5 Tips for Catching Catfish

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Whether you are an experienced fisherman or just starting out, learning how to catch Catfish can be both a fun and rewarding experience. Catfish are an abundant species located in many – if not most – waterways around the world. And along those lines some will tell you that you cannot help but catch them whilst others are adamant that they are not as easy to get a hold of in spite of their abundance.

So, with that welcome to my 5 tips for catching catfish this year as we see what we can come up with to assist you in getting them onto the hook and into the net…

What are Catfish?

Catfish are a predominately ground dwelling fish that are found in every continent around the world (except Antarctica). They are a scaleless species with most exhibiting prominent whiskers (called barbels) that resemble a cat – hence the name. They range from extremely large Mekong Giant Catfish to much smaller species that can be found in domestic aquariums.

Distinguished by their large, flat heads and barbels hanging from their mouths, Catfish are found in lakes, rivers, estuaries and even the ocean. They feed on the bottom in all water conditions and due to the sheer size of their subspecies range, they can be found with large variations in weight, fin placement and shapes with some even posses a venomous sting.

5 tips for catching catfish - catfish

My experience

To be honest, when it comes to Catfish, I probably fall into the ‘just happen to catch them whilst chasing other species’ category and we usually throw them back.

That said, we do sometimes venture out to a local dam where we chase large Cod. Catfish fillets are a particularly good bait here and in this case we catch them on a smallish hook with earth worms. We use a float on the line so that the bait sits just off the bottom and out of the mossy weed that sits there.

Interestingly, the type we catch here are called Eel-Tailed Catfish and are the same species as the ones we also catch in our local salt water estuaries.

Tips for catching Catfish

Ok, so let’s get into some of my tips for catching Catfish below…

1. Fish at night

Although they can and do get caught at any time of the day, Catfish by nature are nocturnal so if you can get out to your favourite fishing grounds at night, then your chances of catching a whisker’d monster are going to significantly increase. They also hold the advantage at night as they can use their whiskers to locate live bait as well.

This is especially useful in the summer months as like many fish species, they move from deeper water to the shallows at night to feed.

2. Research your fishing grounds

This one is definitely a tip for all types of fishing but especially important for Catfish where water movement and quality can play a large part in where they will actually be. And although they can be found in a large array of water types, they do prefer slower moving water so when you are doing your research, consider the following:

  • Water temperature – How fish behave in different temperature water is relative to how cold or water the water is on average. Think of this as just like us humans – a water temp of 45 degrees might be considered warm for a fish in a lake that freezes over in winter. Alternatively, in warmer climates (such as Florida for example) this might be considered cold meaning fish are less active feed wise. As above, Catfish will come to shallower water in the early morning or evening but tend to go deeper when the weather is warmer during the day.
  • Water clarity – Although they prefer clearer waters, it is true that Catfish can be found in all water types from crystal clear to murky. Try and find out where the water is of better quality in the waterway – especially if you plan to eat your catch.
  • Structure – Obviously being such a common fish species, Catfish can and do survive in a number of different structures. They do however prefer places with slow moving waters so look for areas where there are deeper holes, gullies, underwater substrates or other structures such as fallen logs etc.
  • What else is in the water? – We will discuss this next, however if you are wondering what bait or lures to use then you will need to check out what is in the water naturally. It is no good tying your favourite lure onto the line if it doesn’t match the type of live bait that shares the water with your target species. See what is found locally and match your fresh bait or lures accordingly.
  • Ask a local – Want to know all of the above – ask a local. Lake or riverside tackle and bait shops are a good starting point here.
5 tips for catching catfish - man with large catfish

3. Stick to bait

Again, as with most species, Catfish will take a large range of baits and lures. However, for best success I strongly suggest sticking to bait on this occasion. Most seasoned Catfishers will tell you that they get their best results with bait – usually the stronger or stinkier the better – especially if the water is murky.

Basically, anything that will attract a fish here is the right type to use – but as above, regardless of where you sit in the old fresh bait vs lures debate – if you can match what is found locally, then your chances of a good catch will increase. Otherwise, Chicken Livers or Earth Worms will work for you as well.

Oh, and I have always found that if you can keep it just off the bottom – such as with a float on your line – then you will have a much better chance of attracting your prey.

4. Take a second rod

Catfish are generally slow moving and unless you manage land your bait right on a large nest, then they are traditionally not a bite-a-minute type of fish. They also do not ‘hit’ a bait and go on a large run either.

Due to this, I recommend taking the numbers game approach in that the more baits you can get into the water, the more chance you have of getting a bite. Set the drag a little lighter in case a bigger model does go for a swim and then light the campfire and wait.

Note: Some areas restrict the number of rods that can be used by a single person so always check local regulations prior to casting that second or third line.

And whilst we are talking about fishing gear, no matter what you are chasing, always do the following:

  • Maintain your fishing reel – Make sure it is clean with a good quality line. Rinse the reel off after every use with a full clean and oil after each season.
  • Clean your rod – Again, rinse your rod after each session and check for any crack or breakages – especially in the o-rings and guides. Remove the reel and clean the seat, screws and handle every month or so as well.
  • Use new tackle – Blunt hooks means no fish. I am a strong advocate of replacing your tackle after every trip. And whilst this is not as important in fresh water fishing as it is in salt, keep in mind that hooks are dragged over rocks, logs and along the bottom meaning they can go blunt even if you don’t catch anything.
  • Check your toolsTools should also be rinsed after each use however this is not always done. And trust me there is nothing worse than getting out there and finding out your pliers are rusty or knife blunt. Clean and lubricate tools and sharpen your knife every month or so.
5 tips for catching catfish - man with large catfish

5. Move around

And finally, as we mentioned above Catfish like to congregate in deeper holes etc. in lakes and streams and unless the water is really warm, also tend to not move around as much. So unlike other faster moving species, if there are no bites in your chosen location, then sitting around and waiting for the fish to swim into your area is not generally going to work for you.

So if you are not getting anything then try a different bait. If still nothing then move somewhere else. Again speak to the locals as they can generally tell you where the fish will be at certain times of the year and where to go if they are not in the spot you thought they would be.


So there you have it, my 5 Catfish fishing tips for those looking to get amongst these whiskered beauties this year. As always, these are not going to guarantee you a catch, however they should give you a little more chance of success that you may not have otherwise had.

Have you tried anything else that has worked well, or not so well for you – or of course have a different opinion than above? If so, please comment below and we can have a chat.

As always

Have fun


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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.