If you thought chicken liver was the only best option for catfish bait then this article will blow your mind away. I love catfish, primarily because they are in abundance and are proactive in seeking baits, but mostly because they taste delicious – particularly fried catfish. Oh boy, aren’t you tempted already? There are people who don’t prefer catfish – perhaps because it can bite really hard or seem like slimy, muddy dirt at first. If you know the art of cleaning catfish, half of your battle is already won! To get catfish, you got to have some experience in angling, I recommend using Abu Garcia Ambassadeur Catfish Fishing Reel and yes, the right catfish bait. You can fish for them in fresh-water, ponds, river, sea, streams, provided you know they are there. Catch them during the day or start fishing them at night depending upon the type of catfish. Oh, and remember they are bottom feeders.

Here are 15 Best Catfish Bait ideas that work every time:

#1. Live Bait

Perch, bluegill, sunfish, goldfish – these are some live baits that can be used as catfish baits, particularly when you are after the blue catfish. You can use fresh or frozen fish, but a fresh live one is always a better choice. You can also cut them into chunks and then feed them. Carp, Drum, and buffalo can be used as cut baits. Blue catfish constantly looks for food so much so that sometimes they regurgitate the baits. You will get better results if you use a cut bait that’s oilier (greasy).

  • Live bait is the most successful technique of getting catfish
  • You can catch the bait and throw it to the catfish, or buy them.
  • Channel fish like to bite dead baits too, they like the stink
  • Flathead fish also like mud cats other than perch, goldfish, and bluegill

For Flathead catfish, healthy and lively live baits work the best. If you want to catch Flatheads, you need to spend a lot of time on the water and learn their pattern. If you like spending time on the waters, you can save some money by catching healthy baits on your own to lure the catfish.

#2. Shad

For bluefish, threadfin shad, skipjack herring, and gizzard shad work really well as catfish baits. The big ones like hearty meals, so the bigger chunk of shad you throw at them, the more chances you have of catching them! Shads are common along the river channels, so you can get them easily. CJ’s got a killer shad catfish bait for sale on Amazon.

  • You can cut the shads into big chunks or small strips
  • Depending on what size of catfish you want, decide the piece you want to use
  • Flathead catfish prefer shads which are alive and the size of a palm, they wouldn’t be attracted to cut shad
  • If you are lucky, shad’s guts, that have a strong smell, can attract catfish
  • You can use frozen shads, but fresh ones fetch better results


I like to fillet a large shad and then cut the fillets or do away with smaller shads that can be used as a whole. Shads are oily fish and make for an excellent bait for all types of catfish. If you are wondering how to catch shads, not to worry, all you need to do is locate the shad and throw the cast net. If you are planning to freeze the shad, always put them in zip-lock bags and then on ice – never directly on ice. This will help retain the freshness and sliminess of the shad.

#3. Chicken Liver

If you are fishing in a large area of water, the chicken liver is the best catfish bait to attract channel catfish. I have seen that sheep or beef liver also do the trick. Their strong and meaty smell (mmm…) can attract catfish from far away! Channel fish that are small (up to 10 pounds) are easily attracted to livers.

  • Use treble hooks and wrap the chicken liver around the hook with pantyhose or gauze to avoid losing it
  • Liver remains fresh for up to 20 minutes, after which you should consider getting a new one
  • Chicken livers are inexpensive and easily available in any grocery store
  • If the currents are too strong, livers may slip the hooks before your target fish finds the bait
  • Using fresh and cold chicken liver over frozen ones can help keep livers properly on the hook

Chicken liver catfish bait

Chicken livers are sticky and you should get 2-3 boxes of the liver if you are planning a full day out. If you are still a fan of natural baits, you could find it difficult to move to chicken livers. Use livers only if you have a lot of time and some angling experience. Otherwise, they could be messy and get off the hook very quickly.

#4. Blood Bait

Crazy as it may sound, catfish just love the smell of blood. They go gaga over chicken blood or beef blood! To thicken the blood and coagulate it so that it stays on the hook, you will need a binding or thickening agent like brown sugar. An extremely effective bait but takes a lot of time and effort to make.

  • Prepared baits like blood baits work great in waters with low current
  • Other baits like shad, when marinated with blood add more flavor attract bigger cats
  • Though extremely effective, they are hard to prepare, sometimes you may not get the ingredients easily
  • The blue catfish are crazy about cow’s blood


To use blood, pour fresh blood in a flat pan, sprinkle the thickening agent and repeat the same to form layers. Allow the mixture to thicken (you can refrigerate for a week). Place it under the sun. You will get gelatin-like texture in about a day (long enough). Finally, cut them into strips, wrap them in pantyhose or nets, and use them. With blood baits, you can fish for cats at night too. They are hungry predators!

#5. French Fries

French fries are the craziest catfish bait that I ever heard of before you think I am crazy here is an article about it on Dayton Community News.

I think channel catfish were quite happy to bite the fries! It could be because there were lots of them present and they were attracted to the nice smell and flavor. You might want to give it a try to know if it is true!

  • Use fresh French fries, in fact, you could get your best angling spot right across the waterfront restaurant that serves fries
  • Fries attract a lot of other fish too, so you need to analyze where your channel and flathead cats are
  • Warm fries are greasier, and thus their beautiful scent gets to the catfish faster. I can assure even the lazy ones would come craving

Isn’t it amazing that humans are not the only species that like junk food? Well, it was an accidental find for me, but using fries has been prevalent for a long time. Do not use too many fries, use a small piece and hook it from the center.

#6. Cheese Dip Bait

One striking feature of dip bait is that it smells horrible. I mean, whether you make them with your own secret recipe or buy it from the Amazon, the smell is awful – and loved by all types of catfish! The channel catfish are quite attracted to dip baits all the time.

  • The main ingredient is cheese combined with fish attractants like minnows, shad, onion powder, etc…
  • Dip baits are thin in consistency, so you have to use sponge, worm or a small tube to hold them to the hook
  • Channel and blue catfish both are attracted to dip baits
  • Works superbly in moving current that carries the bait particles downstream
  • During summer, dip baits can get thinner. You can add some additives like flour that can keep them thick.

Cheese dip catfish bait

Even treble hooks won’t help you in case of dip baits. Only worms, sponge or tubes can hold the bait and release it gradually. You can also use a kind of dipstick to help slowly release the bait from worm or sponge. Cast more than once for the bait scent to travel deeply before you get hold of a good one.

#7. Garlic and Chicken Skin

Garlic is yet another smelly substance that catfish drool over. To think of garlic, paired with the greasy chicken skin is a delicious feast for smaller channel cats. Though greasy, the chicken skin is sturdy and stays on well with the hook.

  • You can use fresh garlic or garlic powder along with salt
  • Use partially frozen chicken skin for best results

If you soak the garlic-chicken mixture overnight, the dish will be deeply flavorful the next day. Using warm water or warming the chicken will help ooze out the oils, that offers a good scent for the predator cats to come close.

#8. Catfish Punch Bait

Punch catfish baits are pre-made baits, just like dip baits. I recommend Danny King’s Catfish punch bait for this one. They are similar to dip baits but thicker. Why are they named so? Because you actually punch the bait into the hook. They are a cleaner alternative to dip baits are widely used to attract catfish especially blue and trophy channel fish.

  • Also called as stink baits (frankly, punch bait is a great name to go for)
  • Don’t take the pain of preparing them at home – there are good brands like CJ’s, Sure shot and Berkley that are easily available
  • Punch baits produce a strong smell that carries throughout the water attracting more catfish as time goes
  • All punch baits are cheese-based but the other ingredients are different.

Catfish punch bait

These baits are one of my favorites to get the best channels and I try different flavors every time I go out to buy. CJ’s minnow punch bait works every time for me. Sure enough, you will go crazy catching channel fish with these punch baits.

#9. Crawfish

Crawfish is the best catfish bait for any type of water body. Catch some fresh crawfish and feed them to the catfish. They just love it – blue, flathead or channel catfish – all are attracted towards crawfish.

crawfish best catfish bait

  • Best for creeks, ponds, small rivers and reservoirs
  • A lot of other fish also love crawfish, so you have to be careful and reel when the catfish bites the bait
  • You can use live or dead crawfish – channels like dead ones, but you can get some medium sized flatheads with live crawfish.
  • When the weather is windy, crawfish can get you even big-sized catfish (about 35 pounds)

If you want fresh craw, catch them on your own rather than buying ‘fresh’ ones from a store. Crawfish is easy to catch. Once caught, you can bait the craw along with some chicken for additional attraction to the cats.

#10. Nightcrawlers

You might not believe but some of the best channel cats I have caught are with nightcrawlers. The catfish find night crawlers to be super tasty and bite them easily because they are juicy. You can put 2 or 3 on the hook because catfish don’t care about the looks, they go by the smell and taste. If there are more worms, there will be more fish to bite them.

  • Great catfish bait for beginners, especially children who want to learn fishing
  • You can easily find worms anywhere, just make sure they are big
  • They don’t have to be cut up like shads and aren’t messy like dip baits
  • Work great when fished on bottom of tailwaters or rivers with three-way rigs

Nightcrawlers used as catfish bait

You can use night crawlers alone or combine them with some anise oil for more scent. Some people also use candy because it is similar to sour worms, but it is not a great idea to use candies. You can just dig up fresh worms (even kids can do that) and hook them.

Read about the perfect method to keep the worms fresh in the refrigerator for almost 3 weeks.

#11. Hot Dog Sausage

If you are planning a day out fishing, you would probably like to take some hot dogs for yourself. Well, you can surely take some extra to feed the catfish, they like stuff with nice fat content and hence pounce on hot dog sausages like anything. How I wish I had known this way back!

  • Hot dogs are not consistent baits for catching catfish, though catfish like them
  • You can add garlic powder and extra salt on the hot dog to add more flavor and attract catfish faster
  • Channel cats are the ones most attracted to hot dogs out of all types of catfish
  • Cheaper quality hot dogs attract more fish (strange but true!)

If you are lucky and know where the cats are, this could be your best bait. You don’t have to spend any time or effort on it, you don’t have to go to a grocery store to buy hot dogs separately. Just make extra servings while making them for yourself. You can even wake your creative side and add strawberry or grape jelly, garlic powder or other fish attractants and soak the hot dogs overnight. That would enhance the flavor of the hot dog.

#12. Canned Dog Food

Another bizarre catfish bait (or we may think) that attracts catfish, especially channel catfish because they have the keenest sense of smell among others. You can get chunk dog food that comes in squares and has added flavors. It is easy to use. Non-chunk dog food requires onion bag or cheesecloth so that the food can be secured, allowing only parts of it to leak out when it is put in water. I have tried Pedigrees canned dog food as it has bacon, beef & cheese, everything to draw the catfish and it has worked like a charm always.

  • Chunk dog food is easy to store and transport
  • If you puncture holes through the dog food, the flavored gravy will slowly ooze out alerting the catfish (through smell)
  • Find out good fishing spots and drop the mesh bags for catfish to come

Dog food as catfish bait

More than cheese or any other flavors, gravy works best. Dog food also makes good chum. Whether you use it plain or with flavors, dog food contains a good amount of grains and protein and have proven to be good baits for catfish!

#13. Shrimp

A lot of people whom I have talked to seem to have great luck with fresh shrimps. Shrimps are clean and stay on the hook. As soon as they are cast, you can sense a few bites. With shrimps, you are more likely to get blue cats and channels, but if you are lucky, you will be able to see flathead too.

  • Fresh shrimps are great, but catfish are attracted to the smell of spoiled shrimp too
  • You can freeze or thaw spoiled shrimps and get the same from the grocery store too!
  • If you let the shrimps bask in the sun for about a week, they add an extra scent

Here is the secret – never ever throw away your shrimps when they go bad, instead find yourselves fishing for catfish with them. Catfish literally drool over shrimps. Make sure you leave the tip of the hook exposed while hooking the shrimp from head and then to the tail.

#14. Dough

Dough baits are great and easy to make at home as well. You get them in grocery stores and they are inexpensive. All in all, it’s easy to prepare, carry and most of all, the catfish love dough balls, so you can catch plenty of them.

  • You can use different attractants but most popular is anise
  • This could be a fun experiment with family and you can aim for the perfect texture and smell
  • You can pair dough ball with other baits like nightcrawlers to get great results

You can prepare dough ball with just flour, cheese, garlic salt, and a few more attractants. They can never go bad and you can keep them in your freezer for as long as you want. Channel cats love dough balls of all types!

#15. Pure Soap

The last one is actually a traditional or rather a universal way of catching catfish. This method has been predominantly used in the south and the age-old recipe still remains a secret. Variations of soaps have come to the market, but what exactly attracts the catfish is still not fully clear however it has been noticed that Ivory Pure Original Soap does the trick.

  • You can make your own soap or buy from a grocery store
  • It is inexpensive and easy to store and transport
  • Soaps should be 100% pure, without any preservatives, perfumes or fancy additives.

Pure Soap as Catfish Bait

I know a few angler friends who have been using soaps of two particular brands for decades now – Ivory and Zote. They say both the brands work magically possibly because of the right amount of scent. Zote also contains pig fat (lard) which excites all kinds of catfish.

Fresh vs Home-Made vs Grocery Baits

If you are a regular angler and like to fish all day, fresh baits are a great choice for you!

You might consider preparing home-made baits but it does take time and considering the fact that food’s taste, flavor, and smell are quite important for catfish to be attracted, you may have to work a lot on getting the perfect recipes. While you can surely go for it, my suggestion would be to just buy the baits that are easily available in the market and work really well. That way you could spend more time fishing rather than preparing the bait! Well, that’s just me…

Catfish like to choose their bait and play around with variety, so if you are looking for some different ideas for baits, you can mix and match various combinations keeping the basic ingredients intact, until you find your lucky bait! Just buy different baits from the grocery store and blend them up for different combinations – anything that smells a lot is perfectly fine. Most of the times, whatever bait you use if you top it up with high-fat items like cheese, liver or hot dogs, or with some flavors like anise, garlic or blood, you can easily catch any of the catfish types.

That’s in general. But, hey, here’s another catch – every different type of catfish prefer a different kind of meal! Yeah, and their preferences can vary every single day! The good part is it is easy to identify the different types of catfish so you can lure them with the right bait.

Catfish baits that always work or don’t!

Don’t get too happy with just one bait and one catch – that might not work every time. However, choosing a catfish bait is not hard. All you need to know is which one is good for which type of catfish. Yup, it is that simple!

So, get ready to read on, get insights on some of the best catfish baits and be prepared for an awesome catfish meal paired with coleslaw, mac and cheese, potato salad or just the fish, French fries and beer!

Know your enemy – types of catfish

  1. Blue catfish: of course, they are blue – light or dark. Sometimes can be black too. These look bulky and can be more than 100 lbs. They have a forked tail and a straight anal fin, but there are no visible spots in the body.
  2. Channel catfish: they can be olive brown to grey and often have dark spots, especially the small ones. They have forked tail and curved anal fin with about 24-29 rays and mostly weigh less than 30 lbs.
  3. Flathead catfish: Most Flathead catfish are a combination of mottled black, pale yellow and brown. These don’t have forked tail. The anal fin is short and rounded having less than 30 rays. These are big and can easily exceed 100 lbs.

All 3 types of Catfish

Most species have skins without any scales. Catfish have the most prominent concentration of their sensory organs located on the whiskers and they develop up to 4 of them. This means, almost the entire body is full of taste buds, that can recognize chemicals present in the water and also respond to touch and smell.

While these clever fish pounce upon anything that appeals to them, certain baits are more popular than others. Your bait selection, techniques, and plan for attack will greatly help you understand their behavior better and get you more fish.


Remember that there is no one single formula that will work every time. While blue and channel catfish are easier to catch, flatheads usually don’t come searching for food. They are thus more difficult to catch. They use their color to camouflage and remain in hideout during most of the day. You will need some careful rigging near their hideout. Or better still, look for them during the night, when they are out in the open.

Apart from the above-listed catfish baits, there are many more baits like bacon, spam, worms, marshmallows which can get you some blue or channel catfish.

Catfish make for great food; the meat is served as a delicacy in many parts of America. If it is your first time, believe me, you will relish every bit of it! You can fry it, or just coat it in cajun seasoning, cook it in an iron skillet and the flavor – OMG! It is an art to catch catfish and then clean and cook them. Enjoy making a heartful of catfish for your entire family over dinner and keep up the spirit of fishing alive with these catfish baits always at your disposal!

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