The 5 best baits for channel catfish

Channel catfish are one of the most common and abundant fish in the United States. They are also fun to catch and good to eat. So it’s no wonder they are one of the most popular fish for anglers to target. Baits for channel catfish are easy to acquire and use. Though the sheer number of different things people use is amazing.

People have been known to use everything from cotton balls soaked in blood to soap to catch channel catfish. People have also caught plenty of fish on plain old reliable baits like nightcrawlers and dough balls. All these things can work, but some are more effective than others.

To some extent the bait you should use depends on the situation. You might not use the same bait on a cool autumn day as you would in the heat of mid-summer. Though there are some standby baits that can catch channel catfish in most if not all scenarios. Here’s a list of the five best baits for channel catfish. Using them correctly and consistently should get you into some fish.

Night Crawlers

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Night crawlers or plain old fishing worms are a classic bait that will catch almost any fish that swims in freshwater. Channel catfish are no exception. In fact, channel cats seem to really key in night crawlers.

nightxrawler catfish bait

If you are fishing an area with a good channel catfish population it is hard to go wrong with a simple night crawler. You can fish them with a slide sinker or a slip bobber rig from spring through the fall.

The biggest issue with using night crawlers is that pretty much every other fish likes them too. So if you are going for channels cats in particular you might not want to deal with hits from various other fish like bass, perch or panfish. Still, night crawlers are great for channel cats and they can lead to fun incidental catches too.


Shad are a primary forage fish in a lot of waters where channel catfish swim. Channel cats will key in on these fish, sometimes to the exclusion of all other food. Especially if there is a big fish kill or shad die off.

Shad can be fished live, dead, or or cut. Some people will smash shad or fish with just the shad guts. It is quite possible to catch large numbers of channels on live or dead shad though. You can fish them like any other bait on a slide sinker rig with a circle hook.

Shad will also catch channel catfish in places where no wild shad can be found. That just goes to show the power of these little fish when it comes to catching channel catfish. If you can’t find shad, other bait fish or even cut bait can work.

Chicken Liver

Chicken livers might be the most popular bait of all time for channel catfish. Ask the average angler what to use to catch channel catfish and a lot of them will tell you to reach for the chicken livers.

chicken liver catfish bait

There is a good reason for that. Chicken livers are filled with protein and blood. When they get into the water they leave a nice scent trail that channel catfish can lock onto. So they catch a lot of fish.

Some people advise seasoning chicken livers with garlic powder or putting them out in the sun to rot. This could work but it never seems necessary. Most times a fresh chicken liver wrapped around a hook will catch channel catfish that are on the feed.


Corn works especially well for channel catfish. It also catches fish like carp and even trout. A lot of people end up with incidental catches of channel cats when using corn for other species. I’ve caught some of the biggest channel cats of my life on corn kernels.

You can take sweet corn right out of a can and fish with it. If there are channel cats around you have a good chance of catching them. You might also get into carp, trout or some other fish too. That is something to keep in mind. As well as corn works for catfish, I wouldn’t use it if I only wanted to catch channel catfish and nothing else.

Don’t be afraid to try hard or “feed corn” either. Like carp, channel catfish will snap the stuff up. Especially if you boil the corn to soften it up, then let it sit for a day or two to ferment.

Hot dogs are another human food that could have easily made it on this list. But if I have to choose one I am going with corn.

Dip Bait

Dip bait is another classic catfish bait that is used by countless anglers. In case you are not familiar with this stuff, it is just what it sounds like. Dip bait is a mushy bait that you dip your hook or specially made dipbait worm into. The bait clings to your bait or hook then breaks down in the water.

There are tons of different dip baits on the market. Then there are all the homemade recipees that hardcore catfish anglers have developed themselves. Most include some sort of fish or blood base, and they do pack a punch. Thankfully they don’t normally smell as bad as stink baits, though they do catch just as many fish in my experience.

Dip baits will work year round. Yet they can become a little runny and tough to keep on your line in warm water. Dip baits really come into their own in the fall, winter and early spring. When the water is cool dip baits stay very well. At the same they kick off enough scent to lure in lethargic catfish. So dip bait will often work in the colder seasons when catfish can be difficult to catch. That’s why I have to call dip baits one of the best baits for channel cats.

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