12 Best Catfish Bait Options for Each Type of Catfish

The reason that I find catfishing so much fun is the challenge it presents to an angler. You need to understand catfish behavior, judge the conditions, and adapt your technique to it.

That being said, with thousands of different catfish bait types, picking the right one based on the conditions can be a tough task. 

Ask your uncle Gilligan, and he might suggest that hooking up marshmallows is the ultimate option. Honestly, I was confused by all the bizarre suggestions when I was a newbie.

So, what is the best bait for catfish?

We have consulted with some veteran anglers to pick the 12 best catfish baits that will work in varying conditions. Check them out.

Top 12 Best Catfish Baits

Berkley PowerBait Catfish Bait Chunks

These catfish bait chunks use a PowerBait formula for enhanced scent and flavor. There are multiple variants you can pick and I have found that the cut shad works like a charm on catfish. Blood and cheese is the next best option, followed by chicken liver. 

Most anglers found this bait to be more effective on lakes and ponds, rather than in moving water. It’s best to keep the bait cool to make it stick to the hook. If it gets hot, chances are, it will fall off during casting.

triple s channel cat bait

Triple S Channel Cat Bait

This super sticky catfish dip bait is an A1 choice for channel catfish. They come in blood and cheese flavors and despite endless debates in the catfish fishing community, choosing one over the other is difficult. 

All you need to do is cover the dipper worm or a sponge hook with the bait and toss it out. While I find the smell awful, the big cats like to gobble this stuff. It’s not the cheapest option but gets the job done.

Danny King’s Catfish Punch Bait

If you want cheap but effective catfish bait, this one is a great choice. I have used a treble hook with this bait and was able to hook channel catfish and even a few flatheads weighing below 8 pounds. The bait smells strong, but that works in its favor. 

The exact formula is a secret but it uses cattail fluff. The substance is like a thick pudding and it sticks best when you keep it cold. On the downside, you might find it difficult to keep it on the hook when there is a current.

Team Catfish Fiber Nuggets

The big plus of these fiber nuggets is they are non-sticky and easy to use. They are covered with a powder that washes off when submerged. Once wet, the bait becomes sticky and stays on the hook. Compared to some of the other stuff, I have had fewer problems while casting these. 

The Fiber Nuggets come in multiple flavors and I have seen cats go crazy on the regular variety. They work well all through the year but work especially during the early season when the water temperature is low.

Junnie’s Cat Tracker Wicked Sticky Catfish Bait

Admittedly, this is one of the smelliest catfish baits I have ever used. It’s super thick and sticks well to the dip worms. The thickness also ensures that it stays on the hook even when the current is strong and is one of the best baits for catfish in rivers.

There are multiple flavor profiles and you can try them out in varying conditions. The Sewer version works well even in the heat of summer. A quick word of caution- try not to get any on you as the smell is hard to remove.


Nightcrawlers are easily available and work great with channel and blue catfish. I have never tried it, but some cat anglers cultivate Nightcrawlers to ensure that the bait remains healthy and active. Nightcrawlers have a neutral smell, so the bigger specimens you pick, the better it is. Plus, they are not messy like dip baits and are great for family fishing trips.

I have used nightcrawlers with a weight that keeps them hanging at the bottom and got good bites near river edges. While using them from a boat, try a slow retrieve for the best results.


Chicken Livers

In theory, chicken liver is one of the best baits for catfish you can pick. They are an inexpensive option and can be easily picked from a grocery store. The high blood content and meaty smell draw the channel cats or smaller blues as well. 

Truth is, I find chicken liver difficult to keep on the hook, especially in a current. Besides, they tend to lose their smell within a short period. It’s best to use small pieces of the bait in areas where the cats are most active.

Hot Dogs

I have used hot dogs a few times with limited success, but they do work as catfish bait. While the processed meat in hot dogs may not be good for your health, the salty nitrates they contain can lure the catfish when the conditions are right. 

The more nitrates a hot dog contains, the better it works as bait; especially in spring when the cats are eager to feed.

It’s hard to stick a soft chunk of hot dog to a hook. So, push the barb deeper to secure it. Another option is to microwave the hot dogs for a few minutes to make them harder.


The smell of the proteins in cheese makes it a good cat bait. You can use Stilton and Danish Blue which are more crumbly and knead them into a thick paste. 

A few years back, I used processed cheese for bait making and discovered that catfish are picky about cheese types. For best results, use cheese that is free from additives and has good consistency.

cut baits

Cut Baits 

Since cut baits are natural, they release the right organic juices that match natural prey. That means, there is less chance for the cats to get wary about something unfamiliar. You can use shad, freshwater drum, carp, or bluegill as cut bait. 

Make sure to remove the scales and the hard fins before using. Cut baits can be used with any type of rig and most cat anglers prefer pairing it with a circle hook.

Catfish Dip Baits

Dip baits are semi-soft and come in many varieties. They are best used with treble hooks and you need to dip the hook into the paste. 

They can also be used with bait holders like sponge hooks, dip tubes, or dip worms. These are great channel catfish baits and serious catfish anglers have their secret variations. 

One theory states that dip baits are most effective when water temperatures are lower than 40°F. However, I have found them somewhat effective in summer too.

Live Baits 

Live baits like crawdad, sunfish, chubs, brim, and worms are some great options that cats prefer for dinner. One effective trick that I learned for attracting giant cats is snipping off the fins of the baitfish and allowing them to bleed underwater. 

The blood trail will draw the attention of the whiskered warriors. 

For larger baits, a few incisions along the sides will help in spreading the smell. Since catfish have different food preferences, using various forms of live bait will improve your chances of success.

Understanding Catfish and Their Preferences

Catfish are one of the most diverse fish groups found all over the globe and there are over 2,000 species. In the US, the three main types that are found are the channel, blue, and flathead catfish.

Channel catfish are the most widely available ones with an average weight of less than 10 pounds. They are found in almost every state and some weigh over 40 pounds. 

The blue catfish ranks second in terms of number and a few giants can be over 100 pounds. The flatheads are mostly found in the rivers of the eastern U.S. and can weigh between 4 to 40 pounds.

The sensory abilities of catfish have amazed fish scientists for years. Firstly, those whisker-like barbels projecting from their mouths have thousands of taste buds and tactile receptors. Next, they have an exceptional ability to detect chemical presence which is called chemoreception. 

In addition, they have an auditory system for detecting vibrations and eyesight. Sea catfish can even detect the slight pH changes in the water resulting from the breathing of a worm. No wonder, catfish are called “swimming tongues”.

So what does it all mean? 

Stimulating these sensory abilities of catfish by using various forms of bait is an effective way for anglers to increase their catch. Beyond that, you need to keep in mind the changes in catfish behavior from seasonal water temperature changes.

larry smith outdoors cta

Specialty Baits and Tactics

In terms of feeding habits, channel catfish are “omnivores” and will consume protein from some of the strangest sources. That allows you to use unconventional baits like dog food, ivory soap, blood, or spoiled shrimp. 

Trust me, I know anglers who swear by fruit-flavored bubblegum as an effective channel catfish bait. To make the bait more attractive, you can fix a small piece of colorful plastic worm to the hook.

While live baits work great in clear water, you can use artificial baits that vibrate and emit a scent. Pick jigs, jerk baits, or crankbaits of natural colors like browns, white, and olives when the water clarity is good. You can go through this jerkbait vs crankbait comparison to pick the right one. But in my opinion, live baits work better for cats, compared to lures.

Check out this video on recycling catfish baits!

Making Your Own Catfish Bait

For some anglers, the ultimate secret of catfishing is using homemade baits. While some homemade baits worked for me, a few others didn’t. 

But, I appreciate the advantage of customization it offers. Plus, they are less expensive than the options on the market.

There are no set rules or magic formula for making your own catfish bait and feel free to get creative with the ingredients. A dough ball formation that dissolves slowly, leaving a scent trail is a good choice. The best part is, that you will find most of the ingredients in your home.

For that, you can use oatmeal, cornmeal, ground meat, or flaked fiber cereal as the consistent base. To create the scent, add coffee, garlic, onion powder, or cheese. Layering the scent by adding some natural oils or vanilla extract is also a good tactic. 

To finish up, add the necessary amount of water and roll all the ingredients together into a large ball. Carry it in a sealed container and use small amounts in the shape of a ball each time.

If you prefer a stink bait, try mixing overly ripe cheese with pulverized chicken liver. Allow the mixture to ferment and then add some flour and cod liver oil to prepare the final paste.

While using a combination of rotten minnows, meat, or chicken liver with cheese and flour, make sure to freeze the amount you won’t be using. These baits will spoil easily unless frozen.

Final Thoughts

There are a ton of catfish baits including some weird offerings that you can use. But to get consistent results, you need to judge catfish behavior based on water conditions and the time. The trick is to use a lure that works in a specific condition.

In my experience, thinking like a bass angler and casting near covers and structures is one way to a better success rate. No matter the type of catfish bait you use, have patience. And if one bait type isn’t working, don’t hesitate to switch things up.

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