5 Fishing Tips for Reeling in Catfish

Mar 13, 2023

Man with fishing rod.

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Catfish are one of the most popular types of fish in the U.S., and it’s not just because they make for a delicious meal. Whether you have experience fishing for catfish or you’ve never caught one, these fish are a fun challenge for all anglers. They aren’t afraid to put up a fight — and with some catfish weighing in at over 100 pounds, you’ll have to earn your catch.

Before you head out on your next fishing trip in search of these mammoths, check out these fishing tips for catfish to ensure you don’t return home empty-handed. 

The Best Fishing Tips for Catfish

Get ready for a day trip to the river with these five tips for catching catfish.

Location, Location, Location

One of the most important factors for any angler is location. No matter how prepared you are, you can’t catch what isn’t in the water. Fortunately, catfish are among the most common fish in the U.S., found in nearly every state. In the Ohio, Mississippi and Missouri River basins, catfish are especially plentiful.

Catfish live in lakes and rivers, typically in deeper water where they can hide under cover when they’re not feeding. When hunting for prey, they’re more likely to venture into shallow waters in search of food. You can search for catfish around shorelines around dusk or at night, but you’ll have better luck in deeper water with faster currents if you’re fishing during the day. Look around logs, boulders and other places the fish may use as cover.

Recognize the Different Types of Catfish

If you want to catch a few catfish, you should know exactly what they’re looking for. Blue, channel and flathead catfish are the most common types in the U.S., and they each offer unique advantages. Plus, they may require different fishing techniques to snag. The type of catfish you fish for will depend on your location.

Blue catfish are the biggest, most populous and often most-prized type of catfish. As the name suggests, they have a silvery-blue appearance, which makes it easy to distinguish them from other types. They’re also less reclusive than channels and flatheads, existing in deeper waters and strong currents. Blues can be significantly larger than their counterparts. In fact, the largest blue catfish on record is a whopping 143 pounds. Typically, you can expect blues to be between 20-40 pounds, up to about 100 pounds.

Channel catfish may be smaller than blues and flatheads, but you’re much more likely to find success when you’re fishing for these cats. You can find channel catfish almost anywhere in the U.S. east of the Rocky Mountains, most often hunting or taking cover in rivers. When it comes to channels, the number is more important than size. They typically weigh in below or around 20 pounds, but you have a great chance of catching more of them per trip.

Last but not least, the flathead catfish. Easily recognizable with its compressed head and brownish, yellowish coloring, the flathead is what most people envision when they hear the term “catfish.” Flatheads are solitary and difficult to find, hiding during the day and emerging at night to hunt. However, finding these cats is just the start of the challenge. Weighing up to 100 pounds or more, flatheads are tough and you’ll have to fight hard to reel them in.

Get the Best Gear

The right rig is essential to reel in these big fish. You’ll need to start with a sturdy rod that has enough give to let you wrestle with heavy catches without snapping. The only thing worse than losing a 100-pound catfish on your line is losing your rod along with it.

Next, you should look for a reel that’s compatible with large fish. Baitcasters are an excellent option. Whether you’re casting from your boat or from shore, baitcasters let you reach deeper waters. They’re reliable and accurate, so you won’t have to worry about miscasting.

Bait is a must-have for any catfish angler. That’s another reason you should know what type of catfish you’re looking for — they each have different preferences for bait.

  • Channel catfish: Channel cats are scavengers and they’ll take almost any stink, dead or live baits.
  • Blue catfish: Blues are slightly pickier, preferring any fresh bait, whether it’s live or dead.
  • Flathead catfish: It should be no surprise that flatheads are the fussiest eaters of the bunch. You’ll need local live baits to improve your chances with these creatures.

Fish at the Right Time

Some catfish, like flatheads, are nocturnal, which has given rise to the myth that you must hunt for them at night. However, that’s not really the case. You can actually find them at any time of day — your chances of success are more about tides, currents and other factors.

Blue and channel catfish are both active during the day as well as at night. Their feeding schedules are unique and depend on the availability of prey. Catfish are hungry animals and hunt frequently. Many fish hunt at night in slower currents — if the water is faster and rougher, you’re more likely to find catfish on the prowl during the daytime. You might even find flatheads working under cover during the day.

There are different advantages to fishing for catfish at night versus during the day. At night, you may find more catfish in shallower waters, so you won’t have to go further out in the water in the dark. During the day, you’ll have to explore deeper waters to find the fish you’re looking for. However, it’s easier to navigate the water in the sunlight.

Be Patient

It should be clear by now that catfish aren’t the easiest target in the world. You need to know what you’re looking for, when and where to look for them, and have the right gear ready to put up a fight. Angling for these fish requires patience. Whether you’re fishing during the day or at night, carefully survey areas you think catfish might be hiding, set up your equipment and get comfortable. 

Follow These Fishing Tips for Catfish

Reel in a tasty dinner when you follow these fishing tips for catfish. The next time you find yourself on a boat or at the shore with a rod-and-reel in hand, you’ll be ready to make the most impressive catch of the day.

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Jack Shaw is a senior writer at Modded. Jack is an avid enthusiast for keeping up with personal health and enjoying nature. He has over five years of experience writing in the men's lifestyle niche, and has written extensively on topics of fitness, exploring the outdoors and men's interests. His writings have been featured in SportsEd TV, Love Inc., and Offroad Xtreme among many more publications.