There are many choices one can use for catfish bait.  Although the majority of catfish can be caught on a single bait type they are not all alike.  Different types of catfish have different feeding habits and prefer different foods.   Since catfish exist on every continent except Antarctica and there are both fresh and salt water varieties I will only focus on common catfish found in North America.

In general catfish are scavengers scooping up just about anything found on the bottom of a lake or river.  The best catfish bait is to match what they will eat where you are fishing. They eat a variety of fish, crawdads, snails, muscles, worms or night crawlers but most will also eat aquatic plants if no meat is available.   There are many commercial catfish baits you can buy to fish with.  Some of these target certain types of catfish.  I have used several of these and some work very well for all purpose catfish bait.  A good choice is listed below.

Here is an interesting new   Catfish Bait   if you are tired of the Normal Sticky, Stinky Baits,

Yeh Mon! Freshwater Catfish Bites

Pick up a package of Yeh Mon! Freshwater Catfish Bait and prepare to be amazed. Upon opening the package, the first thing you will notice is the fact that there is no smell. Its proven scent technology makes the scent activate in the water, leaving you with clean smelling hands before and after you put it on the hook. It features a fiber mesh that keeps the bait together to survive numerous strikes, catches and re-casts.

See these common types of catfish and what you might use for catfish bait.

Yellow Bullhead - catfish bait all Yellow Bullhead Catfish –       The Yellow Bullhead commonly called yellow belly is very common across Central, Eastern and Southern US.  It grows to a maximum of about 2 lbs. and up to 18 inches in length.  Although commonly caught and may be eaten it is considered to be a trash fish and mostly feeds off worms, crayfish, snails and insects both living and dead.  I recomend using night crawlers for catfish bait.
Brown bullhead - catfish bait - nightcrawlers Brown Bullhead Catfish – This it is very similar to the yellow Bullhead but prefers muddier water.  It is commonly called “mud cat”.  As bottom feeders they will eat a variety of worms, leaches, snails, crayfish, fish and water plants.  They normally grow to be about 2lbs but larger specimens have been caught.  Their range is the same as the yellow cat and they are commonly caught on worms, dough or nightcrawlers.  Use night crawlers for catfish bait.
channel Cat - catfish bait - live bait & stink baits Channel Catfish – Commonly called channel cat it is the most fished for, catfish in the US.   It's found all across the country into Canada and Mexico.  Channel cats have a keen sense of smell and grow to a large size. The record 58lb fish was taken in S, Carolina but most are in the range of 2 to 10 lbs.  Channels eat a variety of live bait such as worms or nightcrawlers, crayfish, snails as well as minnows, frogs, and other small fish.  Although they prefer live bait they also will bite well on stink baits, chicken livers, shrimp or squid.  Channel catfish prefer moving water but are found in all types of streams, rivers and lakes where a food source is plentiful.  It is not uncommon to catch a channel cat on artificial lures.  Best catfish bait is soft crawdads or stink bait.
Blue Cat - catfish bait, minnows Blue Catfish – The blue cat is the largest species of catfish found in the US.  Their range is the Mississippi river drainage but also exist in large reservoirs across the US.  Blue cats have been caught to over 100lbs with a world record of 130lbs.   They prefer to catch their food and will eat a variety of live baits.such as minnows or live bait fish.  They also take cut bait.  Blue cats prefer fast deep water or the edge of a rift where food may be washed in or below dams where baitfish are cut up in a turbine and expelled.  Best catfish bait is any  live baitfish at least 4 inches long. 
Flathead catfish - catfish bait, small fish Flathead catfish – Commonly called yellow cat or shovelhead catfish can grow up to 120lbs. Their range in the US is from the great lakes to Mexico, west to Arizona and east to the Appalachians. Flatheads live in deep pools and slow moving large rivers eating live fish such as shad, herring, sunfish, goldfish, carp or bullheads and crustaceans.   The use of fish for bait is the best choice for flatheads. Catfish bait should be lively, 5-12 inches long.   Another popular way to catch flathead is noodling catfish or using your hands.
White Catfish - catfish bait, worms

White Catfish — White catfish are native to the East coast and across the southern Gulf States from Florida to Texas.  They also can be found in Oregon and most parts of California.  They prefer slower current and muddy river bottoms. White catfish eat a variety of fish, snails, crayfish and worms.  They can be caught on stink baits, worms and crayfish.  They are larger than bullheads but smaller than channel cats with an unconfirmed record at 20lbs in California.  Best catfish bait is stink bait.

Best time to use  catfish bait.

Most all catfish feed at night.  It is best to fish for catfish from dusk to dawn. Avoid bright areas if fishing in the daytime.  Generally fishing on bottom will provide the best results except when fishing with live fishing bait.  Catfish are aggressive and are not hard to catch.  They will generally pick up a bait and run with it providing a good opportunity to set the hook.  It is also a good fish for kids because they will often swallow the bait or hook themselves.

You will need to adjust your fishing tackle and catfish bait for the type and size of catfish you are fishing for.  A light fishing reel and fishing pole will work fine when fishing for bulheads in a pond.  However if fishing for larger fish you may need a variety of fishing rigs.  My other posts will help you find the right fishing tackle and set up you fishing rigs. 

The right fishing tackle or carp fishing rigs can make a big difference.  

Choose the right carp fishing rigs.  The fishing reel and fishing pole you choose will depend on the size fish you target. Some carp fishermen will use specialized fishing equipment and carp fishing rigs however nothing special will be needed if you are not trying to catch extremely large or record sized carp.  But carp can get very large so occasionally while fishing for smaller carp you may hook into something that light fishing tackle can’t handle.  It’s a real let down when that happens so use good carp fishing rigs, and try to prepare for the size of fish you are most likely to catch. 

I have caught some very large fish on light gear when fishing in open water. But if you are fishing from shore on a river or lake where there are a lot of snags, you’ll want to beef up you carp fishing rigs so you won't loose to much tackle or even a fish. 

My carp fishing rigs setup for big fish, is a heavy fast action rod with a bait casting fishing reel.  I like to use bait casting reels especially for large fish.  However they require some amount of weight to cast well.  Bait casting reels come in a variety of sizes from ultra-light to very heavy with a high line capacity. 

However my true preference in carp fishing rigs is to use no weight at all.  I can do this if I'm fishing a lake or pond where I don't need to make a long cast. In this case my carp fishing rig setup uses an open bail spin casting reel. It will actually cast a light carp bait a fair distance. Generally speaking you will need to adjust your carp fishing rigs for the location you are fishing.  

If you fish from a boat in a big lake with a lot of open water it's fun to use lighter line. Carp fishing rigs with a good bait cast reel and lots of line capacity is great. However if you fish in a river or from shore where there are hidden logs and brush under the surface you'll need some heavy fishing line and a heavy duty fishing pole. 

Carp Fishing Tackle

carp fishing rigs, fishing tackle


I recommend fishing on bottom for carp.  

My preference is to use no weight but this can only be done if you are fishing in still or very slow moving water. It also requires you to use a lighter weight carp fishing rig or you won't be able to cast it out with just the weight of the carp bait. However by using only a small hook tied directly to the end of your main line you can simply place red worms or carp bait over the hook. Carp usually bite lightly pulling the line out then letting it in.  With no weight on the line it is easier to see this action and the carp will feel absolutely no resistance.

Some carp are very picky and will feel the hook under the carp bait.  You can help to solve this problem by placing the carp bait on the line directly.  Leave extra line when tying the hook and make a loop on the line extending past the hook loop.

carp bait, fishing tackle

Carp fishing rigs and your tackle setup will need weight when fishing in a river or stream that has current.

In this case it is best to use a sliding sinker on the end of your carp fishing rigs. the sliding sinker provides minimal resistance and allows you to see and or feel a bite.   Patience is needed for carp fishing.  Though they may bite often they can take your line in and out for quite some time before running with the bait. It seems that the smaller fish will run with your carp bait, but a larger fish will usually test your patience. When using a slack line, If it appears they are not going to run after waiting as long as you can stand it, you can set the hook while the line is moving out or in. Often this will hook the fish but sometimes there is nothing there. 

If your carp fishing rigs are setup with a bait such as wheaties or other soft dough ball you may want to check it often to insure it does not soak off.


There are a lot of ways to fish for carp.  Here in the US carp fishing is not the specialized sport that it is in Europe. Still a lot of people here enjoy catching carp everyday. Each person has their own secrets that enable a great day on or near the water.  Some of my fondest memories are fishing with my dad in the river and catching ten or twenty carp on a Saturday morning. I gained a lot of experience on those days and it is something I will never forget. I hope you will also enjoy many days of fishing and catching carp that will last a lifetime.

I hope the information contained in this post about Carp Fishing Rigs gives you the edge that will make everyday fishing, enjoyable.  

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