The 5 Best Types of Bait for Catching Catfish

Catfishing from a boat

What are the Best, Easiest Baits for Catching Catfish?

Using what we know as “artificial” baits, like crankbaits and plastics, is seldom the best bet for consistently catching catfish. All three main species of catfish – channel cats, flatheads, and blue catfish – favor natural baits and fish attractants like Team Catfish Dead Red Blood Spray. This doesn’t necessarily mean live bait, but frequently some form of a natural food source.

Team Catfish Dead Red Blood Spray
Team Catfish Dead
Red Blood Spray

Sometimes natural baits are used “as is”, but they are also frequently cured or flavored to make them even more enticing to catfish.

All of these baits can be fished with most any kind of gear, and you’ll enjoy success as long as you’re fishing where there are catfish present and use a rig that presents the bait somewhere near the bottom where cats spend most of their time. This usually means some kind of still fishing technique, so they are perfect to use while fishing from the bank, a fishing pier, or an anchored boat.

Tip: The Bass Pro Shops Cat Buster Spinning Rod is designed specifically for targeting catfish. Giant channels, blues, and flatheads have sent more than their fair share of fishing rods to the trash heap.

Tip Popular Catfish Rigs Are: Three-Way Rig, Carolina Rig, Floating Rig

Carolina Rig to catch Catfish
CatMaxx Circle Hooks
CatMaxx Circle Hooks

As you’ll see, the most important thing about many of these baits is the ability to broadcast scent into the water and be carried in the current. Catfish use their acute sense of smell to locate food sources at a great distance. A single bait that gives off appealing (to catfish) scent can pull fish from an amazingly large area downstream.

Here is a break down of the most common and popular baits for catching catfish. Choose a couple, go fishing, and you’ll have a good chance at frying up some catfish fillets for supper!

Read: Tips and Recipes for Grilling Fish

Chicken Livers, Natural catfish bait
To keep warm chicken livers on the hook, put them in a zip top bag and cover them with salt.

Tip: Learn how to fillet the catfish you'll catch

Natural Catfish Baits

One of the most commonly used catfish baits is chicken livers. What varies is whether and how anglers go about preparing them. Chicken livers that you buy at the grocery store work very well straight out of the container. However, once they get warm, they become hard to keep on the hook, especially when you need to cast them some distance. To overcome this, place a bunch of chicken livers in a zip top bag and cover them with salt.

CatMaxx CMX3000B Baitcast Reel
CatMaxx CMX3000B Baitcast Reel

Allow the salt to pull the moisture out of the livers until they are about the consistency of leather. You can then put them on the hook and cast them out. Soaking in the water will bring them back to their natural consistency while they emit scent to lure in the catfish. To enhance the odor of natural baits, many anglers recommend allowing them to “cure” in the sun, but use this approach cautiously if you have a weak stomach!

DIY Catfish Baits the Homemade Concoctions

homemade catfish bait
One common catfish bait recipe is to use hotdogs cut into chunks.

Any catfish angler who has been at the game for a while has his or her own “sure-fire” catfish bait recipe. The list of ingredients can range from home kitchen staples to the truly exotic. The main goals are to create bait with an attractive (to catfish) pungent scent that lasts, and to make the bait tough enough to stay on the hook when cast or after soaking.

One common catfish recipe is to buy the cheapest hotdogs you can find. Cut them into ¾-inch to 1-inch lengths. In a zipper top bag, mix lots of crushed garlic, some vegetable oil or bacon grease, strawberry gelatin, and salt. Add the cut up hot dogs, close the bag and mush the whole thing around to cover the hotdogs in the mixture. Let it marinate in the fridge until you’re ready to go fishing – longer is better. The garlic, grease, and red gelatin “universal” ingredients in many catfishing marinades used to flavor everything from hotdogs, to freezer burned pork chops, to chicken liver, and chicken breasts, etc.

Live fish used as bait
Large dead minnows often work better as catfish bait than live ones.

Catfish Live Baits

For the most part, catfish are not picky eaters. Many – especially eating size cats – are caught on live bait. A big ball of juicy nightcrawlers, for example, is one great choice. They can be made even more attractive by dipping them in a thinned blood bait or other clinging catfish-attracting scent.

CatMaxx Deluxe Fish Skinning Pliers
CatMaxx Deluxe Fish Skinning Pliers

Shiner minnows also work well, and they don’t even have to be alive. In fact, dead minnows often work better than live ones.

Go to the bait store and ask for large dead minnows, and you’ll probably get them for free! Another source of live bait is catching it yourself. Small bluegills, perch, sunfish, etc. should be hooked to stay lively and with enough weight to keep them near the bottom. Just be sure to check the regulations in your state on using these species for bait.

Cut bait on a hook
Cut baits are simply pieces of larger fish cut down.

Tip: Learn about the best live baits for beginning anglers to use

Using Cut Bait to Catch Catfish

Cut baits are a fillet or strip of meat and leaving the skin and scales in place allows the bait to release more scent into the water. Cutting bait allows you to create a portion size and presentation that makes an alluring mouthful for any kind of catfish. Any kind of rough fish or baitfish can be cut to create an attractive catfish cut bait, but the best are oily fish like shad or mullet. You can even try strips of saltwater fish like mackerel.

Team Catfish Secret-7 Premium Catfishing Dip Bait
Team Catfish Secret-7 Premium Catfishing
Dip Bait

Store Bought Catfish Baits

There are hundreds of commercially available versions of catfish baits. Most of these got their start as homemade creations that worked so well, someone decided, “I can make some money with this!” Even so, they are not expensive – in fact, most are less expensive to buy and keep longer than many live bait options. Commercial baits fall into several main categories. These include dough baits, dip baits like the Team Catfish Secret-7 Premium Catfishing dip bait, and preserved natural or once-live baits. The only one that may take a bit of explanation is the dip bait.

CatMaxx Tube Dip Bait Worm
CatMaxx Tube Dip Bait Worm

These are thick, “secret” concoctions that are extremely gooey, sticky, and smell to high heaven! They can be used to dip other baits like natural baits or dough baits. There are also special or special “dip bait tubes” made to hold and dispense the scent of dip baits. Their main purpose is to put that catfish attracting scent into the water to draw in fish to find and eat the bait on the hook.

Tip: Bass Pro Shops CatMaxx Tube Dip Bait Worm delivers maximum scent attraction and is built to handle trophy catfish and rugged bottom conditions.