Most anglers believe that catfish are just scavengers. With a sense of smell more powerful than a bloodhound's, catfish can
not only scavenge very efficiently, they can hunt down wounded prey like a shark. This scavenger-predator split personality
has resulted in a raging debate among catfish anglers. One school of thought favors prepared baits (also known as "stinkbait")
that play upon the catfish's scavenger personality, including dip baits, paste baits, and specially manufactured nuggets.
The other school of thought focuses on the catfish's predator personality with natural baits, including live bait, cut bait,
shrimp, freshwater clams, chicken livers and the venerable nightcrawler. These are certainly not the only baits that will
take catfish, but it is a good place for any discussion of catfishing to start.
Stinkbait anglers claim that their
techniques produce the most catfish, that the oily scent trail is as effective as any chum, and that catfish of virtually
any size will respond to the right foul fragrance. Dip baits require a special lure, usually made out of soft plastic or sponge,
that has lots of ridges, holes or pockets to hold the super-smelly dip. Many of these lures are armed with treble hooks, though
some models use double or single hooks. The lure is dipped into a container of stink bait (store-bought or using a homemade
recipe), usually smushed around with a stick to pack the bait in well, and then is cast out from shore or dropped down from
a boat. Paste baits are usually squeezed from a tube into a soft plastic lure with a big pocket or hole inside and treble
or double hooks. Nuggets are usually threaded directly onto a single hook or onto each spike of a treble hook. Limburger cheese,
wrapped in cheesecloth and tied to a hook, should probably be included in this category. Any of these baits can be rigged
on a leader behind a swivel and a sliding sinker, off a three-way swivel or dropper loop above a weight, or directly on the
main line with split shot.
Natural bait anglers claim that their techniques produce the largest catfish and often
compare to the numbers of fish that can be caught on stinkbait. They primarily use single hooks, though treble hook rigging
is possible, and the variety of rigs, swivels and weights used is essentially the same as those used by stinkbait anglers.
Good live baits depend on the forage available, but usually include some type of minnow or shad, menhaden, and bluegill, where
legal. The selection of live bait often depends upon the species of catfish being sought. For example, many flathead catfish
anglers prefer live bluegill, while anglers targeting big blue cats or channel cats often prefer live shad, minnows or menhaden.
Big cats will also hit live waterdogs or crawdads, baits that are usually fished by Largemouth Bass anglers. Nightcrawlers
can also catch catfish, as well as virtually any other fish that swims, which is why nightcrawlers remain so popular as an
all-around fish bait. Cut bait can be local baitfish, carp (where legal), or smelly ocean fish, like mackerel or anchovies.
The variety of ways to cut bait for catfish is very extensive, but the most common methods include fillets, chunks, strips,
cubes and partially filleted carcasses. Shrimp, freshwater clams and chicken livers are also popular natural baits. With the
exception of live bait, many of these baits can be "aged" for a day or two to add a stinkbait attraction. In the
waters where carp are legal bait, aged carp strips or fillets are gaining popularity. Aged shrimp have been popular for years.
There is a growing school of thought that shows no loyalty to stinkbait or natural baits, fishing with whichever
method happens to be working at the time and often combining the two. Cut bait or other dead bait can be dipped or soaked
in stinkbait. Many states allow multiple-hook rigs or the use of multiple fishing rods, allowing anglers to fish both stinkbait
and natural bait at the same time. Fishing with combined methods is a good way to attract fish and to learn what method is
working the best.
Other methods include the use of hotdog chunks and even pieces of ivory soap. Blue catfish will
even hit shiny lures and spinners. Some anglers claim to have caught blue cats on shiny, bare hooks. These methods are certainly
less smelly than using aged cut bait or prepared stinkbait.
Catfish will sometimes run with or near schools of
carp and will take the same baits as carp, including breads or dough baits. They are also often caught accidentally by anglers
using cut bait for striped bass.
No matter what method is used, catfish have a natural ability to steal bait, due
to the light and gentle manner in which they often approach bait. Some anglers use special reels with bait clickers to help
detect light bites. Others set the hook at the slightest change in the pressure on the fishing line (especially when line
goes slack, since some catfish pick bait up and swim with it). Another technique used primarily from boats is to drop the
rod tip a few inches just after a light tap to allow the bait to float down like it's not attached to anything, then set the
hook on the next tap. Treble hooks are more difficult for catfish to rob, but many anglers still use single hooks to increase
the sport of their fishing or to make it easier to release unwanted or undersized fish.
Catfish respond well to
chumming, but it is not legal in every state or on every body of water. Manufactured chum is available in blocks, cans or
bags. Cheap canned cat food (for the furry, land-dwelling variety of cats) can be good chum. Finely chopped bait or even ground-up
fish parts can also attract catfish. Road-kill in a weighted-down, biodegradable bag (such as a gunnysack) can be very effective.
Catfish can be caught during the day, but they feed mostly at night. Consequently, many catfish anglers prefer
night fishing, where legal.
Most catfish anglers eat their catch, since catfish is considered a delicacy throughout
much of the United States. However, a growing group of anglers practice catch and release, particularly with bigger fish,
in order to promote the contributions of large catfish to the gene pool.