Informational Guide

Best Time To Fish for Catfish

Catfish are hard-fighting fish! Gain the upper hand by tailoring your angling approach and read our guide on the best time to fish for catfish!

by Andrew

Informational Guide

Best Time To Fish for Catfish

Catfish are hard-fighting fish! Gain the upper hand by tailoring your angling approach and read our guide on the best time to fish for catfish!

by Andrew

by Andrew

Catfish are a great-tasting and hard-fighting fish, but you can easily gain the upper hand by tailoring your angling approach.

Researching catfish behavior, local waterways, and what time is the best time to fish for catfish can make it easy to land some massive catches. Whether you’re a beginner or experienced angler, read on for our guide on the best time to fish for catfish!

Understanding Catfish & Their Behavior

The most popular species of catfish are Blue, Channel, and Flathead Catfish, although some anglers also enjoy bullheads and white catfish. Catfish are predators with fierce fighting instincts and excellent senses.

Catfish have fantastic vision in clear waters, lateral line sensitivity to vibrations, and an infamous sense of smell. They can trace scents down to a parts-per-billion, making stinkbaits a popular choice.

Mostly nocturnal, catfish strike on other fish, crayfish, aquatic insects, and plant material. Adult catfish like muddy water, but channel cats prefer large rivers with clean, sandy bottoms.

Catfish Fishing

Factors to Consider When Fishing

  • Water Temperature
    Although species and location can affect preferred water temperatures, catfish generally remain sluggish and slow to bite in waters below 50°F. Catfish feeding picks up once waters reach 55°F to the mid-sixties. Northern catfish that have adapted to the region can be found feeding in waters below 55°F.
  • Target Species
    Picking your target species of catfish can help you tailor your approach, as each kind of cat varies in size and preferred presentation. Habitats do overlap, however, as blue and flathead cats often frequent the same waters. But if you’re looking for an all-purpose catfish rig, you’ll need a strong enough rod for blue and flathead cats alike.
  • Size of Fish
    While the average channel catfish weighs just 2 - 7 pounds, blue catfish commonly reach weights between 20 to 40 pounds. But the mightiest catch is the flathead cat, which can frequently weigh in well over 100 pounds. With such disparate weights and strengths, a durable rod and powerful reel are essential.
  • Catfish Feeding Time
    Catfish feeding time varies across species and regions, but spring is generally the best time of year to fish for catfish. Flathead catfish feed most aggressively during spring, as they try to replace body weight lost during the winter, and autumn, when they attempt to put on extra weight to weather the cold.

Best Fishing Time For Catfish

By Time of Day

Since some catfish are nocturnal, such as flatheads, daytime fishing can limit your target species. Night is the best time of day to go fishing for catfish, with cats beginning to strike an hour before sunset and well through the evening.

Catfish activity tends to taper off an hour after sunrise in mild weather, but daytime can still yield some great blue cats. Fall to early winter can offer some excellent daytime catfishing, lasting from late morning up till sunset.

By Season

Winter can be a tricky time for catfishing, as catfish metabolisms slow in cold waters and they burrow into warm mud. Look for the deepest holes near the mouths of streams and reservoirs, and look for snow or rainstorms that will excite otherwise sluggish cats.

Early spring can be cold, so wait for late spring waters to warm up to 50 - 55°F. Shore fishing works best in spring from sunset till sunrise. Once waters reach 65 - 70°F in early summer, the catfish spawning season is the best time of year to fish for catfish.

Fall can also yield some decent hauls, particularly in early autumn, as aggressive catfish eat to put on winter weight. Shad works particularly well, but later fall cats need live or cut bait to lure them out of warmer depths.

By Types of Catfish

Blue catfish are the biggest cats, with a record catch of up to 143 pounds. Scavengers and predators, blue catfish are opportunistic predators that enjoy crayfish, mussels, and baitfish. They move upstream in the summer and lurk in deeper lakes and main river sections than flatheads.

Flatheads often share ranges with blue cats, but these solitary fish are hard to find and even harder to land. Massive fighters, nocturnal flatheads can be found throughout Mississippi, Missouri, and Ohio River basins. Channel catfish are much smaller than their cousins, with most weighing in under 20 pounds. Although frequently confused with blue catfish, channel cats have a rounded rather than pointed forked tail.


Fishing For Catfish in Different Locations

  • Texas
    Lake Tawakoni is the unrivaled Catfish Capital of Texas, with a 37,879-acre river well-stocked with cats. The state has a limit of 25 catfish per angler, but anglers can easily rack up 100+ catch days. The best time to fish for catfish in Texas is nearly year-round, but particularly in the spring.
  • Pennsylvania
    The Keystone State has plenty of flatheads, channel, and bullhead catfish to keep anglers happy. The state allows catfishing year-round, but the best time to fish for catfish in PA is spring to early summer. The Ohio River is one of Pennsylvania’s most popular spots, as well as Blue Marsh Lake, Shenango River Lake, and the Allegheny River.
  • Ohio
    Ohio still holds a state record for a 76 pound Flathead catch from 1979, and Clendening Lake still yields sizable cats for local anglers to this day. Warmer early summer waters are the best time to fish for catfish in Ohio, which can be found in Indian Lake, Findlay Reservoirs, and Mosquito Reservoir.
  • Colorado
    The best time of year to fish for catfish in Colorado is during the summer, when the northern waters warm to a better temperature for sensitive cats. Catfish can be found in rivers, ponds, and streams throughout the state, but especially in the Adoke Creek, Blue Mesa, and Aurora Reservoirs.
  • Iowa
    Channel catfish Iowa’s most popular game fish, found in nearly all of the state’s 20,000 miles of interior waters. The state record catch for a channel and a blue catfish both came from the Missouri River, while a record flathead was landed in Ellis Lake. Aim for late spring and early summer.
  • Oklahoma
    Oklahoma’s winters may keep its catfish sluggish throughout winter, but trolling cutbait in deeper waters can work. Early summer is the best time for catfishing in OK. The three major species of cats can be found throughout the state’s waterways, particularly in Taft Lake, El Reno Lake, and Lake Texoma.
  • California
    Thanks to its arid climate and mostly-coastal fishing, most catfishing spots in California are in still-water, manmade reservoirs. Although the fish remain active in spring and fall, the tricky state legislature can limit angler's opportunities. Research public versus pay lakes in your county, and always double-check state limits before angling.
  • Missouri
    The motherlode of all catfishing states, Missouri has a native population of 15 different catfish species, including various bullheads and white catfish. Temperate waters keep cats in high spirits year-round, but the best fishing can be found in Table Rock, Pomme de Terre Lake, and the Lake of the Ozarks.
Fishing for Catfish

People also Ask (FAQs)

What time of day do catfish bite the most?

This depends on the species, as blue catfish can bite during the early morning to late afternoon. But most catfish prefer just after sunset.

How do you best catch catfish?

Catfish are ambush predators, so look for the mouths of strong currents or woody, vegetation-rich holes. Jigging reels traditionally works best, and cats will strike on shad, minnows, crayfish, and other stinkbait.

Do catfish feed more at night or during the day?

In spring and summer, catfish feed more during the way, but cooler autumn and winter temperatures will see them feeding during sunny days.

How deep should you fish for catfish?

Catfish can be found in shallows 5 - 10 feet deep during spring and summer but will often dive down to 15 - 35 feet or deeper in the winter so its a good idea to have a fish finder with you.

What are the best size hooks for catfish?

It depends on the size of the bait, but 5/0 - 6/0 circle hooks work well for smaller baits, while larger Flatheads can be hooked best on 8/0 - 10/0 hooks.


Conclusion

No matter what state you’re in, it’s likely that catfish are in your local waterways. Research your region and species, remember what’s the best time to fish for catfish, and you’ll be sure to land a hefty haul. Tight lines!

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