10 Best Catfish Baits and How to Catch Them [2022 Update]

Updated on August 29, 2022 by

Catfish are arguably one of the most popular freshwater fish in North America as they come in a variety of different species and can grow to massive sizes. You can find catfish in just about any large lake or river system as they are capable of thriving on various creatures that live in these freshwater environments. It isn’t necessarily hard to target catfish since they are known to bite a wide variety of different types of bait, but an angler must have a decent understanding of these fish if they want to catch them consistently. 

Types of Catfish

There are a variety of different species of catfish that can be found in Asia, as well as South America, but the most sought-after catfish species in the world are the main three that live in the Eastern half of the North American continent. 

Blue Catfish

Blue cats are one of the most common species found in the United States. They can grow to monstrous sizes with the current world record being 143 pounds. Most blue catfish are known to live in large lakes and rivers since they are known to prefer mostly clear water with sand or rocky bottoms. They are known to be both predators and scavengers as they will feed on anything from mussels, crayfish, or small fish, as well as just about anything else they can find along the bottom. 

Blue Catfish Bait

Flathead Catfish 

Flathead catfish are also capable of reaching exceptionally large sizes. They can be found in most river systems throughout the southeastern and midwestern United States. Commonly referred to as ‘mud cats’ or a variety of other names, flatheads are more of a predatory fish than a scavenger. These types of catfish species will take advantage of small bait fish by ambushing them from behind different types of underwater cover or structure. 

Flathead Catfish Bait

Channel Catfish 

Channel catfish are likely to be the most common of the three main species found in the United States. They have much of the same feeding habits of blue catfish, but generally don’t reach the same massive sizes that are commonly seen with flatheads or blues. They look very similar to blue catfish in almost every way except for their dull grey coloring. 

Channel Catfish Bait

10 Best Catfish Baits
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7 Different Types of Fish Finders

When it comes to fishing for catfish, you can expect to catch most catfish species on some of the most popular live baits that anglers normally use, such as shad, worms, and other natural baits. However, certain types of catfish are known to have specific feeding patterns and food preferences that are unlike their counterparts. 

Serious catfish anglers have developed a very strategic approach to fishing for each of the three main types of North American catfish. Some of these techniques might land a blue catfish, or a channel catfish, but you can often narrow down exactly what type of catfish you’re after by selecting a specific bait and varying the size of your bait. 

Here’s our list for the best catfish baits you can use to catch each of these three types of cats on a somewhat consistent basis. Some of these baits might be more ideal for specific types of catfish, so pay attention and make sure that you are using the right kind of bait for the fish you’re going after. 

1. Chicken Livers 

Chicken livers are undoubtedly one of the best catfish baits you can use in almost any environment. This is a great choice of bait for beginners who are new to fishing or catfishing as it is very effective when it comes to drawing in catfish of all kinds. You’re most likely to catch channel cats on chicken livers, but blue cats and even the occasional flathead will also be attracted to this bait due to the strong, meaty smell that it puts into the water. 

One of the main downsides to using chicken liver is that it can sometimes be hard to keep on the hook. If you’re not careful when casting, it’s easy to launch your bait off of the hook before it hits the water. Most experienced anglers recommend using a treble hook as this will allow you to hook the bait through multiple points and keep it more secure. 

You can also toughen chicken liver up a bit by leaving it in the sun for a short while during warm weather. Once you start catching catfish on chicken livers, you can expect there to be a swarm of them vying to bite the hook and even pulling the bait off. Be sure to bring along plenty of thawed chicken liver if you plan to fish for an entire night or day. 

Chicken livers are our recommendation as the best catfish bait.

Chicken Livers for Catfish Bait

2. Nightcrawlers

Another ideal bait for catfish are nightcrawlers. These are readily available at most bait shops, gas stations, and also at big box stores that sell gear and tackle. Nightcrawlers are an excellent choice for catching channel cats, but will also lure in an occasional bite from both blue and flathead catfish as well. 

There are a variety of different ways you can use nightcrawlers and some will be more effective than others depending on the weather and what time of year you happen to be fishing in. You can also opt for red wigglers and just about any other type of worm for catching a mess of channel cats as well. 

One of the only drawbacks to using nightcrawlers is that they are sometimes hard to keep on the hook. In most cases, the larger the worm, the easier they are to keep on the hook. 

Nightcrawlers as Catfish Bait

3. Berkley PowerBait Catfish Chunks

If you’re looking for a simple and effective bait for catfish of all kinds, Berkley PowerBait Catfish Chunks is an excellent choice. This smelly dough has been one of the most powerful catfish baits on the market for a number of years and it’s one of the easiest for beginner anglers to use as you’re able to mold it onto the hook. 

According to Berkley, these balls of dough are specially formulated to attract catfish using certain scents that are likely to draw them in faster than using natural baits. They’re sold in blood, liver, and fish scents that are all highly effective. 

One of the main problems anglers run into with using PowerBait Catfish Chunks is that fish will often pull these soft dough balls off the hook if the bait is too soft. Be sure to use your hands to tightly pack the bait onto the hook and you should have no problem catching plenty of catfish in the right conditions. 

4. Catfish Charlie Wildcat Pre-Made Dough Bait

Another solid addition to our list of the best catfish baits is Catfish Charlie Wildcat Pre-Made Dough Bait. This is very similar to other dough ball style baits, but has a slightly different formula and consistency than other brands. The Wildcat Dough Bait comes in five different scent selections that include cheese, blood, liver, full stringer, and shad. 

Some anglers prefer to use treble hooks with dough style baits like this, but it’s often not necessary. If the bait is in good condition, you can run a hook through and sometimes use your fingers to press the dough down onto the hook more firmly to ensure that it doesn’t get pulled off the hook easily. 

5. Crawfish 

This style of bait might come with a pinch, but crawfish are generally expected to be the staple of a catfish’s diet in both rivers and lakes. There are a wide variety of different species of crawfish living throughout North America, but catfish are not known to be picky in eating these small creatures. 

If you’re unfamiliar with crawfish, they are very similar to a lobster, but live in freshwater creeks, rivers, and lakes year-round. Most fish will not hesitate to eat crawfish and these can be an excellent choice of catfish bait for fishing in the daytime when a catfish will quickly recognize the distinct body and behavior of a crawfish. 

One of the main problems most anglers have when it comes to using crawfish is they are often not readily available at bait shops. You can purchase them at certain times of the year in the southeastern United States and they can be caught from late winter until mid-summer in specially-made traps. 

6. Catfish Charlie’s Dip Bait

Another option for catfish anglers that comes from the Catfish Charlie’s brand is Catfish Charlie’s Dip Bait. This bait has been around for many years and is commonly used for channel cats, as well as blue cats throughout the year. Unlike the dough ball baits we mentioned earlier, the Dip Bait is a more sticky consistency that can be formed into balls, but most anglers prefer to ‘dip’ their baits or rigs down into the material. 

The Dip Bait can effectively be used on a variety of tubes or even plastic worms. It comes in different size buckets, as well as multiple scents that include cheese, blood, and shad. Experienced catfish anglers will often use specialized bait holders to keep this type of bait on their hook once catfish do start biting. 

One of the only downsides to using this type of bait is that it has a limited shelf life once it’s opened. The cheese and blood scents are believed to be more effective in warm weather while the shad option is usually better for cold weather catfish. 

7. Doc’s Catfish Getter Bait

Another simple and easy-to-use dip-style bait is Doc’s Catfish Getter Bait. This is a must-have addition to our list of the best catfish baits as it is an option catfishing enthusiasts have relied upon for decades. The Doc’s company has been in business since 1927, which means they have managed to effectively produce quality baits for nearly a century. 

This type of bait is very similar to other dip baits, but is one that seems to be most effective when fresh—shortly after purchasing. The Catfish Getter Bait comes in three distinct scents that are clearly labeled for the time of year they are expected to be most effective. The bait bucket container will list the scent as either cool-weather, original, or hot weather. 

Like any other dip bait, you can use this type of bait on just about anything with a hook, including worms and bait-holders. 

8. Cut Baits

Another great option for catching catfish virtually any time of the year is cut bait. This type of bait might refer to just about any kind of bait fish that is cut into small chunks that are easier for small or medium-sized catfish to fit in their mouths. Some anglers prefer to use cut bait after letting the bait sit outside in a bucket or other container for a day or two in order to maximize the amount of scent that it will put off in the water. 

Most anglers will choose to catch any type of small bait fish that happens to bite on a given day and cut the bait on the spot for a more fresh approach. This will allow more blood and other parts of the fish to spread out and be detected in the water. If you happen to take this approach, be sure that you’re not illegally using certain species of fish as bait since some states prohibit using species like crappie or other game fish. 

As you might expect, using cut bait is an almost surefire way to attract other species of fish and even turtles. However, there’s not much else you can do except reel in your catch and discard the species you’re not targeting. 

9. Magic Big Blue Dough

If you like to use dough baits, you’ll certainly need to give Magic Big Blue Dough a try. Some anglers prefer this type of dough bait while others will attest that there are other brands which are more effective. This is usually considered to be a great option if the bait is fresh and hasn’t been opened. One of the main drawbacks to using a dough bait that’s mass-produced like the Magic Big Blue Dough is that it loses much of its potency after the package is opened. 

These baits come in a variety of different scents that let you select the one that is ideal for the location and time of year you’re fishing in. This type of dough tends to stay on the hook better than other brands of dough bait, but its overall effectiveness might not be as highly-reviewed as other brands. 

10. Black Salties 

If you’re going after monster flathead catfish, you’ll need to use a shad or other type of live bait that will not easily die on the end of the hook. The Black Salty is a relatively new type of minnow that has been scientifically bred and developed to serve as the optimal catfish bait. These small fish are only available at select bait shops around the country, but they are very effective at attracting catfish—especially the predatory flathead. 

Black Salties have an almost unreal ability to stay alive much longer than your average shad or other bait fish. They are known to survive for hours in the water with a hook through their back just behind the dorsal fin. Black Salties are also very strong swimmers and you can usually expect them to move around a bit while you’re fishing. 

These are more expensive than just about any other type of bait, but they are well worth the investment. 

Donny Karr with Catfish

You can also consider other catfish baits that we haven’t listed above such as hot dogs, gizzard shad, dip bait, dough baits, stink bait, punch bait – the list goes on.

Photo of author

Donny Karr

Donny Karr is a Tournament Angler and writer whose work has been featured in magazines for nearly a decade. He is a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. He enjoys bass and crappie fishing in the lakes around the south-eastern United States, as well as trout fishing in the streams and rivers of the Appalachian mountains. He enjoys keeping up with the latest news and gear items in the fishing industry and is always looking forward to his next outdoor adventure. Donny has written for Georgia Outdoor News, The Outdoor Trip, Man Can Outdoors, Global Fishing Reports, and Bassmaster.