Home Biologist Anglers suggest the most effective catfish baits

Anglers suggest the most effective catfish baits


Catfish are perhaps one of Arkansas’ most misunderstood sport fish. They live in virtually every body of water in the state, grow to gigantic proportions, and are easy to catch with inexpensive equipment. Complement these characteristics with its fantastic flavor, and it’s a wonder anyone despises these hardy fish.

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission stocks thousands of catchable-sized river catfish each year through its hatchery system in small ponds and lakes that cannot cope with fishing pressure. Mother Nature produces millions more fish in Arkansas rivers and lakes every year. All it takes to catch them is a little patience and the right lure to entice them to bite. The secret ingredient to all good catfish lures is scent.

Catfish can “smell” bait much better than many species of fish. Highly sensitive membranes inside the fish’s nostrils detect compounds in the water. The more these membranes have folds, the more the fish’s sense of smell is developed. Trout have about 18 of these folds, while largemouth bass may have as few as 10. Channel catfish have 140 of these specialized folds for smelling, allowing them to detect compounds as small as one part in 100 million.

So what smells make the best bait for catfish? Here are some proven deals to keep you plugged in this summer.


The best smells of all will come from the foods the catfish are used to eating. Shad, small bream and parts of less desirable species such as carpsuckers and skipjack are the main producers for many catfish anglers.

Justin Homan, chief biologist for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s catfish team, said many veteran catfish anglers, especially those on the big rivers in eastern ‘Arkansas, prefer cut shad and skipjack. These oily fish give off an odor that large catfish seek.

“When running jugs with my wife and granddaughter, we also tend to use cut baits, especially harder-skinned fish,” Homan said. “Pieces of carp or buffalo stay on the hook well and will bring in a lot of fish.”

Homan says that flathead catfish like live bait fish much more than cut bait, so targeting these big fighters may require a little more effort to take care of your lures. Many anglers use goldfish purchased from bait dealers, and he has personally done well on Lake Conway running at night with live sunfish.

“You have to catch the sunfish first and you can’t move it from another body of water, but they work great,” Homan said. “One tip is to check your bait around midnight. Chain cats can beat flatheads to your bait, and flatheads are most active after about midnight. Rebaiting then can really help attract bigger cats. “

Any wild caught fish or crayfish cannot be transported to another body of water and used as bait unless used as dead bait. The risk of spreading disease or invasive species is too high when moving wild-caught live baitfish. If you want to use live bait fish but don’t have time to catch them in the body of water you will be fishing, goldfish, minnows and minnows can be purchased at bait shops come from baitfish farms certified to be free from diseases and other ailments that live fish can carry.


Catalpa worms, night owls and other flower bed crawlers also make great bait, and they can be pulled out of the ground and transported with no problem. Flipping over a few bricks from the flowerbed or scraping a few leaves and digging on the surface of the dirt should collect enough worms for a quick trip. Some anglers have taken worm collecting to the next level, using a special technique called “worm grunt” or “worm fiddle” to get bait quickly. Compost bins are also great places to find active red worms nicknamed “red wigglers”, which don’t grow as big as the night owls you find on the ground after a rain, but give plenty of action for entice capricious cats to bite.


One of those overlooked grocery baits that works wonders is good old canned meat. As outdoor writer Don Wirth has always written in issues of Bassmaster Magazine’s humorous Harry ‘n’ Charlie columns, SPAM is not cured and ready to eat until it has collected half a inch of dust on top back of convenience store shelves. . Believe it or not, Arkansas’ current state record and once world blue catfish record of 116 pounds, 12 ounces was caught on this easy-to-store bait in 2001. That doesn’t make it’s hard to keep a box handy in the tackle box, and if the fish won’t bite, it’s not so bad with crackers and a little hot sauce. The same cannot be said for night owls.


Clint Coleman, assistant coordinator of the AGFC’s family and community fishing program, has seen his share of stinky lures, as he helps organize dozens of fishing tournaments each year. His favorite bait is hot dog chunks dipped in a mixture of Kool-Aid cherry and garlic powder. For some reason, this combination sets catfish on fire in fishing tournaments.

“It’s easy to get to the store and easy to deal with the kids,” Coleman said. “Some kids might not want to play with the worms, livers, or stinky baits, but everyone will take a hot dog. The garlic will give off a lot of smell to fine tune the fish on your lure.”

Coleman says not to worry about adding water to activate the Kool-Aid. The juice from the hot dogs is all it takes.


Arkansas Wildlife Television host Trey Reid has had the opportunity to catch big catfish on the Mississippi River with real sticks, and he agrees that cut skipjack is the prime rib of the fishing world. cat, but for his excursions into smaller waters he always tends to the bait he was introduced to catfishing with – chicken livers.

“You can pick it up at almost any grocery store on the way to the lake or store it in the fridge with slightly less complaints from family members than other wild concoctions,” Reid said. “Sometimes it’s good to keep it simple and remember that fishing doesn’t have to be a huge expense or take a ton of time to prepare.”


As weird as it sounds, you might not have to be stinky to get a good catfish bite. Jon Stein, district fisheries biologist for the AGFC in Rogers, says soap is one of the best baits used to sample channel catfish in nets.

“The biologists were using a log of manufactured soy cheese as bait, but we also caught a lot of turtles,” Stein said. “Staff are now using Zote Soap to bait the nets. It attracts the river catfish without the turtles so we can focus on getting valuable information about the river catfish, including lengths, weights, population size (catch per net), age and can estimate how much of the population comes from stocked fish.

Stein says that although he has never personally baited with soap, he has spoken to many on-water anglers who swear by him.

“It has to be high in animal fat,” Stein said. “Some anglers say they melt it, pour it into ice cube trays, and put a hook on it so the soap hardens around the hook, and then they can keep things clean and organized on the water.”

Zote is even scientifically proven to catch catfish, so to speak. A study conducted by Russell Barabe and Donald Jackson at Mississippi State University and presented to the American Fisheries Society in 2011 found that catfish catch rates between Zote soap and cut baits on trotlines were statistically insignificant. The study aimed to find alternatives to catfish baiting that would not catch certain species of endangered aquatic turtles. Soap caught no turtles while catching 193 blue catfish and 462 river catfish when fished from 11,000 trotline hooks in six coastal rivers overnight in Magnolia State .

Do you have a favorite formula for catfish success? Send a comment to randy.zellers@agfc.ar.gov. If we can bear it, we might feature it in a future edition of the AGFC weekly fishing report.

Randy Zellers is assistant chief of communications at the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.