16 Best Catfish Baits in 2024: Catch Big Cats Every Time!

Best Catfish Bait

Catfish is one of those species that are frequently misunderstood, especially by beginners. Large part of that is their diet.

It is true that catfish are not picky eaters, and that they will eat almost anything, however, it is important to know when and where to present it.

The best catfish bait can be described as the one that works in given conditions. This is a complex topic and that is why I decided to write this long list with every single bait that can be used for catfish fishing.

You can use almost anything that has stronger smell and taste, including wormschicken, liver, hotdogs, dog food, and many other things that can seem very strange if you are new to this.

What to use for catfish bait depends on yeartime and specific conditions in your area, as well as the catfish species you are trying to catch.

I have tried and tested all of these catfish baits, and here is what I discovered!

[FREE E-BOOK]

10 DEADLY SINS [MISTAKES] OF FISHING

Get my FREE fishing e-book where you will find my PRO Tips!

Free Fishing Ebook

What is the Best Catfish Bait? [Really Good]

Good catfish bait will not only make a catfish bite, but it will attract it from a distance!

As an angler, you have endless options to achieve this goal, and don’t be afraid to experiment and try out different baits to see what works the best in your area.

Here is a list of simple, affordable, and very effective catfish baits.

Best Catfish Bait - Infografic

#1: Hot Dog for Catfish Bait

Let’s start with one simple and popular catfish bait that may seem surprising to you. When talking about what is the best catfish bait, I have to mention hotdogs.

Hot dog for catfish bait is simple, cheap, easy to use, and widely available. And here I am talking about the cheapest, smellies, and the most disgusting ones you can find in a store. The ones you wouldn’t give to your dog, let alone you.

Hotdogs will not catch the biggest catfish, and you should target smaller ones, or maybe medium sized fish.

Use them alone, or even mix them with other ingredients to increase efficiency. Garlic is one of the ingredients that goes well with hotdogs.

You can even soak them in flavored juice like KoolAid. This method will add extra flavor (strawberry works well) and it will make them stronger, and they will stay on a hook better.

Best Catfish Bait - Hot Dogs

#2: Nightcrawlers (Worms)

Nightcrawlers are a go-to catfish bait, thanks to their squirming movements and enticing scent.

If you want to attract catfish effectively, you can't go wrong with these readily available worms. Their natural, erratic movements in the water draw catfish in, tapping into their predatory instincts.

Moreover, nightcrawlers release a scent that catfish find irresistible, which greatly increases your chances of a successful catch.

When using nightcrawlers, you have a couple of options regarding presentation. You can rig them whole, which is ideal when targeting larger catfish. This method allows the entire worm to move freely, maximizing its attractiveness.

Alternatively, if you're after smaller catfish, cutting the nightcrawler in half can be more effective. This not only makes the bait size-appropriate but also releases additional scent into the water, further enhancing its appeal.

To properly rig a nightcrawler, thread it onto the hook in a way that leaves enough of the worm exposed to wriggle enticingly. Ensuring the bait looks natural in the water is key.

Best Catfish Bait - Nightcrawlers - Worms

#3: Shrimp for Catfish Bait

Another good option is using shrimp for catfish bait ...

Channel, Flathead and Bullhead catfish love it, and this bait can be used both dead and alive.

You can use dead saltwater shrimp if you don’t have access to live freshwater ones. While I have to admit that live fish works better, this bait is frequently very effective for smaller catfish who will eat prey that is easier to get.

When it comes to dead shrimp as bait, same as with hotdogs (and many other catfish baits) you can add flavoring to increase smell and taste. Catfish have excellent sense of smell, and it will guide them to your hook.

Because this bait is not the smelliest one, it will work better in summer than in winter. Cold water slows down the spread of smell.

Best Catfish Bait - Freshwater Shrimp

#4: Chicken for Catfish Bait

Chicken, including meat and some organs too, can be very effective ...

Chicken liver catfish bait is one of the best baits due to its strong scent. If something smells horrible to you, it is great for catfish. However, you should not use rotten meat as catfish won’t eat that.

Chicken liver is one of the most effective parts of chicken, however you can use other parts too. Chicken for catfish bait can be prepared in various ways, including spicing it up with garlic. Using parts of chicken that you will not use for your lunch is both cheap and simple. This even includes greasy skin.

Chicken gizzards for catfish bait, and even the chicken hearts, make a good alternative to more expensive chicken meat. But, if you want, you can use meat too.

Chicken breast catfish bait recipe I like to use is a simple one. I make a marinade from two packs of KoolAid and garlic. The amount of garlic powder should be similar to amount of KoolAid.

Then you should cut the breast into bait sized pieces and roll them in this marinade. Put it in a plastic box with a lid and leave overnight. Chicken breasts are only good if you spice them up, otherwise they are not effective.

Best Catfish Bait - Chicken Meat

#5: Liver for Catfish Bait

As I already mentioned when talking about chicken, liver is a great catfish bait. And you can use liver from almost any kind of animal.

Beef liver works great, although it is very soft. Same as chicken or roster liver, it can fall of a hook easily, so you have to be careful, or even use bait thread. Channel catfish reacts the best on this bait.

Among other liver, you can try to use rooster liver. It is similar to chicken liver when it comes to smell of it. But, rooster liver is a bit darker and harder, so it stays on a hook better. Scent of it also traveles further because it is a bit bloodier.

Some anglers are also hunters, so you should think about deer liver. It attracts mostly smaller channel catfish, however, it is even better for chumming than it is for bait. For some reason, deer liver works better for prebaiting.

On the other hand, deer meat can also be used, but in my opinion, it is a waste of good meat. Unless your freezer broke down and you have a lot of spoiled meat that smells bad.

Best Catfish Bait - Chicken Liver

#6: Gizzard Shad

If you're looking for another effective bait, Gizzard Shad offer an oily and flavorful option that catfish can't resist.

Their natural scent and taste make them a top choice for serious anglers aiming to reel in big catfish.

Whether you use them fresh or frozen, Gizzard Shad maintain their effectiveness, guaranteeing you have a reliable bait option.

To get the best results, cut the Gizzard Shad into bite-sized pieces. This not only makes the bait more manageable but also releases more of the fish's natural oils into the water, creating an irresistible scent trail.

The oiliness of Gizzard Shad is a key factor in attracting catfish, as these fish have a keen sense of smell and are drawn to strong, natural scents.

When preparing Gizzard Shad, make sure to handle them properly to maintain their freshness. If you plan to use them later, freezing them can be a good option, but ensure they are well-sealed to preserve their oils. For immediate use, keep them on ice until you're ready to bait your hook.

Best Catfish Baits - Gizzard Shad

#7: Crayfish

Crayfish, a natural food source for catfish, make for excellent live bait due to their enticing movement and scent.

These crustaceans are highly effective because their lifelike motion in the water grabs the attention of catfish, triggering their predatory instincts.

When you're choosing crayfish, size matters. Smaller crayfish work well for smaller catfish species, while larger ones are perfect for targeting trophy-sized cats.

To use crayfish as bait, you'll want to hook them properly to maintain their lively movement. Insert the hook through the tail or the back, ensuring it doesn't kill the crayfish. This way, the crayfish will continue to move naturally, attracting catfish.

Live crayfish can be found in local streams, rivers, or bait shops, making them an accessible option for many anglers.

Best Catfish Baits - Crayfish

#8: Freshwater Clam

Freshwater clams are another excellent bait option for catfish fishing, thanks to their natural scent and crunchy texture.

These readily available bivalves can be used whole or crushed, making them versatile for your fishing needs.

The strong, organic aroma they emit is highly attractive to catfish, drawing them in from considerable distances.

To use freshwater clams effectively, start by gathering them from local rivers or lakes where they're abundant. Once you've collected enough, decide whether to use them whole or crush them.

Using whole clams can be particularly effective for larger catfish, as the size and crunchiness of the shell create a tantalizing challenge for them.

On the other hand, crushed clams release more scent into the water, which can attract a broader range of catfish sizes.

When baiting your hook, make sure you securely attach the clam to prevent it from slipping off during casting or when the catfish strikes. For added effectiveness, contemplate using a bait holder hook, which can help keep the clam in place.

Best Catfish Baits - Freshwater Clam

#9: Soap for Catfish Bait

You have probably heard that catfish will bite on anything, so what about using some soap for catfish bait?

Ivory soap catfish bait is actually quite popular among DIY baits, but of course, combined with other ingredients. You will have to add bacon grease, water, powdered cheese, and some strong scented oil, like Anis.

Idea: Melt 3 pounds of ivory soap, add 6 ounces of bacon grease, ¼ pounds of powdered cheese, and 2 cups of water. Add a bit more water, or more powdered cheese, to get a desired consistency. It should be like pudding.

When all ingredients are blended together, remove it from heat and add a teaspoon of oil. Pour in in a large and shallow pan and let it cool down for one day. Cut into pieces and you are ready to go!

The only “problem” is that oils in this bait, that are smell carriers through the water, dissolve very slowly, so you have to be patient.

Best Catfish Baits - Ivory Soap

#10: Live Fish [Bluegill, Goldfish, Carp, Minnows, etc.]

To know if using live fish is efficient you must know do catfish eat other fish. And the answer is YES, they do, especially larger specimens.

Live baits are one of the best baits if you are targeting large catfish, especially Flatheads! And don’t be afraid to increase the live bait size if you want to prevent smear catfish from biting it.

Live fish can be various, including minnowsperch, gizzard shad, bluegill, sunfish, mullet and even small carp. And some people will use goldfish too.

Goldfish for catfish bait is actually very effective although it is not naturally present in waters where catfish live. Unlike many other fish that prefer natural baits, catfish will eat live organisms that are not living in their waters.

Hook them with suitable hooks behind a doral fin and make sure that you don’t injure their backbone.

If using carp for catfish bait, you will most likely use the dead one. Carp is a large fish, and although catfish can occasionally eat baby carp, you can use pieces of larger carp. Cut the fillets, remove scales, and cut into pieces of desired size. If you remove scales, it will release more scent.

Best Catfish Bait - Goldfish

#11: Dog Food for Catfish Bait

If you have a dog, there is a high chance that you already have some suitable dog food for catfish bait.

Choose canned food that comes in solid chunks. The smellier, the better. It can also be used for chumming. A lot of these foods come already spiced up with gravy or some smelly sauces.

You can use dried dog food for chumming, but canned chunks are suitable to be mounted on a hook too. If the chunks are too soft, you can secure them with bait thread.

All catfish species can be caught with it, but channel catfish likes it the most. And the best part when it comes to dog food is that it is easily accessible, cheap, easy to transport, and has a very long shelf life.

Best Catfish Baits - Dog Food

#12: Cheese for Catfish Bait

Everyone loves cheese, and catfish are no exception!

Cheese for catfish bait can be used if it is smelly enough and dense enough to stay on a hook. Mildly flavored ones are not the best options. Also, soft cheese can be added to some DIY baits, but it is not good as a single bait.

Limburger cheese for catfish bait is one of the best options. It is extremely smelly, and if you want, you can add it to any kind of home-made mix for chumming too.

This cheese is soft when mature, so keeping it on a hook may be a nightmare. To make it firm, melt it a bit, and add a bit of flour, and even vanilla extract or garlic. Then let it cool and form balls.

Velveeta cheese is another option. Limburger is sold only in larger supermarkets, so Velveeta is a good substitute. It is cheap, widely available, and it is a form of processed cheese that is harder than Limburger. Although it can be used alone, it is much more efficient as an ingredient of home-made dough balls or similar baits.

Best Catfish Baits - Ivory Soap

#13: Turkey Bacon

Don't overlook the surprising effectiveness of turkey bacon.

This unconventional option can be a game-changer in your catfishing arsenal. Turkey bacon's salty and savory scent has a unique way of attracting catfish, making it an unexpectedly powerful bait choice.

To use turkey bacon effectively, cut it into bite-sized pieces. This guarantees that the catfish can easily consume the bait without much difficulty.

The convenience of this bait lies in its ease of preparation and handling. You don't need to worry about keeping it alive or dealing with the mess associated with some other types of catfish bait.

When you're ready to fish, simply thread the turkey bacon onto your hook. The scent will disperse in the water, drawing catfish from their hiding spots.

The texture of turkey bacon helps it stay on the hook longer, even if smaller fish try to nibble at it first.

Best Catfish Baits - Turkey Bacon

#14: Commercial Dough Bait

Commercial dough baits offer a convenient and effective alternative for catfish anglers looking to maximize their catch.

These pre-flavored and molded baits save you time and effort, allowing you to focus more on fishing rather than bait preparation.

They're designed to be easy to use, requiring minimal setup, which is perfect for both novice and experienced anglers.

When selecting a commercial dough bait, look for brands known for their strong scents and durable textures. Catfish are highly attracted to potent smells, so a bait with a robust aroma will greatly increase your chances of success.

Dough baits are formulated to stay on the hook longer, even in strong currents, ensuring that your bait remains effective for extended periods.

To get the best results, think about using dough baits in areas where catfish are most abundant, such as near submerged structures or along the bottom of deeper waters.

Simply mold the bait around your hook, making sure it's securely attached, and cast your line. The scent will disperse in the water, drawing catfish towards your bait.

Best Catfish Baits - Commercial Dough

#15: Berkley's PowerBait Catfish Bait Chunks

Among the top choices for commercial catfish bait, Berkley's PowerBait catfish bait chunks stand out for their brand recognition and specialized formulation.

Known for producing high-quality fishing products, Berkley has crafted these bait chunks specifically to attract catfish.

The formulation includes a unique blend of scent and flavor enhancers, designed to appeal to the catfish's strong sense of smell and taste.

When you use Berkley's PowerBait Chunks, you're leveraging years of research and development. These bait chunks are easy to use; simply hook them onto your line, and you're ready to fish.

They're designed to stay on the hook longer, even in strong currents, reducing the need for frequent re-baiting. This lets you focus more on fishing and less on maintenance.

Best Catfish Baits - Berkley PowerBait Chunks

#16: Boilies

And lastly, we have boilies! You may have wondered do catfish eat boilies, and as you can already assume, YES, they do! 

Process of making them at home is the same as for carp, but they are smellier. Many anglers really like them because boilies are far less disgusting than many other baits for catfish.

Fish flavored ones work the best because they have much stronger scent. Also, I would advise you to make your own because you can customize them completely.

Crayfish, squid, and crab are also excellent flavors. The easiest recipe is the one that I started with, and I will share it here. Of course, you can change some ingredients to make it more suitable for your fishing situation.

IDEA: Use 1/3 lb of powdered milk, 0.4 lb wheat germ, 1/4 lb fish meal, 2 teaspoons of garlic, 5 big eggs, and 6 drops of vanilla extract. First, mix the dry ingredients, and then add beaten eggs and vanilla. Knead it like dough. Add a bit of water if the dough is too hard, or a bit of flour if it is too soft. Form balls of desired size, boil them for 2 minutes, and let them dry on a piece of cloth overnight!

Best Catfish Bait - Boilies

FAQs about Best Catfish Baits:

I listed some of the best catfish bait options, and now I have to answer some questions that are frequently asked by catfish anglers.

If you want to know which baits work in certain parts of the year, or what are the best baits for specific species of catfish, keep on reading!

What is the Best Homemade Catfish Bait? [DIY Recipe]

Homemade catfish baits have a lot of benefits. You can add ingredients you want to increase effectiveness of the bait in your own area. Besides, ingredients are usually very cheap. I already mentioned boilies and spiced up hot dogs, so here is one different diy catfish bait recipe.

Ingredients

  • 1 lb of soft/cream cheese, preferably smelly one
  • ½ lb of liver (it can be chicken, roster, or any other)
  • Garlic powder – one large spoon
  • 1-2 baitfish of any kind, preferably oily ones like herrings
  • Canned dog/cat food
  • Flour (wheat if possible)

Use a blender to mix liver, dog food, and baitfish. Add cheese and garlic and blend again. Remove it from a blender and put it into a bowl. Add wheat flour and knead it like a bread dough.

When the consistency is right and you can make firm balls, that’s it. You don’t have to cook this like boilies, and you can use it raw. Make double the quantity if you want to use some for chumming too.

This is the recipe for catfish bait I personally like the most because it is easy and can be customized. You can use any kind of meat instead of chicken liver. You can even replace dog food with cat food or even some smelly and cheap meat spread for human consumption. Add vanilla extract, or even KoolAid if you like to experiment.

What is the Best Channel Catfish Bait?

What is good catfish bait depends on a catfish species. There are many good baits for channel catfish, and I already mentioned some of them before.

However, If I have to list one as the best channel catfish bait, it is chicken liver. This bait is cheap, smelly, easy to use, and works excellent in almost any situation and time of year.

If you prefer something that doesn’t stink as much, go for nightcrawlers. They can work well for channels.

What is the Best Flathead Catfish Bait?

The best flathead bait is a bit different than a bait for channels. Flatheads prefer live bait, and that is something that they will bite on in any situation. Other baits are not as good.

Live baitfish, like goldfish, perch, and bluegill work the best. Hook them behind a dorsal fin and their injured movement and scent will attract flatheads from a distance.

The reason for this is the fact that grown up flatheads stop scavenging for food. They lurk and ambush their prey, so you will have to offer something that suits their natural feeding behavior.

What is the Best Blue Catfish Bait?

Blue catfish can be caught on various baits, but one of the best ones is shad.

The best blue catfish bait has to be fresh. Forget spoiled fish that was accidentally left in your garage for a week as blue catfish won’t eat it.

Freshly cut pieces of shad, or even other fish, will do the best job. Herrings may also work very well. The reason for this is the fact that freshy caught and cut fish can release a lot of scent into the water.

Live bait is not necessary as it will not give better results. Shad and herrings are quite oily, and oils are excellent smell carriers.

Best Catfish Bait - Channel - Flathead and Blue

What is the Best Catfish Bait for Lakes and Ponds?

Rivers, ponds, and lakes are very different even if you are fishing for the same species of fish. The best catfish bait for lakes is different from the best one for rivers.

When fishing for catfish in a lake you can use worms, like nightcrawlers, for almost any catfish. This bait is highly effective when alive. To make it release more scent with movement, cut of its tail, or cut it into pieces, but make sure that it stays alive.

The best catfish bait for paylakes or ponds can be the same, or you can switch to smelly baits like any kind of cheese-based DIY baits. I already mentioned how to make those in the previous chapters.

Catfish living in ponds are used to man-made foods so the taste and smell of it can work excellent. Any kind of those baits mentioned above can work well.

What is the Best Catfish Bait for Rivers?

Fishing in moving waters is a bit different and you have to apply that logic to baits too. The best catfish bait for rivers is not the same as the best catfish bait for ponds or lakes.

In moving waters, you will find wild catfish that may be suspicious towards man-made baits. If that is the case in your waters and it seems that nothing is working, use live shad or live nightcrawlers. You can’t go wrong with that.

Except for those two, catfish river fishing is time to get some shrimp, alive, or even the dead ones too. Natural baits are a key to success.

What is the Best Catfish Bait for Winter?

Summer and winter are quite different and for catfish, water temperature plays a huge role in food finding.

In cold waters scent will travel much slower and to shorter distances. To attract catfish in such conditions, use baits with stronger scent. Natural food sources become less available in winter, so catfish has no choice, and it will eventually bite your bait.

Live bait can also work well due to lack of naturally present live fish. The one you present will be very attractive because of that. Shad and nightcrawlers are always a good option.

Catfish can be a bit slower and less interested, so live bait that is well known to catfish may work the best.

But as already said, because there is no other food, smelly baits are also a good option. Take both and see which one is better in your specific situation.

What is the Best Catfish Bait for Early Spring?

Best catfish bait for early spring also depends on water and catfish species. Nightcrawlers are quite good for almost any catfish, as well as cut shad for blue catfish.

Smaller catfish will be scavenging for food when spring arrives, so if you offer cut bait of any kind of meat like chicken meat, or the classic liver bait, there is a high chance that you will catch one.

But don’t just think about the baits. I already mentioned importance of chumming, and if that is allowed in your waters, think about it. It can significantly increase your success.

Early spring catfish bait does not differ a lot than winter bait.

What is the Best Quick and Easy Catfish Bait? [When You are in Hurry!]

Making your own catfish bait is easy, but time consuming in some cases.

Boilies have to be cooled down; dough has to settle to be formed into balls. If you don’t have time for any of this, here is how to make the best catfish bait that is also a quick catfish bait.

First option are hotdogs! I mentioned them already, and you can simply spice them up, put it in a plastic box and go. It doesn’t matter if they don’t soak all of the spices. It will be a bit less effective, but it is still an excellent bait.

Either keep a few packs of hotdogs at home, or simply make a short stop on your way to the fishing location and buy them in a store.

Another quick and easy catfish bait is cheese, dog food, or basically any meat you can find in your fridge on which you will add a bit of garlic.

Best Catfish Bait - Hotdogs - Quick and Easy

What is the Best Catfish Bait for Muddy Water?

Visibility in muddy waters is very bad, so catfish will have to rely on smell only. Stinky baits are the best catfish bait for muddy water. The same goes for cut bait, and any kind of meat and liver.

Scent will travel far away so that catfish can sense it. It will also look less suspicious in darker conditions. Any kind of strong scented bait will work excellent in muddy and moving waters.

These conditions are great to experiment a bit with various bait. Try liver, or maybe some recipe with cheese. Your options are endless here.

What is the Best Catfish Bait After Rain?

Rain has a big influence on fishing conditions. Just before the rain you can take advantage of feeding frenzy. After rain, there is short period of time when fish will bite before they calm down, but you have to know how to adjust your approach.

Rain will stir up the water, it will make baitfish move, and various nutrients will be flushed into the water.

The best catfish bait after rain is definitely baitfish if the water is still relatively clear. Smaller fish will naturally come to the banks after rain, and catfish will follow. Present your baitfish there.

If rain caused murky water and flushed a lot of mud into it then go for stinky baits like chicken liver.

What is the Best Catfish Bait from Grocery Store?

The best catfish bait from grocery store is probably hot dogs. These are extremely popular, cheap, and you can buy them in any store, anywhere.

But grocery store catfish bait is not limited only to hotdogs. There are all kinds of meat, canned dog food, cheese, and even soap. Basically, every ingredient of every catfish bait I mentioned here can be bought in a grocery store.

Bread and corn can also be used in various mixtures, especially for chumming. Bread can soak up a lot of various ingredients. It has an excellent texture for dissolving and spreading the smell through water.

You can even buy frozen shrimp and use it as bait.

What is the Best Catfish Bait to Buy at Walmart or Amazon?

Going to the store may not be convenient for you at all times, but luckily there are various shopping options. You can go to a website of one of the popular stores like Walmart. The best catfish bait at Walmart is literally anything. All baits mentioned here can be bought there, so it is an ideal place to buy everything at once. Except for those, you can buy dough bait, dip bait, chicken liver, blood dough, and similar. And the best of all, it can be delivered to your door.

There are many online stores and one of the best is Amazon. The best catfish bait at amazon is any man-made bait you can think of. You can buy boilies, dough, blood baits, dips, and many variations of similar products. It is one of the best places to buy already prepared baits.

Conclusion

It is true that catfish will eat almost anything, but that doesn’t mean that they will eat everything at all times.

Some baits work better in muddy waters, while other ones are better for clear rivers. The same goes for different catfish species. While flathead loves live bait, blue can be caught with cut bait.

The best thing about catfish eating anything is that you have endless options to make your own home-made baits with customized ingredients. From dough to boilies, you can use various smelly ingredients to make a perfect mix!

And there is one last tip. Blend your best catfish bait that is full of very smelly ingredients outside, and make sure that it doesn’t end up on your clothes!

About Me

Slo-fishing - About Us

__________

I am Siniša Pintar (friends call me Sina), the guy behind Slo-fishing.si. This site is base camp for fishing enthusiasts from all over the world. I love fishing and want to share all my stories, knowledge and my experience with any and all potential anglers. Read more ...

Affiliate Disclaimer:

Slo-fishing is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon. We also participates in eBay Partner Network, FishingBooker, ClickBank and Teespring affiliate programs. We are compensated for referring traffic and business to these companies.