What's the best catfish bait?

Luke Layton, left, serves a shore lunch of freshly caught catfish to guide Jason Barber and son.

I have had a lifelong passion for catching and eating catfish. I grew up on a poultry farm in very rural Red River County in the fifties and sixties.

Every 9 weeks, my dad sold the chickens and he declared the next few days as a holiday. My Mother and Dad were devout fishermen, targeting largemouth bass in the many stock ponds around the county. We caught channel catfish in Pecan Bayou which was a quarter mile or so from our little farm. But Daddy always devoted a couple days of this ‘holiday’ to making the drive up to Long Log Lake near Idabel, Oklahoma where we camped a couple days and set trotlines.

We would set a couple of trotlines and the challenge was to get the ‘lines’ set out and baited in time to catch our first evenings supper. The little lake was chock full of catfish and we never had any problem catching plenty of fish to eat. My Dad’s bait of choice for channel catfish was cut perch. A day before our fishing trip, I would scratch around the leaves and collect a coffee can half full of nightcrawlers and then use my cane pole to catch a bunch of small perch which were later used as bait for our trotline. We would sometimes experiment with other baits such as little squares of PG soap, blood bait,chicken livers or gizzards, worms or even small strips of bacon. All caught fish but the cut bait was tough and stayed on the hook well.

Channel catfish can readily be caught on a wide variety of baits and just about every devout ‘catter’ has his or her favorite and it’s good council not to try to attempt to change their mind! About twelve years ago, I worked with Magic Bait Company to help develop their version of catfish bait which was named “Stick It”. I arranged for five well known catfish guides to work with us and each would be shipped test formulas to put to work on their home waters. The test samples began with ‘Test A’ and by the time we progressed to ‘Test G’, all the guides and myself were satisfied with the finished product. We had weekly telephone visits and each guide reported how that week’s particular bait was working. A chemist at the plant was continually making adjustments to the ingredients.

Punch baits began as rank concoctions of soured cheese, grain, ground up minnow, fiber from cattails and other ingredients known only to the maker. The treble hook was ‘punched’ into the bucket of bait via a stick, thus the name ‘punch bait’.

Stick It and other like baits still carry the name ‘punch bait’ but they are far less smelly to work with than the earlier versions of punch bait. When fishing with Stick It, I actually roll the bait into little balls and press the bait on to a treble hook, rather than just sticking the hook into the bait bucket. I would not consider putting my hands into a bucket of some of the earlier punch baits. Today, there are many excellent catfish baits on the market, some made locally and some, such as Stick It that are sold in package stores across the country. Which one is best? Well that’s a loaded question and one I will not attempt to answer. But I have my favorites which include but are not limited to Stick It. They include Sonny’s Super Sticky and Stubbys Catfish Bait, made locally at Lake Fork. All are quality baits that catch fish and all have their loyal following. Channel catfish can be caught on everything from crickets to chicken liver. If you are new to catfishing my best advice is to try a variety of baits and see which works best in the waters you fish.

When targeting BLUE CATFISH, the favorite bait here in Texas, hands down, is freshly caught shad. Nothing comes close to fresh bloody, oily bait for enticing blue catfish to bite. When shad are difficult to catch with a castnet, many blue catfish anglers bait with small pieces of cut rough fish such as buffalofish or carp. In my years of fishing for catfish of all species, I have found that there simply is no better bait than fresh cutbait for catching blue catfish.

Not nearly as many anglers fish for flathead catfish today as there was 25 years ago, especially in Texas waters. Blue catfish were stocked in many Texas lakes a couple decades ago and their numbers flourished. Most catfish anglers looking for a trophy size fish today target blues rather than flatheads. But, there is a contingency of devout flathead anglers that use live bait on trotlines or on rod and reel and target these good eating and hard fighting catfish. Flatheads love to hang out around log jams in creeks and rivers and fishermen dropping live perch into these structures often do well catching flatheads but the action is almost always much slower than when fishing for channel or blue catfish.

CATFISH REPORT – We are currently at the ‘tail end’ of the trophy blue catfish season. Granted, big blues are still being caught but not with the consistency they were back in the colder months. But, now is prime time for catching limits of ‘eater’ blues weighing between 2 and ten pounds. Channel catfish are being caught with regularity on lakes such as Tawakoni and Fork on prepared baits. In a few weeks, channel catfish will be landed in large numbers around shoreline brush such as willows as they begin their spawn. When targeting channel catfish, it’s always a good idea to chum the area with soured grain or cattle range cubes.

Contact outdoors writer Luke Clayton through his website www.catfishradio.org.


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