How To Catch Catfish: Step by Step Guide

Dec 11, 2023
Joshua Fuld

CEO and Founder

Reading Time: 8 minutes


Catfish SpeciesPreferred HabitatBest Time to Fish
Blue CatfishDeep, large riversLate Spring
Channel CatfishLakes, riversSummer Evenings
Flathead CatfishMurky, slow riversNight Time
Different species of catfish

Catfish fishing is more than just a leisurely pastime; it’s an adventure that combines skill, patience, and a touch of mystery. These whiskered wonders of the water world offer a unique challenge to anglers of all levels, making them a sought-after target across the United States. Whether you’re standing on a serene lakeshore or navigating the currents of a bustling river, catfish fishing promises an engaging and rewarding experience.

Catfish, known for their distinctive barbels resembling a cat’s whiskers, come in various species, each with its own quirks and habitats. The table above highlights a few popular types, like the robust Blue Catfish, the adaptable Channel Catfish, and the elusive Flathead Catfish, pointing out their preferred environments and optimal fishing times. These species differ not just in appearance but in their behavior and the environments they thrive in, adding layers of complexity and excitement to catfish fishing.

The allure of catfish fishing lies in its unpredictability and the diverse strategies required to successfully reel in these creatures. Unlike other types of fishing, catfishing demands a combination of the right gear, the perfect bait, and an understanding of the catfish’s habits and habitats. This variety ensures that every trip to the water is a new learning experience, filled with potential surprises.

For those new to the sport, catfish fishing serves as an excellent entry point, teaching the fundamentals of angling while offering plenty of excitement. For the seasoned pro, it’s an opportunity to refine techniques and test their skills against some of the most cunning inhabitants of the underwater world. From the quiet anticipation of waiting for a bite to the adrenaline rush of a catfish striking the line, every moment spent catfish fishing is a story in the making.

In the following sections, we’ll dive into the essentials of catfish fishing – from selecting the right gear and bait, courtesy of renowned brands at J&H Tackle, to mastering the techniques that will turn your fishing trip into a success. So, gear up for an exciting journey into the world of fishing for catfish, where every cast brings a new challenge and a chance for an unforgettable catch.

Understanding Catfish

Before diving into the gear and techniques, it’s crucial to understand the catfish you’re after. The three most common types are Blue Catfish, Channel Catfish, and Flathead Catfish. Each species has unique characteristics that influence how you should approach them.

  • Blue Catfish: These are the giants, often exceeding 100 pounds. They prefer deep, swift-moving waters in large rivers and reservoirs. They’re known for their voracious appetite, feeding on fish and invertebrates.
  • Channel Catfish: The most widespread species, they’re smaller than blue catfish but still put up a great fight. They adapt to various water conditions, found in lakes, rivers, and ponds. Channel catfish are opportunistic feeders, eating a wide range of foods.
  • Flathead Catfish: Known for their distinct flattened heads, they are primarily nocturnal hunters. Flatheads prefer murky, slow-moving waters and are more selective in their diet, preferring live fish.

Understanding these differences helps in choosing the right spot and bait. For instance, targeting blue catfish might lead you to deeper river channels, whereas channel catfish can be found in diverse habitats.

Essential Gear for Catfish Fishing

Fishing Rods

Selecting the right rod is crucial. For catfish, a medium-heavy to heavy rod, around 7 to 9 feet long, is ideal. This length provides the necessary leverage for casting large baits and handling big fish. J&H Tackle offers a variety of rods, including options from St Croix and Daiwa, perfect for catfishing.


The reel needs to match the rod in terms of power and capability. Look for a sturdy, high-capacity reel to handle the fight of a catfish. Brands like Shimano and Penn offer reels with strong drag systems and enough line capacity, crucial for battling larger catfish. Explore these options at J&H Tackle’s reels section.

Line and Leaders

Catfish demand strong, abrasion-resistant lines. Braided lines are a popular choice for their strength and durability. Depending on the size of the catfish you’re targeting, line strength can range from 15 to 50 pounds. The right line and leaders can make a significant difference in your fishing experience. Check out J&H Tackle’s selection for a variety of choices.

Terminal Tackle

Your terminal tackle – hooks, weights, swivels, etc., – should be robust. Circle hooks are preferred for catfish because they increase the chances of a good hook set and are easier on the fish, which is vital for catch-and-release. For weights, sinkers that keep your bait near the bottom, where catfish feed, are essential. Find these essentials at J&H Tackle’s terminal tackle collection.

In conclusion, choosing the right gear is a balance of power and sensitivity. Brands like Shimano, St Croix, Daiwa, and Penn offer products specifically designed for catfishing, ensuring that you have the best tools for a successful outing. Remember, the better the gear, the more enjoyable and productive your fishing experience will be.

Best Bait and Lures for Catfish

When it comes to catfishing, choosing the right bait can make all the difference. Catfish are known for their keen sense of smell, making the scent a critical factor in bait selection. There’s a wide range of options, from homemade concoctions to store-bought choices, each with its own advantages.

Homemade Bait

Many seasoned catfish anglers swear by homemade baits. These can include anything from chicken liver or dough baits to more exotic mixtures involving cheese, garlic, and other secret ingredients. The key is a strong, enticing smell that can draw catfish from afar. Experimentation is part of the fun here, finding what works best in your local waters.

Store-Bought Bait

For convenience and effectiveness, store-bought baits are hard to beat. These baits are scientifically formulated to attract catfish and are often easier to handle and store. J&H Tackle’s selection of baits and lures includes a variety of options specifically designed for catfish, including scented doughs, artificial lures, and more.


While less common, lures can also be effective, especially for active species like the channel catfish. Vibrating lures, spinnerbaits, or jigs can entice catfish, particularly in clearer waters where visual cues play a more significant role.

Finding the Perfect Spot

Locating the ideal catfish spot is an art in itself. Catfish, depending on the species, can be found in various environments, from deep, fast-moving channels to still, murky ponds.

Reading the Water

Understanding the water conditions is crucial. Look for areas with structure and cover, like sunken logs, rock piles, or deep holes. These spots often attract catfish as they provide shelter and a steady food source.

Shore Fishing

When fishing from the shore, look for areas where the water depth changes, like river bends, inlets, or points where tributaries meet larger bodies of water. These transition zones are often catfish hotspots.

Boat Fishing

Boat anglers have the advantage of covering more area and accessing deeper spots. Using fish finders can be incredibly beneficial in locating catfish, especially in larger lakes and rivers. Focus on areas with varying bottom contours or submerged structures.

Whether you’re casting from the shore or setting out in a boat, understanding the habitat preferences of your target catfish species is key. Combine this knowledge with the right bait and lures from J&H Tackle, and you’re well on your way to a successful catfish fishing adventure.

Effective Catfish Fishing Techniques

Catfish fishing requires a blend of patience, skill, and the right techniques. Each catfish species and fishing environment demands a slightly different approach for success.

Technique Adaptation

  • Still Fishing: The most common technique, ideal for shore and boat anglers. It involves casting your bait and waiting for the catfish to bite. This method works well in lakes, ponds, and slower river sections.
  • Drift Fishing: Useful in larger water bodies like rivers or reservoirs. Let your bait drift with the current over catfish habitats. This method helps cover more area and increases your chances of encountering active fish.
  • Jug Fishing: A more passive approach, where baited lines are attached to floating jugs. It’s an effective way to fish over a larger area without actively managing each line.

Adapting to Species and Environment

  • Blue Catfish: Prefer strong currents in deep waters. Use heavier weights to keep the bait near the bottom.
  • Channel Catfish: Often found in diverse environments. Experiment with different baits and depths.
  • Flathead Catfish: Target them at night with live bait, focusing on areas with plenty of cover.

Setting the Hook and Landing a Catfish

Hook Setting

  • Circle Hooks: Ideal for catfish. When you feel a bite, avoid the instinct to jerk the rod. Instead, reel in steadily, allowing the fish to hook itself.
  • Traditional Hooks: Require a sharper tug on the line to set the hook properly.

Landing Catfish

  • Use a Net: Especially for larger catfish. This reduces the stress on the fish and is safer for the angler.
  • Handling: Wear gloves to protect from sharp fins. Hold the catfish firmly behind the pectoral fins, avoiding the whiskers which are harmless.

Tips and Tricks

Insider Tips

  • Bait Scent: Catfish rely heavily on their sense of smell. Enhancing your bait with scents can attract more fish.
  • Night Fishing: Many catfish species are more active at night, making this an effective time to fish.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

  • Ignoring Water Conditions: Always consider factors like temperature, clarity, and current.
  • Using the Wrong Bait: Match the bait to the catfish species and local preferences.
  • Not Changing Tactics: If one method isn’t working, don’t hesitate to try different baits, locations, or techniques.

Remember, catfish fishing is as much about the experience as it is about the catch. Each outing is an opportunity to learn and improve. With these techniques and tips, you’re equipped to enjoy the rich and rewarding world of catfish fishing.


Catfish fishing is an enriching and exhilarating experience, offering a unique blend of challenge and reward for anglers of all levels. Whether you’re a seasoned fisher or new to the sport, the world of catfish fishing is packed with opportunities to learn, explore, and, most importantly, enjoy the thrill of the catch.

We’ve covered a lot in this guide – from understanding the different types of catfish and their habitats to selecting the right gear and mastering effective fishing techniques. Remember, the key to successful catfish fishing lies in patience, persistence, and adapting your strategy to the catfish species and environment you’re targeting. Whether it’s choosing the right bait, finding the perfect fishing spot, or mastering the art of setting the hook, every aspect of catfish fishing adds to the adventure.

As you set out on your catfish fishing journey, don’t forget to equip yourself with the best gear. J&H Tackle offers a wide range of high-quality fishing rods, reels, lines, lures, and terminal tackle from top brands like Shimano, St Croix, Daiwa, and Penn. Their selection is tailored to cater to all your catfishing needs, ensuring you’re well-prepared for whatever the waters have in store.

Now, with this guide in hand, it’s time to take the leap. Head to your nearest river, lake, or reservoir, and put your new knowledge and skills to the test. Whether you’re after the massive blue catfish, the versatile channel catfish, or the elusive flathead catfish, every moment spent by the water is a chance to make unforgettable memories.

So grab your gear, head out to the water, and experience the joy of catfish fishing. And remember, for all your fishing needs, from expertly chosen bait to state-of-the-art equipment, J&H Tackle is your go-to destination. Happy fishing, and here’s to many successful catfish catches!

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