Successful catfish catchers know where the cats are, what they want to eat, and which method of angling will put the catfish on their tables.
The best bait to bag buckets full of no-scales depends on several things – the water temperature; the price, smell and availability of the bait; the catfish’s mood; and the catfish’s available food source. Baits that work well in the winter may not produce cats in the summer. Since a catfish’s number-one sensory organ is smell, rancid baits are the most preferred by the catfish. But in the wintertime, cold water will preserve the bait and keep it from deteriorating and giving off as strong an odor.
Baits that have an odor – no matter what the odor – are the most productive for catching catfish. Many commercial and sport fishermen have turned to bars of soap for bait for their jugs and trotlines. Heat up the bars in the oven, so the soap will become pliable, and then cut the bar into 1/4 inch squares. Put these squares on hook as bait. The cold water retards the rate at which the soap will melt, providing a long-life stink bait. Strangely enough, catfish have their favorite types of soap. Octagon and Ivory usually work best nationwide. However, try several varieties, until you determine which type of soap draws catfish in your area. Although inexpensive, soap does have one drawback. The lye in the soap will deteriorate the point of the hook. An angler needs to test all his points after six to 10 baitings with soap. As effective as soap is in the winter, it’s virtually useless in the late spring and summer. Warm water causes it to melt at such a rate that it doesn’t stay on the hook long enough to catch a cat.
A productive summertime bait in many regions of the country are yellow raisins that swell and become rancid when they come into contact with warm water. The strong odor, tough skin and yellow color combine to provide just the right ingredients for a catfish’s dinner. Raisins are inexpensive when an angler considers the cost per bait and are readily available and easy to store. Catfish attack yellow raisins much more than black ones, but no one knows why.
Of course the outdoorsman who uses the natural food of the cat can’t miss either. Freshwater mussels will take stringers of catfish during the spring and the summer. However, these mussels can be hard to get and difficult to open. Night crawlers, fiddle worms, cut shad and shad gut are also productive catfish baits. Some anglers take catfish on grasshoppers, doughnuts and marshmallows. Recently a man called me to describe “the best kept secret in catfish bait in America today.” His secret was cheap wieners or hotdogs. “I bait my hooks every night with wieners, and in the mornings, I have all the catfish I need,” the man told me. But for the best information on what cats are biting in your area, check with the boat dock owner wherever you plan to fish or ask a commercial fisherman from that region.
For more catfishing tips, check out last week’s post on fishing swift-moving water for cat’s or this guide on using trotlines and jugs for reeling in cats.