Set Your Hook

Catching Catfish

As I got ready to write my article this week, it dawned on me that I hadn’t written an article about the best ways to catch catfish!

Catfish Story:

The “Royal” Family was trout fishing at Cataract Lake in Williams, Arizona. The fishing seemed slow but the lake was packed so we had to walk way past our usual spot. When we got to the lake shore, we discovered that ESP Boss hadn’t brought The Queen Mother’s fishing pole. After a, ahem, ugly scene, The Queen Mother agreed to use ESP Boss’ backwards, upside-down, won’t-catch-anything, left-handed pole. She threw in a test cast and pulled out a catfish! It was the only fish we caught all day.

Channel catfish are well-known for their fighting spirit. Because of this, it’s important that you have a quality rod and reel. A medium action 6-7 foot rod with 12 pound test line will land a large channel cat, but be prepared for a lengthy battle. And, you still might end up breaking your tackle and losing the fish. Isn’t that possibility part of the fun?

Catfish have scattered black spots on a silver or gray colored back and sides with a white belly, but large adults have few spots. They have smooth, scale-less skin and 8 barbels or ‘whiskers’. Length is 10 to 39 inches and weight 12 ounces to over 15 pounds or larger (depending on the waterway, area of the country, fishing habits, etc.) Contrary to myth, the “whiskers” are harmless to touch and used only to smell, taste and feel as it forages for food. However, the dorsal fin and pectoral fins have sharp spines which can inflict a painful wound.

Channel catfish are found in most warm water lakes and rivers and they inhabit deeper stretches of rivers and streams with moderate current. Spawns are from April through early June. In Arizona, they are occasionally stocked in some waterways.


Channel catfish will eat almost anything dead or alive, although, they prefer minnows, crayfish, and aquatic insects. Effective baits are waterdogs, liver, blood bait, shad, shrimp, anchovies, homemade stink baits, hot dogs, minnows and worms. Other popular baits are cut baits (pieces of goldeye, tulibee or suckers), raw shrimp, chicken and beef liver and hearts, frogs and nightcrawlers.

(Before using a bait, be sure to check with your local Fish & Game to make sure that it is allowed in the waterway you’ll be fishing!)

All baits work well, but on some days one will work better than another, so it is best to bring more than one type with you. Fresh cut bait works better than frozen. A float rig with a small hook tipped with a piece of nightcrawler and some split shot for weight is an effective way to catch some goldeye.

We usually use the old standby of chicken livers, but another option is turkey or chicken hearts. They stay on the hook really well and cats love them!

Readers Weigh In:

  • What are your favorite catfish baits?
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