Catfish can smell and taste the difference between a creek chub and a baby carp at 50 paces. In rivers, current carries both attractive and displeasing scents and tastes to catfish. In still water, catfish tend to move more, sampling the water for potential food. They disregard most sensations, just as our ears, eyes, and noses tune out most incoming stimuli.
The catfish baits that grab their interest are preferred prey or certain flavors that may hold innate attraction for certain catfish species. Channel catfish are omnivores, consuming nearly all forms of animal and vegetable matter of appropriate size. Yet all savvy catmen know that the right catfish bait can mean the difference between a few fiddler cats and loading the boat.
When choosing the best catfish bait, one constant question is whether to use a whole live critter, cut sections, or some type of artificial. Many predators at times clearly prefer active livebait. Among catfish, flatheads, particularly big ones, often prefer livebaits that live for hours on the hook and struggle to escape. However, worms and cutbait catch catfish, too, as do home-brewed stinkbaits vile enough to turn a vulture’s stomach. Dips, doughs, chunks, and other prepared baits offer convenience, reduce waste, and increase your catches. We sifted through the options to bring you the following 14 picks for hooking whiskers.
- Nightcrawlers remain a great bait for all cats, sometimes unequaled for channel cats. Even the biggest cats can’t resist worms. Drift ’em, float ’em, or bottom rig ’em. A ball of about six crawlers on a 3/0 hook is a fine bait for flatheads early in the season. The aroma and wriggling action seem to attract the big cats. In Kansas reservoirs, catmen dabble treble hooks adorned with several juicy crawlers for spawning flatheads, targeting undercuts and rock crevices along riprap walls where cats have holed up. Catalpa worms are a highly regarded bait in parts of the South, where they’re common. These meaty green worms apparently become a focus for many fish species, where they feed on lakeside trees and tumble into the water. Freeze them for future use. The worm’s flavor is said to be so irresistible that the essence of catalpa or crushed worms is added to some commercial pastebaits.