Best Channel Catfish Baits – Baits That Catch Channel Catfish Everywhere They Swim

There are many baits that are commonly used to lure in channel catfish. They are not picky eaters at all. If it smells or tastes appetizing, they will eat it. Choosing the right bait is absolutely everything when targeting fish of any species. It is the most important attribute one can have on their setup. It is what brings them in. After location and tackle are out of the way, the bait is basically the entire sport.  After location, it alone is often the determining factor in getting bites from cats. In order to catch more fish, you must first select the correct bait. Then, you wait.

There are those baits that catch fish only some of the time and then there are those baits that almost never fail to lure in fish for a feeding frenzy. When they are in such a frenzy, the action can be very hot. Some days can be nonstop biting. The latter result is often the baits you want to put in front of the fish.  Knowing some of the best channel catfish baits will greatly help you in your success when targeting them and put more in your boat more often. Make sure to take note of one thing though. Not all of them are created equal. No bait works every single time.

You will need to choose one most of the time and stick with it. This will change often, depending on location. There are some categories to factor in when deciding what the best ones to use are. First, there are natural baits. These are the ones that can be naturally found in the water. Things like shad and sunfish fit this category and are great for catching larger fish. They catch big girls.

Second, there are unnatural baits. Ones that would not be found in the water. These are generally preferred to target numbers of smaller fish. These are things like chicken liver, dough bait, stinkbait, and boilies to name a few.  These are the ones that tend to catch smaller fish but much more consistently. The one that catches the most fish often will not catch the biggest ones, although they can on some occasions. It is just not as consistent. Make sure you know.

What Is The Most Effective Natural Bait In The World?

When considering the bait choices available, natural baits are often some of the best ones you can get. Depending on the body of water, the primary food source that fattens up the big fish will vary. First of all, you have to understand that no bait will work well every single time. Different bodies of water will often require different baits. The ones depicted below are by no means exhaustive. These choices will catch channel catfish just about everywhere. The population in your local water may have a different food source than any of these.

In such a case, that food source is the best one to use. One thing will always hold true regardless. The best is a subjective term. It is important to note that we could be talking about two completely different and unrelated situations. Does the best catch more fish or bigger fish? The ones that catch a ton of fish will often be smaller because there are much smaller ones available than big ones. This is just how it works. They differ because of these two principles.

The best for numbers are often not the best for a huge, beast-like, female, mothers who have likely been caught a few times prior on a shad or sunfish. Looking at YOU stinkbait and dipbait fishermen! You will have to decide which fish you want to catch before you go fishing. In both scenarios, the best options are the ones that strike an even balance between size and numbers. Much more times than not, that is the primary food they naturally eat.

1. Shad Or Minnows – Or The Primary Forage In The Area

School of gizzard shad underwater in a fish tank.

Any water body that houses shad and predators means one thing. Shad is their primary food. We are specifically talking about species like gizzard, threadfin, hickory, and American shad. All make great baits. Depending on the body of water, the main forage is the best one to use. Many predator fish will often down a shad before it touches anything else. Take advantage of it!

Shad makes up most of the adult diet and is often the best choice when you are fishing for trophy catches. Approximately ninety percent of the adult’s diet consists of these very oily and extremely, fragile, baitfish. Most fish just love them. If you know the body of water that you are fishing houses these baitfish and they are legal to use as bait, make no mistake. Catch many shad and hook them up. You can use them alive, dead, or as cut bait. It doesn’t matter to a channel. In the water where they exist, shad is the best bait you can use to catch them.

You can keep them alive much longer if you pack a cooler in your emergency fishing kit contents. You will want to hook shad through both lips when fishing in current or behind the dorsal fin when the water is calmer. The best way to catch them is with a cast net. Also, catch many. Most shad won’t bite a bait on a hook or a lure simply because they are plankton feeders. If you are just learning how to catch some and shad are not producing when it is the main forage, you are doing something wrong. You are in a bad spot or something else.

Change tactics, move to another spot or reduce your bait’s size if you are getting nibbles. It will not be your bait selection that is the problem this time. Whatever is not used should be frozen in your freezer for later use. They work that well. Cut the shad into pieces to store for later use.

2. Sunfish – Bluegill, Pumpkinseed, And Small Shellcracker

Pumpkinseed sunfish being held in hand by an angler.

Sunfish is the main forage most of the time when shad are not present. Fish like bluegill, green sunfish, pumpkinseed sunfish, and redear sunfish make excellent live bait where legal. Unlike shad, they have spiny dorsal fins on their backs. This makes it harder to swallow than shad. Believe it or not, the fish really don’t care. They will still swallow sunfish before anything else if shad is unavailable. Sunfish are best used with the spines still attached if you fish them alive and whole. They can be fished whole, alive, dead, or cut up into pieces. It doesn’t matter a whole lot.

All methods are equally appetizing. Even in the waters where shad exist, bluegill and other sunfish never seem to leave the menu and they are always second on the dinner plate. That means that you can be successful and catch them using sunfish even if the body of water has shad as the primary food source. It is extremely hard for most fish to resist a sunfish that is bite-sized and wounded floating right in front of their nostrils. Survival and food drive the catfish.

It almost never happens. Sunfish are a great option for fishing hotter weather as well. They stay alive much longer and are less prone to injury than shad thus making them a great shad alternative for live bait in hot weather. Hook sunfish behind the dorsal fin for the best action. You can catch bluegill and other sunfish on a rod and reel very easily. Bait a hook with a worm, cricket, bread, or meat product. They can also be reeled in with small artificial lures like flies.

Baby mirror carp being held by an angler in one hand.

3. Rough Fish  – Carp, Qwilback, Buffalo, And Big Suckers

First of all, what is a rough fish? It simply means that the species of the fish is not commonly targeted or fished for by anglers. Fish like common carp, suckers, goldfish, koi, buffalo, and qwilback are all considered to be rough fish because anglers don’t often fish for them. Where it is legal, these species of fish make excellent live or cut bait. They are often bigger than the average shad or bluegill and they don’t have spines. The perfect treat for any hungry fish.

Rough fish can often be caught on a rod and reel. If it is legal in your area, you can also catch them with a casting net. These types of fish freeze very well and will stay good for a long time. You can fish rough fish alive, dead, or cut into pieces. Fish them the same way you would fish shad or sunfish. Make sure to rig them and fish them in the same way. Some species of rough fish will work better than others depending on where you live and the availability of these fish as well as the preferences of the catfish in your area. A very oily fish tends to work better.

Certain species of rough fish like goldfish and common carp can destroy a fishery if it is imported from elsewhere. Always catch your bait from the body of water you will be fishing in to avoid introducing invasive species and disrupting the natural ecosystem of the water. You can catch common carp with a rod and reel. Be familiar with your local laws before catching any fish for bait. Some states regulate or outright ban carp and other fish and other rough fish from use.

4. Grasshoppers, Crickets, and Other Breeds Of Locusts

Eastern lubber grasshopper on a tree branch outside.

While crickets are a pretty decent bait by themselves, an alternative to them is their cousin, the grasshopper. All fish generally love to eat insects of any kind, especially those who are easy to catch and will fill them up. All locusts fill the bill. Grasshoppers may be a better bait than crickets for a few reasons. First, they are much larger than the average cricket so they naturally attract bigger fish. Second, small fish will have a very hard time trying to pierce the grasshopper’s exoskeleton so you lose a lot less bait. Third, they drive channel catfish crazy. They just work.

You will want to hook grasshoppers in the middle of the body or right behind the shoulders. Fish them on a Carolina rig with just enough weight to stay down near the bottom. You can catch them fairly easily or buy them from feed stores. You can also mimic them with lures like the CrickHopper. Some feed stores sell grasshoppers and other locusts as live feed for pets and they are usually very cheap to buy in bulk. You can fish grasshoppers any season of the year in any weather. They are one of the few year-round baits that will catch fish when you are struggling for a bite. You can catch fish on them in hot summer weather as well as through the ice for those who live up north. You can even breed them at home for a sustainable supply of fishing bait.

5. Crayfish – Red Swamp, Rusty, European, And Others

European crayfish being held in a hand over grass.

Crayfish maybe the most overlooked catfish bait in history. Usually used in bass fishing to catch largemouth and smallmouth bass, crayfish are equally effective in catching channel catfish if not even more. They work incredible wonders. The association of crayfish to bass fishing exclusively has lead anglers to believe that they are not an adequate bait choice for channel catfish. It is not true at all by any stretch of the sentence. Crayfish are whisker seekers. Many catfish love to eat crayfish because they are a natural forage that lives on the bottom where they live.

When they are young, the fish will target small crayfish if they are easy to catch. As they get older, the size of the crayfish they decide to target will grow with them. Crayfish are extremely cheap to buy alive or dead and many bodies of water house crayfish of some species. Red swamp crayfish, rusty crayfish, and other crayfish are common. They make great live bait too. A great method of fishing them is to rip off the tail, the head, or the claws and hook them apart from the body. Catfish will eat them this way and it prevents bass from attacking your crayfish.

They are best fished on a Carolina Rig because they naturally inhabit the bottom of the water column. This classification of arthropods tends to have many names depending on your geography. Crawfish is more popular in the south while crayfish is the northern term. They are often called crayfish, crawdads, crawfish, cray dads, craw daddies, yabbies, mudbugs, and even mini lobsters by some. Regardless of what you decide to call them, know that they are excellent regardless. When they are not ripping the lips of your local bass populations, catfish eat them.

If you should choose to use them alive, be familiar with your local laws and regulations regarding their use as fishing bait. Some places have regulations and laws in place about crayfish traps as well as their use also. You can substitute real ones with lures such as the Catchif 3D Crayfish. Some bodies of water will allow almost anything to be used as bait while others will prohibit them. Again, catch crayfish from the same water your fishing in to avoid introducing anything that shouldn’t be there. Disease, parasites, pathogens, and invaders to name a few.

6. Worms – Red Worms, Nightcrawlers, Bloodworms

Red worms in a composting pile.

A great bait for smaller catfish is the earthworm. Worms will often produce much smaller fish but produce them very consistently. This is good if you want to take kids fishing and this is often where many anglers started their fishing journey. If you are after smaller catfish, going back to the basics is a good way to reel some in. Many fish love earthworms including channel cats. The biggest problem with using worms as bait is that pretty much all fish love earthworms. You may lose a lot of bait to bluegill, bass, and other species. They are fragile and are lost easily.

Whether it be the European nightcrawler, the red worm, a grub, or some other species, they are all candy to channel catfish as well as many other fish. Which species you should use largely depends on what is available in your area. Worms are also extremely effective in catching bluegill and other panfish in case you want to use them for bait instead. Earthworms are easy to keep alive and manage once you learn how. In addition to being good at catching the channel catfish, even blue catfish, bullhead, and flathead will hit them. They target most fish that swim.

7. Cicadas -They Are Not Available For A Very Long Time

Cicada on a leaf outside.

During the short time when they are available, cicadas make one of the best channel catfish baits out there. If used during the time they are active, the catfish will actually come out of the depths from the bottom to the surface to munch on the cicadas on the surface. Cicadas are a bulky snack that the fish just can’t seem to get enough of. They are only available for a very short time. Make sure to get them quickly! Even so, the fish are aware when the proper time of year is for the cicada hatch. When the cicadas increase in population, fish notice and gobble them up.

The fish will often take advantage of this very short amount of time to gorge themselves on this fascinating breed of insect. Cicadas are best fished alive on the surface of the water. Pierce the insect with a hook in the back of the abdomen so it will flutter its wings without killing it. Although they generally feed on the bottom, they will emerge and pick them off of the surface once they get a hint of the cicada’s presence. Cicadas have a drawing power to catfish that many anglers are not aware of. You can utilize this enticement to catch a few more fish.

You can fish cicadas at night to heighten the chances of catching channel catfish on this great bait and decrease the chances of getting hits from species such as largemouth bass who are also fond of them but rely on their vision to hunt for food. You can begin to look for them as well as listen for their unique songs starting around late April and into early June. If you want to catch some to take on your fishing trip, go out during the hatch and listen for little vibrations and buzzes. This is the mating call. Follow the noise to the individual and pick it up with your bare hands. Do not worry about getting bit or stung either. They are harmless to humans.

What Is The Most Effective Unnatural Bait?

When considering those baits that are not natural, they focus on utilizing the fish’s exceptional sense of taste and smell to entice the fish to take a bite at it. They are not used in conjunction to mimic anything naturally found in the water. Anglers use the habits of the fish to their advantage when choosing unnatural baits. They generally tend to catch smaller and decent sized fish. These fish are used to consuming oil from other fish as well as dead and decaying animals in the water. They are also found occasionally consuming nuts, berries, and other particles that fall from trees.

They also naturally eat vegetation. The baits used are generally full of oil, they stink, or have a ton of taste profile that attempts to appeal to and overstimulate those great senses. Naturally, this also means that the most effective unnatural bait is subjective. There are so many options to choose from that it makes choosing one harder to do. As far as these go, there is not one that works well in every situation. Unlike natural offerings like bluegill or shad which will work just about all of the time, every unnatural offering has a time and place in which it wins and loses.

Different bodies of water often mean different options will need to be considered for success. These normally include things like chicken liver, boilies, hotdogs, corn, pet food, and birdseed or millet. All in all, you will have to experiment on the fish in your area to see which foods they like best. Until you find that out, it is a guessing game. Still, they can catch you a full livewell easily.

1. Liver/Raw Meat (Chicken Liver, Beef Cuts, etc.)

Chicken liver isolated on a white background.

When it comes time to think about classic catfish bait, it is hard to come across someone who doesn’t mention liver or raw meat. Usually chicken liver, it has been used for a very long time to catch Channel Catfish. Chicken liver and liver from other animals leave a scent and flavor cloud of blood and iron in the water as well as most raw meats. It doesn’t usually matter if the meat is pork, beef, or chicken. They all work pretty well. They all catch fish. For a bait that stays on the hook longer and better, you can take the raw, uncooked meat, and cover it in table salt.

Leave it there for a few days and allow the meat to dry out in the fridge. The salt will dry out the meat to a point where losing the bait is no longer an issue. Since they have taste buds all over their bodies, it is hard for catfish to pass up a good piece of liver or fresh meat. Chicken liver is very fragile and soft. Some like to use beef liver, pork liver, or rooster liver because they are tougher and stay on the hook better. The benefit of using liver over normal cuts of meat is the iron content. Catfish can pick up iron molecules in the water very well. It is odd but it works.

Normal cuts of meat are better when you want a bait that is not as messy. The liver choices are more for catfish that are looking for food. It will draw them in from a very long distance. The fish tend to be smaller but it does get a lot of takers not only from these but from blue and even sometimes smaller flathead will take it on occasion. They are very effective regardless of which one you decide to try. Try them all and see which one is your favorite. Try different options.

2. Canned Meat – Spam, Luncheon Loaf, And Ham

Luncheon meat sliced and resting on a plate isolated on a white background.

Heavily processed meat products from a can are a great, inexpensive bait choice. They are cheap to buy, easy to rig, and if you don’t catch a fish, you can eat the bait if you get hungry. Meats like Spam or luncheon loaf stay on the hook well because of their salt content. The salt also adds a layer of extra flavor for the catfish to enjoy. Whether the fish enjoy eating things like salted or raw meat is debatable. One thing holds true though. Canned meat catches a ton of catfish and it is hugely effective at doing so. It is very cheap and it lasts a long time in your tackle box.

Meat products such as these will even catch you smaller blues and flatheads. It is a good catch-all type of bait. You can also catch bluegill, pumpkinseed, redear, and pretty much every other sunfish with it too. That depends on how small your hook is. Canned meat will last forever in the pantry or tackle box and it will not go bad for a very long time. Things like spam, luncheon loaf, luncheon meat, canned ham, Vienna Sausages, and other processed meat products from a can are also very edible by the angler too. I personally love meats like this but many don’t.

You can always eat your bait if you get hungry, assuming that you don’t mind eating them. We recommend taking some spam, luncheon loaf, or similar product out of the can and use a knife to slice it into inch cubes. Then, rig the cube on a treble hook from the bottom or a 3/0 – 4/0 circle hook on a Carolina rig. The treble hook provides a way to better keep the bait on. The circle hook makes it easier to hook the fish when it bites. Just start reeling into the biting fish.

3. Pet Food – Wet Or Dry Dog and Cat Food From A Bag

Dry dog food isolated on a white background.

You may have one of the most effective Channel Catfish Baits available on the market already inside of your pet’s bag of kibble. Most dog and cat food in commercial brands use byproduct meals like chicken, turkey, beef, and fish. You can hook this bait as well as use it as a chum. Other than panfish, catfish is the only other species that will touch pet food. Also, although the fish like bluegill and green sunfish will eat it, they cannot have much before they fill up and is unlikely that you can hook one anyway. Its a great way to keep bass and other carnivores off your hook.

This makes commercial dog and cat foods a great option if you want to chum up a spot and target channel catfish alone. Even if you don’t have a pet, it still makes a very cheap, hugely effective bait choice. You can go to the store and buy a big bag for a couple of dollars even if you don’t have a dog or cat and use it with success. Another trend is to purchase a wet dog or cat food from a can. Varieties like beef strips in gravy, chicken, turkey, and fish recipes are already packed with flavor and scent. Fish attractant works and fish do track scent and flavors.

Brands like Alpo, Little Ceaser, Gravy Train, 9Lives, Purina Friskies and Fancy Feast, and Blue Wilderness are all great options if you just want a cheap, hugely effective attractant that is easy to source. Another popular trend is to use the dry stuff that comes in big bags. These are great for using as chum as well as on a hook. Just take a few handfuls and throw them out into the water. Cast a few hooked pieces right into the middle of the pile and wait for a bite. This is very helpful for getting a bite quickly and can be used if you do not want to spend hours per trip.

4. Corn – Feed Corn, Sweet Corn, Cracked, And Hominy

Pile of canned sweet corn isolated on a white background.

Since catfish are omnivores, and they are used to eating plant matter some of the time, corn works well. Most fish caught on corn will be smaller since it is a smaller bait. It has the potential to catch small and decent size channel catfish. Flathead won’t eat it. Blue catfish won’t eat it. Other than sunfish, the only fish that will readily consume corn aside from catfish is common carp and other carp species such as grass carp. If the water that you fish at doesn’t have a population of carp, you’re in luck. You will almost certainly catch the targeted species your after.

The only fish that you are capable of catching are channels catfish and sunfish. So, in other words, it’s a win-win. You will either catch the targeted species or one of the best baits you can use for them. Always remember to check the local laws primarily and specifically concerning the use of corn as bait. In some parts of the country, corn is illegal in fishing. Don’t take a gamble. Always be familiar with the laws and regulations of the particular body of water. The best way to fish corn is on a hair rig. A piece of fake plastic corn rests on the hair of the rig. It is easy.

You want to throw out handfuls of corn into the water and cast in the middle of it. As the fish feed, they will eventually pick up the fake piece. This is when you hook them. There are a few different options to consider on this route. First, is feed corn. This is the dry stuff they use to feed domestic hogs, cattle, and deer. It is also used as a lure to attract feral hogs and wild deer for hunters. It is very inexpensive. A few dollars will get you a whole lot of bait. You need to boil feed corn to make it soft enough to fish with. Then,  you can use it on a hook or as a chum.

With sweet corn, it is the same way. The only noticeable difference is that it is a little more expensive and already prepared for you. Sweet corn as the name implies is also noticeably sweeter in taste which may or may not make a difference on your trip, depending on the preferences of the fish in your area. It will attract smaller fish because the kernels are not big.

5. Hotdogs – Raw Out Of Package Or Flavored Sausages

Hotdogs on a cutting board with a knife.

Hotdogs are an American staple. Whether served plain, with chili and cheese, or ketchup and mustard, Americans have enjoyed them for a very long time. Few people would actually think that they may be consuming one of the most unique baits for catfish. They are rather inexpensive and they are an effective bait to target bluegill and other sunfish as well as catfish. You can use them raw right out of the package or you can experiment with different flavor combinations and recipes for added appeal. Experiment to see what the fish like where you are.

A popular method is to soak the hot dogs in cherry or strawberry flavored gelatin. Since gelatin is rendered animal parts, it has that going for it in addition to the added flavor profile. More popular methods include soaking the dogs in a flavored drink mix, garlic powder, onion powder, garlic salt, and onion salt. While these certainly do work and can be hugely effective, using them plain right out of the package is a tried and true catfish catcher by itself. Cut the hot dogs into four equals. This is about the size of the bait that you want to use. This catches most fish.

It will prevent sunfish from pecking at it and stealing it from the hook and allow catfish to have a bite-sized snack which is exactly what you want. Take a hotdog segment and thread a circle hook inside from the bottom by using a baiting needle pierced through the body of it. If you did it right, you should have a hook on the bottom of the dog with the fishing line running through the body and out the top. Attach it to your mainline via a swivel and loop or a cow hitch knot.

6. Marshmallows – They Work Exactly Like Sponge Hooks

Pile of marshmallows isolated on a white background.

As odd as it may seem, many catfish anglers have substituted their sponge hooks used for dip bait fishing with marshmallows. Marshmallows are slightly elastic, extremely sweet, and take a dip bait well because they are full of microscopic air pockets. They are very absorbent. They soak up anything liquid like a sponge and do a great job of holding onto that liquid, regardless of what it may be. You can dip them in fish oil, shad guts, blood, dip bait, or anything else you want to fish with. It will soak it up too. Marshmallows do a great job of holding onto that liquid.

If they performed equally well as sponge hooks if not better, they have one more advantage going for them. They are extremely cheap. Normal marshmallows often cost less than three dollars a bag. An average bag of jet-puffed marshmallows consists of about forty pieces. Normal sponge hooks used for catfishing are about the same price for three or four hooks. You can always rely on them to be available too, especially when sponge hooks for catfishing are not.

Most stores carry marshmallows for sale for human consumption. This does not mean though that their option as a catfish bait is absent. All you need to do to create your own sponge hook is insert a pre-rigged treble hook through the bottom and out the top. It doesn’t have to be a huge one either. Just an average size hook will do fine unless of course, you want a big hook. That is fine too. Anyways, after you have done this and attached it to your mainline via a swivel and loop knot, dip it inside the dip bait to start fishing. You will not get a ton of the actual bait. It will just soak up the liquid, which is good. It will stretch your money much farther than before.

Putting It All Together – Choosing Baits Is Important

To sum it up, there are no shortcuts for attracting channel catfish or any other catfish species to your hook. To be a successful fisherman, you need the best channel catfish baits out there. Utilizing the baits that have proven themselves over and over again will give you the best success. Once you have it figured out, you can start to see your catch rate go way up and stay there for much longer. Your hooks are important but the baits on your hook maybe even more important. Choose your bait wisely. It could very well mean the difference between fishing and catching when you are after channel catfish. It can and will make all of the difference to you.

What is your best bait for channel catfish? Is it a bait on this list or did you invent the recipe yourself? Have a story you want to share? Leave a comment below to tell us what you think!

2 thoughts on “Best Channel Catfish Baits – Baits That Catch Channel Catfish Everywhere They Swim”

  1. I never knew that wet dog and cat food from a can act as an effective way to chump up a spot for catfish. My brother wants to go catfishing with me this weekend and I want to find more effective ways to bait for them since we haven’t had the best of luck in the past. I’ll be sure to keep this list in mind as I search for other catfish bait online that has good reviews.

    • Hello Taylor. Canned dog and cat food is a very great way of luring catfish (primarily Channel Catfish) to take a bite. Make sure to keep us informed about how well it works for you! Practice makes perfect!


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