5 Best Bait Options For Catching Catfish

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Hey there my fellow fishing enthusiasts and welcome to my post covering my 5 best bait options for catching catfish this year. Now I have to admit to being a traditional bait user for most of my fishing life as I like to find a good spot and then see what I can attract. Of course there is maybe not the excitement of attracting and working a fish as there is with lures, however it can be just as much fun for sure.

However, when it comes to Catfish and their feeding habits, there are other aspects to it such as how they find their food as well matching the bait to the location and presenting it in a manner that will make it attractive to them as well.

So let’s check out some good live bait options for Catfish below…

What is Livebait?

For the purposes of this post I am going to give the name live bait to anything that is, or has at some point been alive (often referred to as ‘natural bait’). This means that it can actually be alive (often kept in a live bait well for example), fresh but dead or even frozen. This is opposed to lures, which are artificial creations designed to mimic live bait.

Obviously the type you choose will vary based on local conditions however when it comes to using live bait, I would stick to the following two rules:

  1. Use local bait if possible – Catfish are found in lakes and rivers all over the world so there can be a variation on what is available to them within their local habitats.
  2. It is often dark down there – Catfish live on the bottom of waterways in conditions that are often murky hence they tend to find their prey using their whiskers rather than eyesight, so something smelly is always a good choice.
  3. Go to a local bait shop – In most cases, the local bait shop will sell bait that is good for local conditions. If in doubt, ask the shop keeper or a local.

Examples of commonly used live bait for Catfish includes:

  • Shad
  • Carp
  • Drum
  • Perch
  • Bluegill
  • Herring
  • Crawfish
  • Shrimp

That said, Catfish are also well-known as being opportunistic when it comes to their eating habits meaning they will eat just about anything dead or alive such as frogs, mice, snakes, insects and anything else they can find as well. And as we will see below, not everything has to be fish based either.

best bait for catfish - bait ball

Bait Pros

  • You can match exactly to what fish eat naturally
  • Generally easy to use
  • Often cheaper than lures
  • Most fish will take a bait
  • You can cast and let the bait sit in the water (i.e. no need to cast and retrieve)
  • Bait is great for kids (meaning they can at least catch something)

Bait Cons

  • It is smelly and gets all over your clothes, tackle box and everything else take with you
  • Will deteriorate in the sun
  • Fish tend to swallow the hook more with bait (making catch and release more difficult)
  • You can lose a lot more to smaller or vermin species
  • Bait can come off hook easier in faster moving water
  • You need to make more tools with you such as a knife and cutting board

My recommended livebait options for Catfish

Based on my own experience and research, let’s have a look at the main 5 options I have listed above in more detail:

Chicken Livers

As the name suggests, chicken livers are exactly that – the livers from chickens. And although they go against one of my golden live bait rules in that you should match what is found in local waters, these are some of the best bait you can use for catfish.

They are smelly and hold their colour and scent for quite a while under the water and for some reason, Catfish can’t leave them alone. Granted they can be a little hard to keep on the hook – they are slimy little suckers – but once you master that, then you are on a winner.


Every now and then, myself and a few mates head out to a local dam to chase big freshwater Cod and the best bait for them is Catfish. Hence, the first thing we need to do is catch them first. And our go to bait – earthworms. In fact, despite the abundance of baitfish (such as Bass and Yellowbelly) in the dam, the local bait shops only sell earthworms for getting Catfish.

So for that reason, I have included it here. We put about 4 or 5 on a hook with a float so that the worms sit just off the bottom and bang! We always get tow or three within about 15 minutes.

best bait for catfish - catfish in water


Considered a pest or vermin type species in many areas, Carp actually make very good bait for many types of Catfish. They are an invasive species and not good for eating at all leading to many local fishing authorities banning their use for anything that may lead to them being introduced to other non inhabited areas.

For this reason, you may need to do some research before you use them for bait however if allowable, they are a naturally oily and smelly fish with fillets that give off a great scent for attracting cats – and one of the best for blue and channel species in particular.


Ok, so I have included three in one here (and you could insert any other type of small baitfish) as depending on where you are, these are the fish that not only share natural habitats with Catfish, but can also be found in shallow and deep water alike – making them a good option for summer when they head to cooler, deeper waters or winter when they come shallower.

They are found naturally in the United States east of the Rocky Mountains from coastal Virginia to Florida, west to Texas and northern Mexico, and north to western Minnesota and western New York. This range makes them a common live bait across a number of regions as well as for those chasing Largemouth, Smallmouth or Striped Bass, Trout, Northern pike and Yellow Perch as well.

In my research however it is often recommended that although it does make it harder to keep them on the hook, that you use dead fish as they tend to have a little more odour to attract Catfish in murky waters.


And finally, the last on this list is Crawfish. These are popular due to the fact that they form a massive part of the natural diet of Catfish in a good number of locations. They feed on these predominately in the spring when they move to shallower waters during the pre-spawn and spawning phase of their year.

And again, unlike other species, Crawfish for Catfishing work best when they are dead as they produce more odour – in fact the longer you can leave them, the better

What else should you be looking at?

As you look to source and use your own livebait, below are some things that you may want to consider when using bait for Catfish:

Where the fish are – We have touched on this above however the type of bait you choose can depend on where you are trying to catch your fish. For example if you are working in shallow waters, then crayfish would wok well. Keep in mind here that unlike lures, you are generally not casting and retrieving a bait so you will need to match your bait to the species that are found in that area.

Weight requirements – Bait weight, usually determined by the size or amount of bait you use, is important for a number of reasons including:

  • Heavier baits can be cast a little further – this may include rigging with a sinker.
  • Heavier baits will anchor and drag on the bottom more effectively (which is good if you are in a kayak or on a boat).
  • Lighter weights are easier to jig and ‘flick’ around.
  • Lighter baits will float better than their heavier counterparts – which is where insects can work.

Again, do your research into the environment that you are fishing in. If you are working in shallower waters, then a light weighted bait will work very well. Heaver options may be needed in deeper areas however they will ‘catch’ on the bottom a lot more often and fall off if you are drifting.

best bait for catfish - boys fishing

Rod specifications – The next consideration (and a very important one) is to ensure that any bait size you use fits within the specification details of your fishing rod for Catfishing. In some cases, rod specs include a tackle weight which is the highest designated weight that the rod can handle.

In most cases, however, you are going to be looking at this from the power rating of the rod. This is effectively a measure of how ‘bendy’ it is. Light power rods bend with little force and heavy ones need a lot of pressure to bend. So, in short:

  • Light – very bendy – even whippy – will bend a lot with even the smallest fish. Use these for light baits only.
  • Medium – needs a bit more pressure to bend – In general, this is a good measure for all-round use with light to medium-weighted baits for Catfish fishing.
  • Heavy – takes a lot to make it bend – I would probably avoid these for Catfish fishing unless you are working in particularly deep water.

Tackle Requirements

In general, the main rule of thumb when it comes to using bait is to match your hook to its size. As Catfish have big mouths I would err on the side of a larger hook as well meaning you will avoid getting caught up with smaller species.

Stick to a 2/0 to 6/0 hook with a bait size to match with the hook set through the snout (or head of crayfish) on a running sinker or running float rig.

Local knowledge – As mentioned a number of times in this post, when I discuss live bait options for any fishing type, I always say to check with the locals to see what is found in the local system. The idea behind this is that you want to match your bait to what it is that the fish eat naturally.


And there it is – my post covering the best bait for Catfish to munch on this year. I hope it has been helpful and as usual, please let me know of your experiences with them.

Also, please do not hesitate to comment below if you have any questions, concerns, corrections, or would like me to check anything else out for you.

Until next time

Have fun


best bait for catfish - pinterest

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Hi, I'm Paul

I am a passionate fishing, camping and four wheeled driving hobbyist who researches, tests and educates around issues and equipment relevant to them.

I am by no means a professional however my passion is to assist you in making informed decisions about buying and using awesome gear that will give you the best chance of success at whatever you are doing for the best price.

Please get in touch if you have any questions.