We all have our “swear by” bait for catfish. For me, it is chicken liver, live shad or my favorite recipe: cherry chicken – raw chicken marinated and refrigerated for several days in cherry Kool-Aid. Dough balls of every variety are always popular with anglers, and one woman even tells me that spitting on night crawlers is her go-to bait of choice.
While none of these baits are breaking news, we like them because they work.
On occasion, we run out of the tried-and-true favorites and must resort to whatever is available. Experimenting with items we can throw on the hook just out of curiosity is also part of the fun.
I’ve run into anglers who have turned to all kinds of odd items on a whim for bait like KFC’s potato wedges, cooked turkey tails, freezer-burned salmon roe chunks, Starburst, moldy Swiss cheese, chicken drumsticks, scented candles, Big John’s baked beans, stale blueberry glazed doughnuts, Slim Jim’s, goldfish and jelly beans. Some folks even use opossum, though I am still trying to figure out how this one goes on the hook.
Though the most common catfish – channel, blue and flathead catfish – have varied preferences in their natural diets, they are all opportunistic feeders. This means that if bait is enticing enough, they will not discriminate.
Sometimes you just get lucky with the experimental items, but we found 10 secret (and proven) catfish baits you didn’t know about that have the staying power to attract catfish time after time.
1. Cow’s Blood
It turns out that hefty blue catfish are wildly attracted to cows blood. This secret bait comes to me from a small corner of Arkansas and has proven to pull in large blue catfish averaging 35 pounds from the Sulphur River.This requires taking a 2.5 gallon bucket to the butcher (or slaughterhouse if there is one in your area) to fill with cow’s blood. Once it settles, the blood coagulates into a gelatinous-type consistency. Working well in rivers, lakes and ponds, this bait proves most successful for night fishing by the bank. In the daytime, brim will quickly eat your bait. To use: Grab small chunks (about 1-inch thick), and put into light netting or pantyhose to hold it together. Secure at the top with a knot or twist-tie. Thread onto your hook.
2. Green Apple Bubble Gum
Green apple bubble gum has a strong flavor that instantly appeals to catfish. Channel catfish, with their evolved sense of smell are the prime catch. Since most gums come pre-packaged, it is convenient bait that is easy to use and transport. It’s also not as smelly or as messy as stink bait. Beyond its ability to attract large catfish, bubble gum is preferred by the anglers who use it because it firmly stays on the hook. Gum even helps the catfish stick to the hook as it tries to swallow the bait. Green apple flavor works well, but catfish also like other fruit flavors like strawberry and grape. Some anglers swear by Bazooka gum, but we all know that flavor doesn’t last very long. I recommend sticking to Bubbalicious or another juicy-flavored bubble gum. To use: Chew the gum for a few minutes first. This helps to release the flavors, making it easier to manipulate and stick to the hook. Both treble hooks and circle hooks work great with bubble gum.
3. Spoiled Shrimp
When that bag of cocktail shrimp goes bad in your fridge, don’t let it go to waste. There are plenty of blue, channel and flathead catfish that would enjoy it. Spoiled shrimp is a delightful choice in the underwater buffet. Many grocery stores are happy to part with their spoiled shrimp if you ask (tell them it is for bait). You can flash freeze it in gallon-sized bags to keep it for your next fishing trip. Some anglers prefer to let the shrimp bask in the sun for five days in order to gain extra scent. True, it’s a smelly endeavor, but it works. I recommend hauling your bait in several tightly sealed bags.To use: Spoiled shrimp can be used thawed or frozen. Run your hook from the head of the shrimp out through the tail leaving the tip exposed.
4. French Fries
Why wouldn’t catfish love French fries? They’re delicious. The French fry bait was likely devised from the “all I have is my lunch’ moment”, but anglers swear by it. Fries work wonders for attracting channel and flathead catfish. The added grease and that intoxicating scent can motivate even the most lethargic catfish out of the holes. Fries have a broad appeal so beware of pan fish that will also pick at the bait. Keep in mind that many waterfront restaurants could be prime fishing spots. In fact, anglers who prefer this bait often say their best catches are near waterfront fast food restaurants where the fish are conditioned to hunt for fries. To use: Pick up fries on the way to your fishing spot. Warm fries enable the grease to get into the water faster and create a scent trail. Hook fries from the center and thread like a worm. Bury the point of the hook near the end.
5. Canned Dog Food
Canned dog food is used in several ways to attract catfish. This bait works best for channel catfish, which have taste buds distributed throughout their bodies that provide their keen sense of smell. Chunk dog food like Alpo Prime Cuts comes in meaty squares with added flavors of cheese, bacon and gravy. The chunk meat is easy to use and the cats love them! Non-chunk dog food requires a little more work but it is also successful in attracting fish. This requires using an onion bag or cheesecloth to secure the food, yet allows it to leak out through the holes once it is in the water. To use: Chunk dog food is easy and portable. Simply thread bite-size pieces onto the hook. Some anglers use dog food for chum. You can drop punctured dog food cans near your fishing spot before you throw out your line, or even sink cans the day before to attract fish to the area. The best chum dog food varieties are those with gravy. Puncture holes with an ice pick and the seeping gravy will call catfish like a dinner bell. Dry dog food works well for chumming, too.
6. Garlic and Chicken Skin
The fatty, greasy skin of chicken is a feast for catfish. This bait works best to catch smaller channel cats and eating-size catfish because there is not enough blood to attract larger fish. The tough chicken skin stays well on the hook. Chicken skin attracts more fish in warmer water – most likely because warm water allows oils to secrete from the skin.To use: Soak chicken skin overnight in garlic or in chicken livers to intensify the flavor. Chicken skin can also be used as a wrap around pieces of chicken livers. Warming the skins in the microwave before you use it as bait extracts the oils, which will offer a scent trail
7. Ivory Soap
If you fish for catfish often, you have likely heard of soap being used as bait at some point. While this “secret” is out, it has taken anglers years of refining — a.k.a. lots of all-or-nothing days on the water — to figure out which soaps work best. The reason as to exactly why catfish are so attracted to soap is still unclear, but it is known to net some very large fish. Many bar soaps have additives and other chemicals that actually deter catfish from going after it. Ivory soap gets high marks for just the right amount of scent. It is a pure soap that has been a secret bait of die-hard cat fishermen for decades.Another successful soap is a Mexican bar soap called Zote. This is also a pure soap, but it contains lard, which attracts catfish like crazy. Soap is a universal winner for all catfish species — they love it.To use: Chunk soap into 1-inch pieces and thread onto your hook. Soap works great for trotlines and it has staying power in the water.
Many of the best catfish bait recipes involve marinades. While some anglers might tell you their secret recipe, they might not tell you about a key ingredient that is sometimes used to add a little kick to things like liver and raw chicken. The secret? Booze.Certain strong smells like smoke, perfume and other human smells can drive away catfish. But some alcohol can serve as just the right additive to attract them. The secret is adding flavorful alcohol to bait marinades like these tested examples:• Aniseed liquor for bait scenting
• Mad Dog 20/20 grape wine to soak raw chicken breast
• Beer to marinade salmon steak
• Brandy to marinade raw chicken combined with anise oil and cherry and strawberry JelloTo use: Alcohol products can be used as marinades or flavor accents to dough balls, night crawlers, raw chicken or other bait.
The makers of SPAM likely never intended it to be used as catfish bait, but perhaps they missed their marketing niche. SPAM is fantastic bait for large blue, channel and flathead catfish. In 2001, an Arkansas angler named Charles Ashley Jr. set both the state record and world record using SPAM as the bait to catch his 116-pound, 12-ounce blue catfish in the Mississippi River. Ashley’s state record still stands today.Does it work? You bet! SPAM is full of oils that attract fish. You can also use it with cheese cubes for added flavor and scent. The downside to SPAM is that carp love it too, so you have to frequently check your bait. SPAM can be difficult to keep on the hook because of its moist consistency. You can overcome this by keeping it refrigerated or setting it out in the sun to toughen it. To use: Cut SPAM into 1-inch cubes then push onto a treble hook until it feels secure.