Informational Guide

How To Catch Catfish

This guide will teach you catfish facts and the best tips on how to catch catfish year-round.

by Andrew

Informational Guide

How To Catch Catfish

This guide will teach you catfish facts and the best tips on how to catch catfish year-round.

by Andrew

by Andrew

Catfish are one of the most sought-after catches in the nation. Anglers all across the US seek to catch the famous blue catfish, channel, and flatheads. This guide will teach facts about catfish, the best time to fish for them, as well as the best methods on how to catch catfish in 2021.

There are 30 species of catfish recognized in the United States. Although there are many different kinds of catfish, identifying one is relatively easy because of their similar anatomy features throughout the different types. Catfish are notorious for their "whiskers," also known as barbells. Let’s talk about some identifying markers on the different kinds of popular catfish:

  • Bullhead Catfish
    The bullhead catfish will carry a rounded or square tail that is forked slightly. This species of catfish will vary from a black/gold coloration and usually only reaches fifteen inches in length.
  • Flathead Catfish
    The flathead catfish is known for its head shape. The fish holds a flattened head, while its lower jaw sticks out further than its upper jaw. With an upper portion of its rear tail holding a more pale color, the rest of the rear fin will be square-shaped, with a slight fork in the middle. The flathead catfish is a darker, yellowish-colored fish that hosts black spots across its back. 
  • Blue Catfish
    The blue catfish gets its name from its pale gray or blue-colored body. The blue catfish does not host any spots throughout its body. Its head is usually in the shape of a steep slope. 
  • Channel Catfish
    These species of catfish are the most commonly fished catfish in the US. Channel catfish are similar to the blue catfish, with an exception to its markings. Channel catfish do host a variety of spots and markings throughout their upper body. Channel catfish range from a blue/gray color to shades of brown. These fish have an upper jaw that protrudes past their lower jaw and carries a forked rear fin.
Catfish Species

What Do I Need To Catch Catfish (Must Haves)

While there are different bodies of water that hold catfish, from ponds, lakes, and rivers, I always like to point out knowing the body of water you are fishing catfish in will help you determine the best equipment to use.

Some bodies of water and habitat are known for hosting larger catfish, like the Missouri River, where a 315-pound fish came from. Choosing the best catfishing reels and the best catfishing rods, aligned with the size of fish you are attempting to catch, will make all the difference in the world. Let's talk about specifics in regards to rods, reels, line, bait, and other tackle when catfishing.


Ideally, you want a tough backbone on a catfish rod. However, the tip needs to have good flex to it. I choose to use a 7-foot rod with a long handle. The longer the handle on a catfish rod, the easier it is when fighting a hooked catfish on your retrieve. Overall, I like a 7’ or longer, moderately fast rod with a long handle.


When I think of fishing reels, I think of three main reel categories: spinning Reels, Spin-Cast reels, and Baitcasting reels. Spin-cast reels being the most basic type of fishing reel, and Baitcasting being the most in-depth reel. It is not the fact you cannot catch catfish on spin-cast reels; but, most experienced anglers prefer baitcasting reels. I prefer using a baitcasting catfish reel that hosts a bait clicker.

Catfish Line

In my opinion, there are two kinds of lines to be discussed when talking about the best line for catching catfish. The first is monofilament and the second is a braided line. The easiest way to choose your kind of line is to be honest with yourself. Are you experienced at fighting larger fish on a retrieve? If so, and you are willing to pay 2-3 times the amount, braided line will work in most situations.

When choosing my monofilament, I like to go with a 30-pound line. However, if I am fishing in an area I know I might be catching large catfish above the 15-30 pound range, 50-pound monofilament will be found on my fishing reel.

Catfish Bait

One of my favorite parts of fishing for catfish is choosing the bait. There are many methods, and most are tried and true to attracting big cats. Here is a list of some popular catfish baits.

  • Nightcrawlers
  • Chicken Liver
  • Powerbait
  • Frogs
  • Stinkbait

Catfish are bottom feeders. While on the bottom, they utilize their barbells to smell food and feel vibrations. Although nightcrawlers are used to catch a variety of fish, they are excellent for casting into a known catfish hole. Powerbait, chicken livers, and stinkbait all fall into the same category for me. If the smell knocks you over when opening the container, a catfish will likely snatch it up off the bottom. Stinkbait is a usual choice for me when fishing catfish.

Catfish Hooks and Sinkers

Choosing the right hook for catfish will improve your hook-up ratio. I primarily use two types of hooks for catfish.

  • Treble Hook
  • Circle Hook

When fishing for channel cats, I will tie on a treble hook and apply a stink-style bait on my hook. When fishing with a treble hook, I have found that a #6 hook is the best option. Very rarely do I use a #4 sized treble hook when catfishing, but it does eliminate a deep hook in the fish's mouth; therefore, it finds a spot in my catfishing tackle storage.

When fishing for blue and channel catfish, I prefer a circle hook from 10/0 to 5/0.

Where to Fish For Catfish (4 main habitats)

Catfish can be found in ponds, rivers, and lakes. Due to this, catfish can be fished out on the big water using a boat, while thousands of catfish anglers experience large amounts of success fishing from shore. Here are the main places to fish for catfish.

Catching catfish in ponds

Learning how to catch catfish in a pond was my first venture into the catfish world. For the best results, get your hook tied on, attach your bait, and let the bait drift to the bottom of the pond. Periodically reel in your line and check your bait.

Catching catfish in lakes

How to catch catfish in a lake is an answer most catfish anglers jump to after they’ve mastered their local pond spots. I like to find points and humps in the lake, preferably by boat if I am day fishing, and start casting deep. I work from deep to shallow and look for consistent bites to find where the catfish are hanging out. I utilize the same method as pond fishing here.

Catching catfish in rivers

The best method for river fishing catfish is the slip-sinker rig. Again, I like to target humps and points in the river to locate catfish. When river fishing for catfish, I make sure to have my heavier duty catfish rod and reels with me.

Catching catfish from shore

Shore fishing at night for catfish is preferred by many catfish anglers. Catfish are bottom feeders and follow-bait. At night, bait is usually in shallow water, which causes the catfish to be reachable by the cast when fishing from shore.

Best Ways to Catch Catfish (3 Tips for Beginners)

Catfishing should be fun and not overthought. I love introducing new anglers to fishing by taking them catfishing. Here are my 3 tips for catching catfish if you are a beginner.

1. The Right Setup

Get the correct rod and reel that can handle catching catfish efficiently.

2. The Right Bait

Start with stinkbait. You can find it at any tackle retailer in your area, usually.

3. Fish Pond Catfish

Before dark, find a pond, tie a treble hook to your line and load it up with stink bait. Cast it out, place your pole in a pole holder, and grab a seat. Watch your line and rod tip for bites. When your bait takes off, give it a second and set the hook!

How To Catch Catfish

Seasonal Catfishing Tips

  • Spring
    Current seams and the outside of a channel curve are great spots to locate catfish in the springs. Catfish will sit in current seams due to fatigue and attempt to preserve energy.
  • Summer
    For shore anglers, fishing at night is key in the hot temperatures of summer catfishing. Have a longer rod that allows for distance casting, and reach those deep depths. 
  • Fall
    Utilize cut baits rather than stink baits. The cooler the water, the less the stink bait "stinks." Also, catfish will be found more on the flats with the baitfish until the water temperature sinks low enough the fish move to deeper water.
  • Winter
    Use the slip-sinker method here, as mentioned before, but pair it with native bait. Using native bait for winter catfish is a bullet-proof way to improve your bag numbers when winter catfishing.

People Also Ask (FAQs)

How can I catch catfish with my hands (Noodling)?

Great question! I have a noodled for catfish several times. My suggestion is to find someone experienced who is willing to let you tag along. Noodling for catfish requires you to locate catfish holes, go underwater and reach your hand into the hole, and provoke the fish to open its mouth so you can drag the fish out of the hole by hand.

How do you catch catfish with nightcrawlers?

When using nightcrawlers, I prefer a 2/0 wide gap hook. I place a large number of nightcrawlers on the hook and adjust a bobber consistent with keeping my bait on the bottom.

How to catch trophy catfish?

Catching trophy catfish is a true reward. You will find the largest catfish where the overall fish harvest rate is low. This allows catfish to grow. Catfish also need good rocky areas for spawning, so look for waters that show this habitat.

To catch giant catfish, you have to fish where giant catfish live. Rivers are known for hosting abnormally large catfish. Fishing in rivers with a slip sinker rig paired with a rod and reel combo that is worthy of a trophy-sized catfish will increase your odds dramatically.

What month do catfish spawn?

Catfish spawn in July. Early to mid-summer, when water temperatures reach 70-75 degrees, catfish will spawn. The spawn will last one moon cycle.


Catfishing is one of American angler past-time traditions that I still find time for. Whether you want to just fish for catfish at night at your local or personal pond, with a fire and good friends, or you want to go out on a boat and chase giant catfish in river channels, catfishing can be a lasting tradition for you as well. I hope this article proved to be educational for you. Now go find a catfish hole!