When it comes to catfish bait, there are few substances on the face of the Earth that haven’t been tried by somebody at some time. Here, we have tried to compile the ten most interesting and most effective recommendations based on input from the Hook & Bullet staff and their acquaintances from various catfish areas across the country. Some of these suggestions might give you pause and make you wonder if collecting and storing the bait is worth the effort, but we guarantee these recommendations will get results — if you have the stomach for them. All you’ll need to make these work is a hook and a strong constitution. As you read this list, it’s important to remember that catfish are predators, they like to eat meat, and they need to smell it from a long way off to come running to your hook.
1. Native Fish
This is the suggestion that gets tossed out most frequently when folks inquire about catfish bait, and there’s a reason: it works. Pulling the local baitfish out of whatever river you’re fishing in and turning them around as bait is a dynamite method for getting a lunker to bite. Obviously, you’ll want to gauge the size of the bait fish to the size of the catfish you’re chasing. Netting or line fishing works just fine for collecting whatever it is you’re after and it always pays to let them ripen a bit in the sun before utilizing them as bait. Try to handle them as little as possible; you want them to smell like the river, not the fisherman.
Normally, processed stuff doesn’t work too well as catfish bait, but SPAM is considered to be the exception to the rule. The really nice thing about this option is that if it doesn’t work out as bait in your particular fishing hole, you’ve got lunch handy for yourself. Let the portion you intend to use as bait get some aroma by leaving it on the gunwale or sitting in the sun on a stump. When it’s ready, slime it on a bait or jam it in a containment bait. Catfish like fat and meat as much as you do, so give it a try.
3. Wet Cat Food
This one is perhaps most appealing because wet cat food comes in cans that can be kept in the boat or tackle box without spoiling. Since cats prefer rather aromatic chow, canned cat food is basically ready to go when you open the can. Jam some of the stuff in your favorite type of containment bait and you’re ready to go. Canned cat food is pretty affordable and available, so purchase a few different varieties to determine what will work and what won’t in your particular fishing hole. Oh, if you own a cat, you can always feed Fluffy the stuff the catfish won’t touch.
4. Dry Dog Food
This is a pleasantly not-gross option and can be bought in ten-pound bags, so if it works, you’ll have plenty. Get the stuff that claims a higher meat or protein content (it tends to be stinkier and holds together better in the water) and shove as much as you can in a containment bait. The only downside to this choice is that the pellets do dissolve, and success can be a little hit and miss. Some catfish will go for dry dog food all day, other populations will turn their nose up at it every time. Best of luck.
5. Last Year’s Deer
Yeah, you read it right. When you butcher a deer, or any large animal, there are a few parts, pieces, and small hunks that don’t get used. Stick the stuff in an old coffee can and put it in the freezer until spring. When it’s time to go out for catfish, take out the can and let the contents “mature” a little in the sun. The great thing about this option is that the leftover hunks from butchering are often full of sinew and gristle, which means they stay on a treble hook great. There is also some pride to be had knowing you’ve used every last bit of that buck.
Just when you thought they weren’t good for anything, here’s a purpose. If you live out in the country, or even in the city with some outbuildings or a garage, you may trap a few mice every year. Instead of shrieking and getting the neighbor to empty the trap, try saving the little dead guys in the freezer and bring them out when it’s time to stalk catfish. This is the perfect bait for a big lunker and there is nothing more realistic to put on a treble hook. Handle this bait with care, and maybe some rubber gloves. Rodents can be a little icky.
Really, if you were a catfish, wouldn’t you want to eat a frog? These little green guys are the Happy Meal of any given river and it’s hard to go wrong putting one on a hook and trying your luck. Yeah, sure, it seems a bit mean to use these things as bait sometimes, but remember, if you found it in the same river you’re fishing in, chances are the catfish was going to gobble it anyway. Why not find a silver lining in an otherwise pointless tragedy?
8. Crawdads / Crayfish
Here we once again have a native species serving as bait, and it works phenomenally. If these guys are already in the river or pond you’re fishing, the catfish will never know what hit him. Their antennas and little limbs make them quite lifelike when you pull them around on the end of your line, and they can be netted for easy collection. Use them whole for big fish and torn in half for smaller prey.
9. Great Green Gobs of Gopher Guts
Hey, at least we didn’t propose mutilated monkey meat or itsy-bitsy birdy feet. This suggestion comes from a few anglers along the Missouri who have to shoot quite a number of gophers, ground squirrels, and prairie dogs every year. Instead of leaving the carcasses for the birds, they’ve taken to using a few chunks, properly seasoned in the summer heat, for catfish bait. Sure, it sounds pretty gross, and it most assuredly is, but some guys will do anything to catch a catfish. Once again, we would suggest employing some rubber gloves when handling this stuff.
10. Last Week’s Fish Guts
You’ve actually been throwing out all the fish guts all these years? Well, if that’s the case, you’re casting aside a fantastic resource. Yes, we know, there’s a reason you don’t want a can of rotten fish guts sitting around. We understand that sort of stuff belongs in the trash. The thing is, though, a big hunk of rotten fish guts is like a bacon double cheeseburger to a catfish, so figure out a way to keep some on hand. If you can catch one catfish and then use the guts from that…well, you get the idea, it’s like the fishing version of a perpetual motion machine.
Reel ’em in
As you may have noticed, the preceding isn’t your average list of suggestions for catfish bait, but the road to catfish greatness is paved in some awfully gross stuff. It’s not for the faint of heart. You’ve got to have guts, literally and figuratively, a lot of time on your hands, and some really powerful cleaning chemicals if you hope to be allowed back in the house after preparing your bait. Good luck, good fishing, and don’t be afraid to rub some Vicks in your nose to kill the stink. Successful catfish fishing is a dirty business.