Top 5 Best Baits for Channel Catfish

Best Channel Catfish baits ranked from one to five

Top 5 Baits for Channel Catfish


One of America’s most popular freshwater fish is the sharp finned, whisker sporting, silver skinned channel catfish.  Found in almost every lake and river system, these fierce fighters are prized for being a dual-purpose fish!

First off, Ictalurus punctatus (channel catfish) are mostly bottom feeders which mean they help keep an ecosystem in check.  Like any good decomposer, they rid waters of dead matter on the lake beds helping prevent bad bacteria to consume a lake.  

Second, they are always at the top of menus throughout the United States!  Catfish Fiddlers are a well-known delicacy when fried whole or even blackened.  Adults and kids alike get a kick out of eating them directly off the bone.

Drive by a lake at night in the summertime and look out across it.  If you see boat lights anchored out, then there’s a pretty good chance that those aboard have their lines sitting on bottom, hoping to bring in a whole mess of the tasty fish.


Catfish can be caught in a variety of ways!


The most popular way to catch the channel cat is to simply throw your line out with a heavy sinker as far away as possible to prevent noise and hook with a bait that has a known scent to drive them wild.  However, my personal favorite technique involves a simple bobber, split shot, and small hook which I will discuss at the end of the article.  


When ranking the Top 5 Baits to catch channel catfish I will draw from 4 categories and base them on a 5-star rating.

  • Cost of bait (how many channel cat you should catch per $10.00 spent)
  • Effectiveness of bait (how long you typically wait between bites on an average outing)
  • Ease of use
  • Availability of bait throughout the normal season


Please Remember this is from my personal experience.  I’m sure the rankings can vary depending upon your local lake!


(5) Cheese Bait

Cheese Bait is one of the best baits you can use to catch channel catfish

  • Cost of Bait:       4/5
  • Effectiveness:    5/5
  • Ease of Use:      1/5
  • Availability:        1/5


Growing up and practically spending every night of the summer months at my grandparents, I fondly remember the odor of their next-door neighbor’s side income.  Wayne would purchase rotten cheese from certain markets then go out and find cat tails which would help hold the bait on the hook longer.  When the winds came up from the west everyone would have to close their windows or be faced with inhaling the foulness. 

I personally used his concoction on multiple occasions and had great success with it.  The reason that it couldn’t climb any higher than 5th place was that it would often have to be rebaited.  Around a quarter of the time, you would have to reel your line off the bottom to see if your bait was still there and end up getting hung up costing you several weights and hooks bringing your ease-of-use way down.  Rivers, creeks, and lakes with heavy current make this bait really shine!

Try to find treble hooks with a spring in the middle to help hold the bait on for a longer period of time!

I do an in-depth article on how to use stink bait to catch channel catfish that you can read!


(4) Chicken Liver

chicken liver are a top bait for channel catfish
chicken liver are a top bait for channel catfish
  • Cost of Bait:         4/5
  • Effectiveness:      2/5
  • Ease of Use:         1/5
  • Availability:          5/5


Chicken Liver is a very popular bait for channel catfish amongst the bank fishermen crowd.  They are readily available at most supermarkets and cost next to nothing.  If you’re friendly with a local farmer there’s a great chance that he will save them for you the next time he butchers up his flock!

The major complaint when using is that catfish are able to rob your bait often times leading to a lot of wasted time rebaiting and missed opportunities!  I like to use them around spillways and at night time when I’m after a couple of channel cat and in a hurry!


(3) Shrimp

Shrimp for Catfish Bait
Shrimp for Catfish Bait
  • Cost of Bait:       1/5
  • Effectiveness:    3/5
  • Ease of Use:       4/5
  • Availability:        5/5


Go to any supermarket and back in the frozen meat section you will come across one of the most widely consumed seafoods in the country.  Fisherman love using this tasty appetizer to attract channel in a variety of ways.  Some prefer to use it as is, others will let it set out for a couple of days in fermented juices in order to bring fish in from all over the lake.  The availability of this bait is the most attractive quality since even in the dead of winter when most bait shops are closed for the season you will still be able thread one on your hook!  But at close to 15.00/lbs. (depending on your location) you might be better off just going one aisle over and purchasing channel cat steaks! 

I will throw these up along rip rap under a bobber keeping the bait a few inches off the bottom.  They are a good leech substitution, when leeches aren’t available.


(2) Cut Shadcut shad are one of the best baits for channel catfish

  • Cost of Bait:     4/5
  • Effectiveness:  4/5
  • Ease of Use:     3/5
  • Availability:      3/5


A very close runner up, cut bait is widely used by boat and bank anglers alike.  Most people who chose this bait are fiercely loyal and carry their own cast nets to save on purchasing them.  If you were to purchase a cast net, then you would drive the cost way down over time and you could make a solid argument that cut bait is the best option. 

Most anglers will cut the shad into 1/3 pieces, thread a piece onto the hook just past the barb, cast it out and wait.  Boat anglers typically run them on a trotline or jug with them.  Channel catfish are very familiar with the oils given off and rush to the site to devour an easy meal.  Use a larger round hook so that the bait can pernitrate the fish’s mouth.


(1) Mud Leeches

  • Cost of Bait:      5/5
  • Effectiveness:   4/5
  • Ease of Use:      5/5
  • Availability:       1/5



I already know what you cut shad fisherman are going to say… Wait? What? Leeches are expensive!  Yes you’re correct, the upfront cost is substantial.  You may only end up with a dozen leeches and pay $10.00 but remember…  I’m counting how many catfish you will catch per $10.00 spent.  Every spring I chase channel cat up and down the rocks of Rend Lake in Illinois.  Countless times I’ve bought a dozen leeches, fished all morning and landed north of 40 fish and used only 3 or 4 leeches. So often so that usually by the end of spring I’ve caught all the cats I need and have to throw out the remaining couple of leeches left. 

They are actually so hard to come by I couldn’t find a single photo of them!  Don’t mistake them for water leeches which will break apart just as easily as red wigglers.  

Around here we know the exact day and time that a bait shop gets their shipment in.  If they were delivered on a Friday morning mark my words…By Friday evening you’re up the creek and will have to find an alternative!

My approach to using these little misunderstood slimy guys is as simple as it gets.  Throw on a medium sized bobber, get a small split shot attached to a small to medium sized hook.  Pull a leech from the container and cut it in half (the other half will be just fine when you go back in to rebait), thread the half on parallel with the hook going through the entire body.  You are ready to make your cast now.  Fishing only about a foot deep, cast up to any rock, bush, or laydown.  You don’t have to leave it there long because if a cat is close by you’ll know soon enough!  Continue making your way down the bank until you have all you need to enjoy a fish fry with the family!


Channel catfish are one of the most unique species we chase as anglers.  They are invaluable to both the ecosystem and our restaurants.  The great thing about them is they’re one of the only freshwater fish that will come find you!  Place a bait out and their noses will eventually catch wind of it, then the fight will be on!  Doesn’t matter if you’re a bank fisherman or out in a boat, they’re a ton of fun.

Any comments for baits that I missed or if you have a different ranking feel free to leave it in the comments below! Until next time, fish hard, fish long, fish on!




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