“Which is the best bait?” This is probably the oldest question in catfishing. And reasonably so, every seasoned angler will tell you that if you don’t get the bait right, then you better prepare for a frustrating fishing experience.
You may have the perfect reel, the best line, the strongest rod, a stable boat, name it. But with the wrong bait choice, none of these comes into play.
What if your perfect bait gets you that coveted 120-pound flathead, only for it to break loose because you used a cheap line? Well, we are not insinuating that the equipment used doesn’t make a difference. They do, but finding the right bait is still the single most critical factor in fishing.
Let’s now look at the top six bait options for big catfish anglers.
Whether you call them breams, brims, or bluegills, these are the best bait choice for large catfish anglers.
You can catch them at the same fishing spot before targeting the big cats or obtain them in advance using line and pole or net-fishing. The best alternative, however, is to hook them in advance. This is because they tend to disappear when you need them most. An easier option is to buy them from a stocking truck.
For the best outcome, use small bluegills — not more than 6 inches (about 3″ — 4″ long) — because they appeal more to the big cats. The other tip is to keep the bait alive while still on the hook. To achieve this, hook the bluegills’ lips from the bottom up.
2. Big Gizzard Shad/Herring
If not for the fact that they may sometimes not be as hardy on the hook as you’d like them to be, big gizzard shad would undoubtedly be the first on this list. That’s because big cats love them so much.
Like bluegills, you can catch shad in advance and hook them before targeting the cats or buying them from a stocking truck. Again, live chads produce the best results, especially for flatheads.
Shad works best for blue catfish anglers. They are also a great bait choice for giant channel catfish. If you are exclusively targeting flathead, however, they should be your last resort. Flatheads are preferential to live fish like bluegill, perch, and mudcats.
3. Small Catfish/Bullheads
They are primarily famous for catching flatheads, although you can also use them to target other giant cat varieties. You don’t have to cut off their stingers, but doing so will make them struggle more and attract the big cats, hence a better shot.
Bullheads are hardy, and if you hook them correctly (from the lower lip through to the upper lip), they will stay alive for a very long time. Most states permit the usage of bullheads under seven inches as bait. They are easy to catch using chicken liver or worms. Alternatively, you can purchase them at a bait store.
Note that you should handle small catfish with a bit of some extra caution. They have dangerous pectoral fins that they often use to give quite lethal stings, which do not come out quickly.
4. White Perch
Like the bullheads, white perch are pretty hardy and will stay alive forever if you hook them correctly. You can use them as live or dead (cut/frozen) baits, but the former produced better results.
If you decide to catch them personally before going for the primary target, use a cast net. You may also find them easily in local bait stores.
5. Big Flashy Goldfish
You probably know them as popular pet fish. Well, goldfish also make excellent catfish bait. They are shiny and appealing and small enough for the big cats to smack on. Again, they are readily available and relatively inexpensive compared to other bait options—almost every American pet-store stocks goldfish for sale.
The irony is that most states still outlaw the use of goldfish in their waters. This is because they are quite a menace to the environment. When you accidentally release them to the environment, they may turn out to be invasive and destructive. A single goldfish lays thousands of eggs, hence a rapid reproduction rate that may threaten the survival of the native species. Given that they’re pretty small, their removal process can be even more damaging.
So before you use goldfish as your bait, confirm that they’re allowed in that locality. In case the state doesn’t have any related regulations, assume that it’s illegal. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
6. American Eel
The American Eel is the number one bait choice for most freshwater big fish anglers in and around North America. Buying the eels from a bait store is more convenient than catching them.
Using eel as live bait is as simple as holding it with a dry rag, hooking it on the line, and lowering the line to the water for your catch. Since large catfish mainly feed on other fish, the best bait option is to use other smaller fish. So, if you’re going to put your money and spend your time pursuing giant catfish, active baits will give you the best shot.
Flatheads Love Live Bait!
You must have heard that the best time to target large catfish like flatheads is at night. Most flathead anglers will launch their vessels in the dead of night or at least when there’s some darkness.
The truth is that this is a big mistake. While it’s true that flatheads bite better at night, this doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t smack down a good bait just because it’s daytime. The trick is in using live baits. Flatheads, like most large catfish, are preferential to active baits.
But haven’t we all seen or heard of flatheads hooked on all kinds of weird stuff — from bream heads to hot dogs, shrimp, stink baits, and even soap? Well, such hookups rarely happen, and if they do, it’s most likely because the anglers lowered their baits where the catfish were feeding. In normal circumstances, however, flatheads will quickly pick flashy live baits over other alternatives.
Is It Legal To Use Live Bait? Of course, there’s the issue of legality; different States have different regulations on the types of baits permissible in their waters. It’s not any different when it comes to other giant catfish, particularly those 2ft long and above. Alaska, for example, does not allow the usage of active baits on their freshwater fish. In Georgia, anglers are only allowed to use breams 4″ long or shorter.
Before you go fishing, ensure you familiarize yourself with the local Fish and Game regulations. If the wardens catch up with you contravening these provisions, you can’t start telling them some junk about what this article recommended.
Do not assume that you’re safe. If you can’t locate the local DNR book’s bait regulations, call the authorities and ask for clarifications. Fishing fines are pretty costly. In some cases, a violation may lead to a permanent revocation of your fishing license.
All the best as you go out fishing! Remember that nothing beats a good bait, and not even the best equipment can cover for the wrong bait choice.