Top 9 Channel Catfish Baits

By Brad Durick

I was once told by a great catfish tournament angler that the best bait collectors are often times the best catfish anglers. I had to ponder that one for a while but in the end I believe he is spot on with that statement.
So what is the best channel catfish bait? Well, I know one thing is for sure, this is a question that is capable of starting a fight. In fact, when I am speaking to cat anglers from all over the Midwest I say, “Let’s start a fight. What is the best catfish bait?” Ok, no fight actually breaks out but it gets a good laugh.

In all truth, if I ask 20 people what the best catfish bait is I will get 18 different answers and some of the respondents will make the case why their favorite bait is the only bait that works. The bottom line is in most cases a good piece of bait in the right spot is more important that what that bait actually is.
I have compiled a list of the top nine channel catfish baits based on my preferences, what I hear in my travels and an informal poll I conducted on Social Media. This list is in no particular order.

1. Manufactured Baits
Manufactured baits (Stink Bait) can be anything from dip baits to dough baits and punch baits. Go into the catfish section of your favorite store and you will see stink baits of every flavor and concoction. Dip baits seem to be the favorite among channel catfish anglers. Companies such as Rippin Lips, Little Stinker, Junnies Cat Tracker and many other all have the secret recipe to catch more fish. But there is none that seems to come up more often than Sonny’s. I’m not sure what is in this bait but it by far has the largest following in the Midwest.

2. Chubs and/or suckers
I personally like suckers better than any other bait. The main reason for this is they are easy to get at a local bait shop and I have great confidence in them as bait. While we use white sucker up around my area a similar cousin is the creek chub which is very popular further south. Another simple to get bait that makes great cut bait.

3. Shad
If your lake or river has shad chances are shad is your bait of choice. When shad is an available food source every fish will gorge on it. Get yourself some shad and find the areas where the cats are feeding on shad and you will be golden. The old “match the hatch” is in play with this bait.

4. Liver
I have never had much luck with liver myself but I know that many cat fishermen do very well on liver. Chicken liver is the most popular in catfishing. It is very simple to get with a quick trip to the grocery store. It is very inexpensive and it does catch channel catfish. A very good bloody bait that will catch fish.

5. Bluegills
Bluegills and sunfish are very popular catfish bait. With that said they are not legal everywhere to be used as bait so be sure to check the local regulations of using and transporting them. They are very effective as catfish bait and easy to collect as they are always willing to bite.

6. Leopard Frogs
There are times of the season when you can’t go wrong with frogs. This is one of the baits that might actually cause a fight as some guys believe if you don’t have frogs you may as well not go fishing. They stand behind that to the end too. I personally find that frogs are best when the young of the year begin the march to the big waters in mid-summer and fall. Remember to kill your frogs before you hook them. If you fish a mud bottom live frogs will burrow into the mud and hide from the catfish. That defeats the purpose of using them for bait if they do that.

7. Shrimp
Shrimp is another easy to get bait that does catch catfish. Uncooked shrimp from the grocery store works the best. While it works all year long, the best times for shrimp is when the catfish are feeding on crayfish. Again, the match the hatch concept. If you happen to clean a catfish and notice crayfish in the stomach it is a good time change the bait to shrimp to increase catch.

8. Worms
The oldest bait in the book. The good old fashioned worm. The great part about worms is every fish eats them so you can get numbers of fish. A great way to keep kids busy while looking for catfish. I don’t use worms often because I don’t want to sort through all the other fish but I know if there are small kids in the boat bring some in case the catfish get slow. Throw them out and take whatever we can get to keep the action going. Smaller catfish on average bite worms but they are a very effective bait.

9. Crawfish
Crawfish often get overlooked by catfish anglers or are a second choice when the bait shop is out of chubs. However these tiny little lobsters make great bait for Channel Cats, especially in streams and rivers, even though they will work in lakes and ponds as well. Crawfish can be fished either alive or dead, if you want to target Channels your best bet is to rig a dead crawfish.

So there you have it, nine great channel catfish baits. Of course there are many more out there. There is goldeye or mooneye, carp, goldfish, blood baits and probably a few I have not even heard of yet. Heck I have heard some people tell me they catch catfish on bar soap! I will leave that alone and use soap for hygiene purposes, but whatever works I guess!

In all truth I believe that bait preference changes throughout the season based on how the forage changes. Here in my neck of the woods we do very well early with suckers most of the time but there are times in late summer where the cats will not take anything but goldeye or frogs. This means to be successful one must always be prepared for the changes. Sometimes the preference change only lasts for a day or two while other times the bait will change from one thing to the next for weeks at a time.

The point here is to let you know what is out there for you to test and try until you find your favorite bait to catch fish where you live. Now you are armed with the grocery list to get out and feed the cats.