If you want to learn how to catch catfish with your hands or with the right type of equipment, it wouldn’t hurt to spend a little time learning more about this species in general before you get started. We’ve created this section so that you can learn more about it without having to waste time searching for it.
First things first. Where do catfish live? The species inhabits a plethora of fresh waters across the globe. This fish can be found anywhere in South America, Africa, and Asia, to Australia and Madagascar. Game & Fish Mag recommends targeting the species in outside river bends, wing dikes, river holes, bottom channels, as well as inundated lakes and ponds.
Some catfish varieties prefer shallow waters while others like to dip in mud all day long. You can also find them in deep holes in ponds, as well as in windswept shores. There are loads of tutorials out there that can help you understand how to catch catfish in a pond, for instance. So, keep in mind that the body of water is important and that it needs to be matched with your equipment. You probably won’t find the exact same type of catfish in a pond as you would in a river.
Since the species is so varied, the size from one fish to the next differs quite a lot. Blue Catfish is one of the largest species ever caught in the United States of America, for instance, with the record being of 130 lb fish captured in the Missouri River in 2010. 130 lb is next to nothing when compared to a giant Mekong catfish which was caught in Thailand in 2005 and which is reported to have weighed over 600 pounds.
While the dangers of a catfish are real as this species can be considered invasive in specific environments, it is also farmed. About 60% of all catfish you can buy in the United States comes from the great state of Mississippi. Alabama and Arkansas are two other great places where you can find catfish farms. Given its biology and how cheap it is to grow, catfish has become quite popular with fishers and those who like to eat it regularly.
An important distinction has to be made between farmed and wild catfish, and that’s because the wild one is high in vitamin D and contains loads of omega 3 and omega six fatty acids. The farmed variety has lower levels, by comparison.
While in Central Europe catfish isn’t consumed all that often, it is considered a real delicacy in some Southern parts of the United States. There are several dishes you can try out with this fish, although some foodies argue that it has little to no taste and a watery consistency. Beware that it does contain a good deal of healthy fats, despite the less appealing looks of the meat. Since in the United States it is mostly consumed fried, it does become palatable regardless of the family it belongs to.
Start by selecting the right gear
Whether you want to learn how to catch big catfish or a smaller species from the same family, the fact of the matter is that it often boils down to the equipment you will use for your endeavor. Start by matching the size of your rod and reel to that of the fish you want to catch. You will require sturdier line for bigger catches, of course.
As a general rule, you may want to try out a 6-ft rod with a 10-pound test line if the fish you are targeting weigh less than twenty pounds. For anything above, you need a 7-ft medium to a heavy rod, a 14-pound test mono line, and a resilient reel.
If you are starting out, we recommend getting a spinning combo as it is efficient and convenient and can be used even by complete rookies. By comparison, well-seasoned anglers utilize conventional tackle, but making the most out of a baitcasting outfit can be challenging if you have little to no experience.
One thing that we have to set straight is that most catfish prefer live bait instead of artificial lures. However, seeing how some anglers might be wary when it comes to caring for and even handling live bait, there are some lures they can utilize.
You can use scented soft lures and vibrating lures. Besides, there are some designed especially for catching catfish. Another tip that we can give you is to try to target catfish feeding areas where there’s a flowing current and where you have the ability to introduce your lures with ease. Needless to say, the size of the lure needs to match that of the catfish you want to get your hands on.
Even though this species isn’t particularly active much like the largemouth bass, for instance, which puts up a serious fight, you may need to learn some things about how to set up a fishing pole for catfish. In some states, your fishing license will enable you to use two lines per individual. You can set up an ensemble and use the other in a more active manner.
3 fishing techniques you should know about
Regardless of your preferences in terms of angling techniques, we feel compelled to point out that for most, you will need a spinning outfit. A 6-foot rod can do wonders, so you don’t have to go out and get a too long one. When you’re doing your fishing in deep waters and catfish have the freedom to lurk in depth, it is a good idea to attach some weights to your tackle.
Three of the commonly employed techniques for catfish angling are anchoring, drift fishing, and controlled drifting. Even trolling can be used, in some cases, although it is less preferred by some fishers.
As we were saying, some catfish species can be slower compared to others. That does not mean, however, that they can’t be hard and quick. Sometimes, they enjoy playing with the bait before nibbling or taking it fully. Whenever you have doubts about whether your catch might bite the bait, set the hook.
Types of catfish you can catch
At the beginning of the article, we pointed out how the catfish family is wide and composed of a variety of species. We will next tackle some of the common ones you can encounter across the United States. These respond to various techniques and tackle and can be fished for both at night and during the day. Something you may have to be aware of is that catfish usually prefer colder areas compared to other fish. So our advice to you is to try to avoid fishing for catfish at midday.
If you’ve ever wondered how to catch catfish in rivers, it’s very likely you thought about getting your hands on an excellent channel catfish. The best bait for this particular species ranges from freshly killed bait fish to cheese, chicken and fish parts. Despite some anglers feeling queasy when it comes to ripening the bait, catfish respond to the scent, not just the moves of your bait and lures.
Channel catfish are somewhat unique when it comes to their preferences, in that they make movements upstream rivers in the spring. You can, therefore, track their moves compared to how you’d be unable to do so with other species. As fall comes your way, you might notice that channel cats might move to wintering holes. Therefore, this species is a great catch even for ice fishers as it is tempted to bite even in winter. It doesn’t have the same so-called hibernation habits as other species.
For channel catfish that reside in streams, reservoirs, and rivers, we recommend slip sinker rigs, circle hooks, and bobbers.
“Blues” respond to skipjack herring and shad. There have been situations where fishers have used chunks of Asian carp and have managed to reel in Blue catfish weighing around eighty pounds. The bigger the catch, the more sizeable your bait needs to be.
Compared to some of the other members of their family, “Blues” prefer a bit of current, so you have a good chance of finding them along channel edges, deep holes, steep ledges, and shallow flats. If the water is colder, you can locate them deeper. One of the specifics of blue catfish is that it likes to get to the surface of the water to feed. So, even when the weather’s getting chilly, you can target them in shallow water.
As for equipment, we suggest using slip sinker rigs, J-style and circle hooks with a size of up to 8/0, as well as a 7 to 8-ft medium to a medium-heavy rod. As you can see, the requirements of this particular species are superior to those of other catfish with which you can safely and efficiently employ a typical 6-ft rod.
Flatheads are a bit lazier compared to some of the other members of their family. They will often sit in one spot for twenty-three hours or more. Despite some anglers trying to tell you otherwise, they respond best when you try to catch them with live fish.
Because flatheads have a preference for cover, you’ll find them under or near standing timbers, log piles, and boulders. If the river you’re doing your angling in is more extensive, we suggest looking for them near piles of wood. In heavy current, it would be a good idea to go for sinkers that weigh even up to eight ounces. 100-pound test braided and mono lines make great choices for this particular species, especially given the cover it prefers.
Bullheads can be found in abundance throughout the world’s most beautiful lakes, reservoirs, and rivers, including those in North America. Unfortunately, as time has passed and as an angler’s knowledge and skill has grown, they have become somewhat less popular. In general, they are the most popular catches for novice anglers and children who are just learning the fundamentals of fishing in general. Bullheads, whether they are black, yellow, or brown, are smaller than many other types of catfish, including many other species of catfish.
Because they only weigh one and a half to two pounds, you’ll need to choose shorter rods with a medium action, such as those sized 6 to 7 feet in length. There should be nothing preventing you from using float rigs or even simple split shot rigs in these situations, and ultralight tackle will perform admirably for the most part.
Bullheads differ from one another in terms of their natural environment, depending on the species. For example, the black variety can be found in all types of water, including swamps, whereas the brown variety prefers a lake or stream that is moderately clear and heavily vegetated. Despite the fact that yellow bullheads prefer smaller bodies of water, you can still find them in ponds, lakes, and slow-moving streams where there is a dense cover of vegetation.
Keeping your gear and methods as clean and simple as possible are two of the most important pieces of advice we can give you if you want to catch the greatest amount of bullhead possible. In the case of this particular species, you won’t even need to go out and spend a lot of money on fancy equipment. Furthermore, when it comes to bait, you can always rely on worms or chicken liver to get results.
Regardless of your personal preference in the matter, you should employ a significant number of hooks. A major advantage of targeting bullheads is that they swallow their bait quickly, making it much less difficult to get the hook into the fish than it would be if you were targeting another type of catfish, which are known for playing with their bait prior to grabbing it with their mouths.
In order to prepare the catfish for consumption, we recommend that you clean it immediately after capturing it. Keep your catches out of the water as long as possible as the flesh will soften and you will believe that it has no or a foul taste if you do. The skin of your catches can be removed if you have an excellent knife with you. Alternatively, you could use a more modern technique such as an automatic skinner.
Charles Reynolds is an engineer from New York University with a passion for fishing. His earliest memories of fishing go back to the days spent on the lake with his grandfather who taught him the sport. Reynolds spends a large part of his holidays fishing with his son and passing on the skills to the little one.