The Ultimate Guide to the Best Catfish Bait

The 10 Best Catfish Baits Featured Image

In this article, we go over the 10 best catfish baits as well as a few other baits that fishermen have reported to work too. Use these different catfish baits and let us know what worked in your area. From blue catfish, channel catfish, flathead catfish, and more, these baits have been proven to work for decades.

Top 10 Best Catfish Baits

Here’s a list of the best catfish baits, including live baits, prepared baits, and everything in between. Hopefully, this guide will help you land a trophy catfish on your next outing! After this article, look at The Best Catfish Rig for Bank Fishing to help you rig up these baits and start catching catfish.

The 10 Best Catfish Baits Infographic


Worms are one of the best catfish baits.

They are available at most bait shops and many convenience stores. Worms are a popular choice for small flathead and blue catfish, bullheads, and white catfish. Worms are one of the best baits for catfish. 

It’s easy to rig worms as they slide seamlessly onto a circle hook. You can also thread one onto a hook and rig a slip sinker. Want ideas on how to rig up your catfishing rod for worms?

Different Kinds of Worms

There are different kinds of worms, and choosing the right worm is an important part of catfish fishing. The most effective worms move a lot underwater and have a scent that catfish can smell. Worms are more likely to attract fish when they flail and have movement.

Red worms emit more scents than nightcrawlers, which makes them more appealing to catfish. In addition, red worms tend to be larger, which is another benefit of using them for catfish fishing.

Where to Find Worms

There are three ways most anglers get their worms:

  1. Buying them from convenience stores or bait shops
  2. Digging them out from the ground
  3. Growing them at home (in compost containers usually).

Convenience stores have a variety of worms, including green worms that have been injected with dye. Make sure to open the container before purchasing the worms to ensure they are fresh and still alive. They are stored in a refrigerator in these stores and are often slow and lethargic because they are cold, but if they are moving, the worms are alive and perfect for your catfish bait.

When digging worms from the ground, find a fertile patch of land, preferably a compost area, and use a shovel. Overturn the soil and see what kind of worms you can find. Often there will be skinny worms that do not work well for catfish bait. Focus on finding worms that look thick and lively. These are the best for bait.

Also, anglers have a lot of success growing their worms in a compost area in their yards. It isn’t hard and easily produces great worms for bait.

How to Grow Worms for Fishing

One of the best things about worms is that they are easy to grow. Once you’ve established a colony, collecting nightcrawlers or red worms for catching catfish is easy. Our article on how to grow worms for fishing highlights the different ways to grow worms at home for bait.

Why Worms Work

  • Their scent attracts catfish
  • They move while on the hook, which attracts catfish
  • Worms naturally live near where catfish live, so they are used to worms

Catfish love to feed near vegetation and love to eat alive bait. Worms naturally live near vegetation and at times fall into the water.

When to use Worms

Worms can be used in most catfishing situations. They work well with many different catfish rigs, times of the day, and throughout each season of the year. They are a great utility type of bait that works in many scenarios.

Other Considerations

When using worms make sure to be careful of getting your hook hung up on weeds and other underwater structures. Also, baitfish such as bluegill and perch will nip at your worms and eventually take the whole bait off the hook. The last consideration is that catfish often swallow bait whole. If they swallow a worm, which is often rigged on a smaller hook, the catfish will probably be gut hooked.

Gizzard Shad

This is a popular baitfish species widely available and well-liked by catfish anglers. Another name for the gizzard shad is mudshad or American gizzard shad. This fish lives within fresh and brackish waters and is part of the herring species of fish.

Where to Find Gizzard Shad

The two easiest ways to find gizzard shad are catching them yourself and buying them at baitshops.

They are great to catch via dip-netting or cast-netting due to their broad-bodied and blunt noses. Send a casting net off a pier, and there’s a great chance you will catch a few gizzard shad. Gizzard shad are commonly found in lakes and feeder creeks.

They can be lured by lights placed on the water and then caught with a throw net. The shad prefers fresh water and heavy current and often feeds near bridge pilings.

Why Do Gizzard Shad Work as Catfish Bait?

  • Their natural movement attracts catfish
  • They have a distinct smell that attracts catfish

Blue catfish love them as bait, and large ones anchored on reservoir flats at night attract huge flatheads. Channel cats prefer to choose 3 to 5-inch shad, which can be either whole or cut into chunks for the hook.

Alive gizzard shad is one of the best baits for catching large channel cats and flatheads. However, cut shad is easier to handle and a more convenient bait for catfish fishing.

Gizzard Shad as a great live bait for catfish fishing

What do Gizzard Shad Look Like?

They can grow to 8 inches in size and have a silvery body and a dark spot behind the upper gill cover. Their bodies are also keel-shaped, with a dark shoulder spot.

When to use Gizzard Shad

Use this bait when targeting flathead catfish. It is best to keep the gizzard shad alive when going after flatheads. To go after smaller catfish, cut the gizzard shad into chunks. This will attract a variety of different types of catfish, including blues. Either method is appropriate when fishing from the shore or from a boat.

Other Considerations

Gizzard Shad work almost as well frozen but can become mushy when used cold. If you plan on using them, make sure to catch them fresh or pack them with ice, so they do not become mushy.

White Suckers

This freshwater fish is native to the United States and is called a “sucker” because of its bottom-feeding mouth and protruding lips that give it a distinct look. White suckers, also known as mullet, are great catfish bait that many fishermen prefer to use throughout the year.

Where to Find White Suckers

Baitfish shops sometimes stock this fish, but you can also catch it in small creeks using small hooks. An easy way to catch them is to have an ultralight rod with a 6-pound test fishing line, and a small hook baited with a worm. When you catch them for catfish bait, place them in a cooler with ice to preserve them.

The best time to fish for White Suckers is early May or June. During these times, white suckers spawn on the edges of lakes and streams which is the perfect time to target them for catfish bait.

Why Do White Suckers Work as Catfish Bait?

  • Produce a very smelly scent
  • Tough outer skin that helps them stay on the hook

The fish produces prime-cut chunks all along its length, and catfish throughout the country love their taste. 

What Do White Suckers Look Like?

These fish have a cylindrical body and thick fins. They have a wide head and broad, streamlined body and are often white in color. The upper body of the fish is olive-brown with a light-colored underbody. The rounded snout is smaller than its upper lip, and the fins on both sides are thick and have rays.

Their tail is strong and has a forked tail. These fish migrate to shallow lakes, rivers, and lakes, where they lay their eggs. They can survive in a variety of conditions.

When to Use White Suckers

This is a versatile catfish bait that works with the big three catfish: blues, flatheads, and channel cats. Use white suckers whenever they are available in your area. They are one of the best catfish baits throughout the year.

Other Considerations

The fish’s bony structure helps it hold onto the hook even when only a few pieces of meat are left. Because of their consistency and lasting flavor, suckers work better than any other baitfish once they have been frozen. At times, anglers keep white suckers alive with aeration stones so they can use them as live bait when needed. Cut white suckers work well on a jug fishing line. What is Jug Fishing? goes over how to setup a rig to catch more catfish with baits like white suckers.


This migratory fish prefers swift currents and have been a great catfish bait for decades. There are many types of herring and all of them are great candidates for your catfish bait.

Where to Find Herring

Although this migratory fish species was initially found in coastal waters, it can now be found in many other reservoirs and rivers throughout the United States. Anglers have found success with a lightweight rod setup when fishing for herring. They use jigs such as the crappie magnet.

Another way to catch smaller herring is a throw a cast net off a pier or similar structure, but most herring are caught using spinning tackle and jigs.

They sometimes come in freeze-dried bags as well. If buying pre-packed, make sure to check the expiration date and when it was packaged to ensure it is a viable pack of herring

Why Does Herring Work as Catfish Bait?

  • Scented oils in their flesh attract a variety of predatory catfish
  • Strong body that stays on the hook well

What Do Herring Look Like?

Herring have football-shaped bodies and reach lengths of around one foot long. They are silver in color with marks of black along their tops. Their mouths angle upwards like a tarpon’s.

When to Use Herring

Use herring whenever possible. They are great catfish bait but require some know-how in order to catch them. Because they are migratory fish, check your local area to see when they are legal to catch and when they are spawning.

Other Considerations

Herring are easy to catch, and they are often used as cut bait because the whole size of the fish is often too large for catfish bait otherwise.

Catfish Stink Bait

This catfish bait is made of a variety of ingredients, all purposed to have the most attractive smell to catch catfish.

Where to Find Stink Bait

Either buy stinkbait pre-made from a fishing tackle store or make your own at home.

Why Does Stink Bait Work as Catfish Bait?

  • The smell is extremely potent and travels throughout the nearby waters to attract catfish
  • It is customizable if home-made, allowing anglers to target specific species of catfish

Smelly baits such as stink bait are perfect for attracting catfish. They carry through the water and are a great way to attract these predatory fish. Stink baits are ideal for smaller specimens, such as bullheads, but can also work for large catfish as well. Catfish are largely sensory predators, relying on their sense of smell to seek food. Stink baits are extremely smelly and attract a variety of catfish easily.

What Does Stink Bait Look Like?

It comes in various forms, from mushy-looking paste to round red balls. Its appearance depends on how it has been made and what ingredients have been put into it. Pre-packaged stink bait is often cut into smaller sections already, while homemade stink bait is often stored in big plastic containers to be balled up when used as bait.

When to use Stink Bait

Convenience is one of the main factors to use stink bait. Regardless if it is pre-packaged or homemade, stink bait is easy to store and easy to keep a lot of it on hand. Use it when you prefer not to get your hands slimy with fresh bait.

Other Considerations

There are three main types of stinkbait: dip, punch, and sponge baits. Each has its own advantage, but the general concept is to create a smelly bait that attracts catfish while staying on the hook. Later on, in this article, we do an overview of punch baits.

Chicken Liver

Choosing a meaty bait such as chicken liver is one of the best options for catfish fishing.

Where to Find Chicken Liver

One of the best parts about using chicken liver for catfish bait is that it is readily available in most grocery stores, and it is cheap.

Why Does Chicken Liver Work as Catfish Bait?

  • The stinky smell attracts catfish
  • The meaty texture is easy for catfish to swallow
  • It’s easy to store when fishing from a boat or the shore

Chicken liver is an excellent choice because it can attract large catfish. However, it is challenging to keep the meaty bait on the hook.

What Does Chicken Liver Look Like?

Often purchased from a grocery where it’s pre-cut, chicken liver looks like many other cuts of chicken meat, just a deeper red color. It is gooey and stinky and very soft which lends to the potent smell that is useful when catching catfish.

When to Use Chicken Liver

Some anglers swear by the chicken liver, while others say it has done them no good. Use this bait at least once to see if it works in your area. All kinds of catfish will bite chicken liver so it’s a matter of fishing the right spots, the right time of day, and the right season.

Other Considerations

One method of making chicken liver catfish bait is soaking it in red food coloring. Some people claim this enhances its effectiveness, and some catfish have been known to hit the liver when the color is red. Chicken liver is high in protein and provides a nice scent trail that will attract a large number of fish.

Some people even season the chicken liver with garlic powder to enhance its scent. Wrapping a fresh chicken liver around a hook and letting it feed will attract channel catfish. It is an excellent option for those not willing to spend much money on catfish bait.

Pro Tip: Anglers will often put their chicken liver into a mesh bait bag so that the chicken liver stays on the hook without coming off easily.

Panfish (Bluegill, Crappie, Perch)

Panfish is a general term that includes a number of fish such as bluegill, crappie, sunfish, and perch. They are named after their size, which is usually the perfect size for them to fit into a pan to cook.

Where to Find Panfish

These fish are easily found in streams, rivers, lakes, and ponds. Jsut like most baitfish, panfish can be easily caught with a small hook and a worm. Other ways to catch them are with a simple jig such as a mister twister.

Some prefer to put a split shot on the line to increase the overall weight of the line so they can cast further and reach those hard to reach fishing spots.

Why Do Panfish Work as Catfish Bait?

  • Perfect size live bait
  • They are natural prey to catfish
  • Easily caught by anglers and there’s an abundance of them

Catfish naturally eat smaller fish. Panfish are often the size of a grown person’s hand, which makes them the perfect size for live bait. If rigged with the appropriate gear, fisherman can cast their panfish into places where catfish live and wait for the strike.

Panfish for Catfish Bait - Bluegill Live Bait

What Do Panfish Look Like?

It depends on the specific panfish species. The term “panfish” includes these fish: bluegill, sunfish, pumpkinseed, crappie, perch, chub, and minnows. Each one of the particular fish has a distinct look to them but most of them share the general shape and size which is about 6 inches long and small enough to fit inside of a cooking pan.

When to use Panfish

As often as possible. This variety of fish is one of the best live baits for catfish. When a panfish is hooked through the tail or even the back, they still are active and swim about. This activity attracts large catfish to come out from their holes.

Other Considerations

Make a point to follow your local regulations about size limits on panfish. Some species, such as perch and bluegill, may also have a fishing season.

Aside from using live bait, you can also use frozen panfish for catfish bait. When using frozen bait, place it in an airtight container or a zipper-lock bag to prevent freezer burn. Not only is it easy to use, but it’s also always available. It’s easier to maintain, easier to use, and cheaper than traditional catfish baits.

Ultimately, panfish work well because they are natural prey to catfish. They do a great job of sending out scents as well as enticing catfish to come out of the areas they often live. Our article, Where Do Catfish Live? details the different areas catfish live, depending upon the type of body of water you are fishing.

Punch Bait

Punch bait is a sticky artificial bait that sometimes has live bait infused into it. There are many formulas, including blood and cheese-based mixtures. 

Where to Find Punch Bait

This bait is usually homemade. Some manufacturers offer pre-packaged punch bait such as this blood-flavored container of punch bait.

Why Does Punch Bait Work as Catfish Bait?

  • The extremely stinky smell attracts catfish from far away
  • It is easily stored once made

If you’re looking for a unique and effective catfish fishing bait, try a punchbait. This bait has multiple uses, from attracting larger fish to catching smaller ones. A punchbait can be fished with several different types of rigs.

What Does Punch Bait Look Like?

Punch bait usually comes in plastic totes when bought from a manufacturer. The actual bait looks like dough often but with an orange color because of the cheese at is often infused into these baits.

When to Use Punch Bait

Use punch bait when you are fishing from the shore or from a boat. It also works with catching all types of catfish including blues, channels, and flatheads. Anglers often have a tote of this as backup when fishing because it is easily stored and easy to put on the hook.

Other Considerations

A good punchbait should have a distinct smell and color. Fisherman add a variety of ingredients to make their homemade punch bait so feel free to experiment.

Commercially packaged punch baits last a long time when compared to fresh homemade punch baits. You can keep them in a tackle box for a year.

Asian Carp

Asian carp are an invasive freshwater species in U.S. waterways. They were introduced as aquaculture in ponds and have since multiplied at a rapid rate. The species is considered so invasive that many states have banned its collection and use and encourage anglers to catch these fish to get them out of the waterways.

Where to Find Asian Carp

Orginally asian carp are from eastern asia but have since been introduced to many bodies of water throughout the United States. They were imported into America in the 1970s as a way to deal with nusiance algae and plant overgrowth in waterways. Since then, their population has gone out of control in places such as the Mississppi, Missouri, and other large rivers.

Why Do Asian Carp Work as Catfish Bait?

  • Oily scent is potent
  • Their scales are strong and help keep their cuts on the hook
  • Helps the waterways eradicate this invasive species

Asian carp are considered by many to be a pest but the upside is that alot of anglers have caught quality blue catfish on this cut bait. It is a strong cut bait that holds to the hook well. Although other smaller baitfish may nip at the asian carp cut bait once it is in the water, it’s compact flesh and strength keep in together and on the hook for a long time.

Asian Carp are a nuisance but can be used as catfish bait as well.
Image credit:

What Do Asian Carp Look Like?

These fish have a prominent eye feature that tells them apart from other carp. The asian carp’s eye is offset lower than where most fish have their fish. They can be big, reaching weight of over 60 pounds and have a silver body.

When to use Asian Carp

Residents of states that have asian carp in their waterways should use this fish whenver they go out to catch catfish. They provide an excellent cut bait for catching blue catfish.

Other Considerations

Asian carp can be a game-fish in of themselves. Anglers catch these fish for sport now, some even riding their boats along to river to encourage the carp to jump out of the water. When the fish is mid-air, anglers will try to grab them with large nets and haul them aboard.


These crustaceans live in a variety of freshwater and saltwater bodies of waters throughout the United States. They have been used as a catfish bait for many years with varied success.

Where to Find Shrimp

Grocery stores are the easiest way to find shrimp for catching catfish. There are also pre-packaged shrimp baits that some manufacturers offer but they are often various baits that are infused with shrimp flavor.

Why Do Shrimp Work as Catfish Bait?

  • Strong smell
  • Readily available
  • Easy to rig up

Shrimp have a popular and distinctive smell that is easy for catfish to locate underwater. Once purchased, they begin to smell worse because there isn’t often refridgeration where anglers fish which is no problem. The more the shrimp rots, the better chances are that a catfish will be able locate it and be enticed enough to strike.

Shrimp is one of the best catfish baits

What Do Shrimp Look Like?

The shrimp you use for catfish bait are the same that people cook and eat. They are a crustacean with a shelled body, usually up to 4 inches in length.

When to Use Shrimp for Catfish Bait

Shrimp is a popular choice for catfish bait because they are highly visible and can be easily found in many different types of water bodies. To make shrimp more appealing to catfish, mix garlic salt into them. Frozen shrimp can be substituted for fresh ones. Some let them rot for three to five days before they are used. Live shrimp can also be used, but the trouble involved in keeping them alive is not worth it.

Other Considerations

Shrimp may contain harmful viruses and diseases. Parasites can affect native Gulf shrimp and shellfish, and their occurrence can cause a devastating effect on the ecosystem. When you use shrimp as bait, make sure to purchase it from a local source to help alleviate these issues.

Other Catfish Baits

What if you were the person who caught that HUGE channel catfish on raw hotdogs? Great story, right? Well, it’s happened. In this section we review some catfish baits that you may not have thought of before.


Using hotdogs as catfish bait is a simple yet effective method. The best way to send it into the water is to run the hot dog through a treble hook to ensure that the barb lodges into the hot dog.

You can also try blending chicken liver and hotdogs. Mix the two to make a disgusting liquid. You can also use bread to make catfish bait. To make the bait, just knead it like dough and leave it overnight. Once hardened, you can form small balls of the bait and attach them to your hooks. This method works well for catching large fish, too.

Hotdogs are an inexpensive option for catfish bait. They have a high fat content, which is perfect for catfish. In addition to hotdogs, you can also soak them in garlic, anise, or strawberry kool-aid (some people really do this). Almost any type of sausage will work as catfish bait. And because sausage is cheap, you can always stock up on it and keep it in the freezer until you’re ready to use it again.

Another thing to remember when using hotdogs as catfish bait is that you shouldn’t cast too hard or too fast. A hot dog may fall off the hook. Using hotdogs as catfish bait is also a great way to attract more fish to your fishing line. Catfish have sensitive senses that detect food scents.


Using spam as catfish bait is a great way to attract larger varieties of catfish, including blue and channel. Spam contains oils that attract catfish. The fish are attracted to the scent, and you can easily hook them. However, spam is not an easy bait to use, so it is best to place small pieces of it on hooks. Larger pieces of spam should be placed on a treble hook or something similar to make sure it doesn’t fall off.

Bar Soap

Catfish love the smell of lye. That’s why ivory bar soap is a viable option for catching big catfish. There are many online recipes that include bar soap, bacon grease, cheese powder, anise oil, and other ingredients to make a catfish bait out of bar soap. As crazy as it sounds, people have claimed to catch big catfish with their homemade lye-infused baits.

Chicken Skin

The texture and smell of chicken skin make it a great option for catching catfish. This bait is tough when secured to the hook and can be soaked with different things such as garlic juice to increase the smell. Catfish use smell as one of their main predatory methods and chicken skin infused with different smells can land you some big catfish.

Dog Food

If you think about it, canned dog food comes in a variety of flavors and ingredients. So why shouldn’t it be perfect for catfishing? And, because it is in a can it is easy to work with when compared to alot of the home-made concoctions people make for their catfish bait. If you want to try this out then use chunky dog food. Another use for this bait is to chum the waters you plan on fishing.

Ready-Made Catfish Baits

There are a few options for anglers who want a simple way to use highly effective catfish baits without all the hassle. Below we’ve outlined a few options for you that a readily available and may make your fishing experience even better.

Fiber Nuggets – Gizzard Shad

These prepared fiber nuggets are made by Team Catfish who have a great reputation in the fishing community. They recommend using their bait with either J hooks, circle hooks, or treble hooks. So, that’s a wide range of different catfish rigs you can use with this bait.

The Gizzard Shad nuggets are not sticky to the touch but get extremely sticky once they are underwater. They can be stored without refrigeration (just throw them in your tackle box).

Another cool feature of the Team Catfish Fiber Nuggets is they slowly dissolve once underwater, sending their scent throughout the water column.

Catfish Charlie Dip Bait

This Catfish Dough bait has been a staple for many catfish anglers for a long time. They come in a variety of flavors/ingredients which allows you to test out to see what works in your local waters.

The bait is soft yet still clings to your hook which is perfect. Just do a quick google search and see how many anglers love this stuff. Some even go as far as combining their own secret ingredients into the mix to create a special mix of their own.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best bait for catfish?

The best bait depends on the species of catfish you are fishing. It also depends on the time of year and whether or not the catfish are swimming suspended in the water (higher up) or lurking along the bottom. With that said, worms, live bait, and cut bait are the best catfish baits.

What is the best bait for catfish in a river?

Rivers have a consistent flow which makes catfish fishing a bit tricky. You need something that will stay on the hook for long periods of time such as cut bait. If done properly, with the proper rig, then you should increase your success rates river fishing for catfish.

What is the best bait for channel catfish?

Channel catfish (at least the bigger ones) seem to prefer live and cut bait.

What is the best bait for flathead catfish?

Flathead catfish prey on live bait and have no problem going after back-hooked bluegill or other panfish.

What is the best bait for catfish in a pond?

Worms are the best option for catfish in a pond. They offer the most versatility with whatever rig you are using, making it an easier fishing experience.