish start becoming a vital part of a catfish’s diet as they grow and mature over time.

This complete angler’s guide to catfishing will give you a general understanding of a catfish’s diet, what techniques you can use to capture live bait, and how to correctly rig up baitfish for your next fishing trip. Whether you are a new angler learning how to rig live bait or you’re a seasoned angler moving away from manufactured baits.

The Role of Live Bait in a Catfish’s Diet

First, let’s go over the critical role live baitfish play in a catfish’s diet. Unlike blue and channel catfish, flatheads are almost exclusively piscivorous once they reach around ten inches in length, according to studies conducted by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC).

Results of ODWC’s research indicate a blue catfish’s diet consists primarily of gizzard shad and white crappie. In contrast, flathead catfish consumed mostly freshwater drum and gizzard shad, in this study taken place in a single Oklahoma reservoir.

Methods You Can Use to Catch Live Bait

Me throwing a cast net to catch live bait for catfishing with the lake in the background.

Methods for catching various live bait species vary from region to region, so please make sure to check with your state’s conservation department before obtaining live bait for catfishing. Here are some techniques you can use to catch baitfish:

  • Trapping
  • Cast net
  • Dip net
  • Rod and reel fishing

How to Hook Live Bait for Catfish

Method One: Hook Below the Dorsal Fin

This technique is my favorite for panfish like bluegill and sunfish. Using this technique will keep your baitfish alive for several hours of fishing.

To hook a fish below the dorsal fin, follow these steps:

  1. Locate the dorsal (top) fin and spinal cord of the fish.
  2. Push your hook’s point through the fish’s skin between the dorsal fin and the spinal cord. Generally, I like to hook them about a half-inch below the dorsal fin.
  3. Push your point through until the top of the fish is seated onto the hook’s bend.

Method Two: Hook Through the Mouth and Up Its Nose

Specifically, this method works well for hooking minnows or small gizzard shad. Read these following steps to rig up small baitfish effectively:

  1. Put the hook’s point in the fish’s mouth.
  2. Direct the hook point up and push it through the fish’s nose, directly in front of its eyes.

Alternatively, anglers will push the hook through both the bottom and upper lip of the minnow; however, I find the minnows die faster when you hook both of their lips shut. So, make sure to use this technique only to push the hook through the minnow’s upper lip if you want them to live longer.

Method Three: Hook Through the Fish’s Head and Back

This technique is fantastic for rigging up shads around two to three inches in length. Follow these directions to keep shad on your hook, cast after cast:

  1. First, push the hook’s point through the fish’s head, past its gills. Now, the hook should be protruding perpendicularly out of its head.
  2. Next, flip the hook so the eyelet points towards the fish’s tail. The shank should now be parallel with the fish, with the hook’s tip pointing towards the fish’s body.
  3. Lastly, punch the hook through the fish’s back.

Pro Tip: I like to use this method when fishing with an offset circle or kahle hook.

Method Four: Double Hook Setup for Large Baitfish

This rig is great when you’re fishing with larger baitfish around nine inches in length. Additionally, you can adjust this rig to fit the size of whatever fish species you are using as bait. Whether you are using freshwater drum, bullhead catfish, white crappie, or gizzard shad.

Here’s how to hook live bait with a double hook rig:

  1. First, cut off your leader line to your desired length.
  2. Next, attach a circle hook to your leader line, using a snell knot.
  3. Now, go ahead and thread your second circle hook onto your leader line.
  4. Then, space your hooks apart to fit the length of your bait.
  5. Once you have your second hook where you want it, go ahead and snell it onto your leader line.
  6. After you tie your snell knot, go ahead and attach your leader line to your barrel swivel.
  7. Now, you are ready to bait your hook.
  8. So, with the circle hook at the end of your leader line, put the hook’s point in the fish’s mouth and push it up through the fish’s nose.
  9. Then, take the second hook and attach it behind the fish’s dorsal fin, above its spine.

What’s the Best Way to Hook Live Bait?

As you can see, there are many ways to rig up live bait for catfishing. So, it all comes down to your personal preference when determining how to hook live bait for catfish. For example, if you want a more natural presentation, I recommend either hooking your baitfish through its dorsal fin or mouth. Or, if you are fishing with baitfish larger than nine inches, try utilizing the double hook setup.

What’s your favorite method to use when hooking live bait for catfishing? Let us know in the comments below! Did you find these techniques helpful? Consider hitting that share button.