Best Live Bait for Catfish in 2023 [Check my BIG List]

Best Live Bait for Catfish

Catfish are omnivorous and opportunistic feeders that will eat anything they can physically swallow. And that gives anglers many possibilities when choosing best catfish baits.

However, catfish change their feeding preferences as they grow, and big ones will rarely bite on something that attracts smaller specimens.

To get a big one, you should go for live bait! The best live bait for catfish is the one that naturally occurs in local waters, and most often that includes different baitfish like shad, bluegill and perch, crustaceans like crayfish, and large worms like nightcrawlers.

Live baits will attract large specimens of almost any catfish species, and movement and scent of injured fish can`t be replaced with anything else.

Live baits work at any time of day, almost year-round! That makes them such an excellent choice for anglers, if allowed in your area of course.

Here I will list the best live baits for catfish and give you some info about everything you should know before you head out on the water!



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What is the Best Live Bait for BIG Catfish?

So, lets skip all the unnecessary stuff and let’s see what is the best live bait for catfish that will help you land a big one!

#1: Bluegill

Bluegill, and perch that is mentioned next, are 2 most popular classics when it comes to live bait. Even if these 2 are not available, any other panfish will do.

Bluegills are the perfect size, live in almost any waters, and make excellent summer bait, although can be used in other times of year too. Even if the biggest catfish are not around, bluegill can be eaten by smaller specimens too, so even complete beginners who are not looking for a personal record catfish may use them.

Bluegills are very resilient and can survive in warm waters with low oxygen longer than other baitfish. This makes them perfect for such conditions where catfish often live.

#2: Perch

Perch is very similar to bluegill in terms of their effectiveness and usage. What makes perch great for anglers too is that it can easily be caught on the spot, and you don’t have to store them.

They can survive on a hook for a long time if you hook them carefully. Both perch and bluegill are excellent for lakes and stagnant waters.

Although small, perch has relatively high content of oil and fat, and that is something that catfish absolutely love. Iven if you accidentally kill a perch, it makes a great cut bait!

#3: Gizzard Shad

Gizzard shad is if you ask many experienced catfish anglers, the best live bait! It mostly lives in rivers and streams, and if you are fishing for catfish in a river, there is no better baitfish!

It can be caught easily with a net, and you can have fresh ones every day. River catfish feed on them on a daily basis, and because this shad is the most common food on catfish menu, it makes excellent bait.

If you want to buy them, I have good news for you! Many bait stores sell them, and their price is reasonable.

#4: Crayfish

Crustaceans are among catfish favorite foods. Although they are frequently neglected by catfish anglers, they work excellent. Catfish love them because they can easily catch them in rivers and streams. You can use that into your advantage.

You can catch them with a trap, and don’t have to buy any.

And if you are wondering how a toothless fish can eat them, the answer is simple! Catfish mouth have very strong and hard plates and if a crayfish can fit into their mouth, they can crush it.

#5: Nightcrawlers

And lastly, there are nightcrawlers. Worms are probably the most popular bait ever. Kids use them when learning how to fish, and experienced anglers know their value. You can dig the up, farm them, or even buy in bait stores.

It is easy to hook them, a lot easier than baitfish or crayfish, and their scent spreads out far away. Make sure to choose bigger ones for large catfish so that you avoid catching a lot of small fish.

There is just one problem. A lot of fish will gladly bite on them. Use them in water that have catfish as the predominant species.

Best Live Bait for Catfish - Nightcrawlers

FAQs about Live Baits for Catfish:

In case that you are still wondering about the best live bait for big catfish, and you have some doubts in their efficiency or usage, here are the answers!

How Do You Rig a Live Bait for Catfish?

Rigging live bait looks simple bit it takes practice. If you have never done it, start with worms. The goal is to hook it firmly but allow it to move and live for a long time. There is a very fine line between loosing them form a hook and killing them. A bit of practice is required.

Crayfish are hooked from back to front through the top of their tail. Make sure to pierce it all the way through the shell and leave the point of your hook exposed.

When it comes to baitfish, for catfish I like using the tail method. Simply pierce it above the lateral line, through the top of wide and meaty tail part.

And lastly there are nightcrawlers. You can cut the end of their tail to make them release scent even better. Pierce them from one side to another and thread them onto the hook. You can do it more than once. Just make sure not to injure their head and upper part of the body where important organs lay.

There is another thing to think about and that is casting. Try not to cast far or hard! Flying through the air and a big splash can kill a bait, or make it fall off a hook.

Best Live Bait for Catfish - Hook

Is Live Bait Better Than Lures for Catfish?

The answer is YES! Catfish need a lot of nutritious food to grow big. They find food by using their extraordinary scent of smell. Injured fish that is bleeding spreads out this scent and attracts them form a distance. This scent and movement are something that can’t be replicated with lures or baits, no matter how hard you try. It is nature vs. imitation of nature.

This is especially important if you plan to catch species like flatheads, that feed almost exclusively on live bait.

How to Store [and Keep Alive] Live Bait When Catfishing?

Live bait is not easy to store. It all depends on how long your fishing trip is.

It would be ideal to catch a baitfish or a crustacean and use them immediately, however, that is not always possible. If you have to store them, make sure that you use a bucket of water that is large enough. Keep the water fresh and clean. Do not leave it on a direct sunlight as that will reduce the lifespan of fish. Using aerators is always a plus.

When it comes to worms, it is similar. Moist bedding and cold temperature are a must.

Best Live Bait for Catfish - Store

Is Catfishing With Live Bait Allowed Everywhere?

Every place is different and so are the local laws. Always check local rules and regulations. Even if you are fishing on 2 different waters in the same area, rules may be different.

In some places, it is perfectly legal to use live bait, while in some other areas it may be strictly forbidden. I can’t give you a definite answer for every lake, pond, and river in a world. My advice is to check before every fishing trip you take. Information is easily accessible online. Find local fishing authorities website and read about it.

Are There Any Other Good Catfish Baits?

The best live bait for big catfish may not be an option, especially if forbidden in your area. In that case, you have to be creative, and attract catfish in some other way.

What always works is something with a strong scent ...

Here are some options:

Dog Food
Hot Dogs
Punch bait or some other form of stink bait

All of these can be spiced up with garlic, anis oil, or some other incredible catfish attractant that is fairly cheap and easily accessible!

Best Live Bait for Catfish - Boilies


The best live bait for catfish is the one that naturally lives in the waters you are fishing in. Local fish frequently feed on it, and when you present one, it will attract catfish immediately!

Keeping the bait alive for as long as possible is something that you have to take care of, and make sure to rig it properly not to kill it too soon!

Just make sure to check local rules and regulations about allowed bait and don’t forget your fishing license!

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