The 7 BEST Live Baits for Catfish

The 7 best live baits for catfish include bluegill, perch, shad, crayfish, creek chub, and shad. The best live bait for your location should be the most common baitfish or prey in the area.

Panfish

Panfish are some of the best live baits for catfish. Bluegill, crappie, rock bass, sunfish, they eat them all! Panfish are a common food source for most catfish species.

In the summer months, live bait can be a very effective way of catching fish. Panfish are probably the best bait on this list, just due to the fact they are so common and plentiful.

It is very easy to find a body of water that populates panfish. Most ponds, creeks, rivers, and lakes have them. The small size and rather thin body of panfish fits perfectly in any catfish’s mouth. Catfish do not really seem to mind spines on live bait, so this should not be a worry.

Panfish are very easy to catch. Most of the time all it takes is a small piece of worm on a small hook, with or without a bobber. When panfishing, most of the time you can see the fish in the water, so it is easy finding a spot.

Do not be afraid to try larger size panfish! I have caught some nice fish on 8-10 inch bluegill, so experiment on your local body of water.

Crayfish

Crayfish are very commonly used for bass fishing BUT, they are a gem of catfish bait. Catfish are much more agile than crayfish, so they are a very easy prey.  Crayfish are pretty widespread throughout rivers and creeks in the US.

I remember growing up cleaning the catfish we caught, and almost all of them had crayfish shells in them. This bait is not as common as panfish, but I do know for a fact they work well for catfish.

Catfish have very hard plates in their mouths. This makes it easy for them to crush crayfish when they get them in their mouths. Crayfish are also pretty easy to catch. A simple trap with any kind of smelly bait can catch you tons of crayfish. I usually try slower moving streams and creeks.

How to Hook Crayfish

Crayfish are usually hooked on top of the tail, running the hook from back to front. You want to make sure you stay out of the tail meat as much as possibly. Drive your hook through the shell, and leave your hook point exposed.

Another common way to rig crayfish is by simply putting a rubber band around them, and putting your hook through the rubber band. It is usually positioned where the body meets the tail. This gives catfish time to eat the crayfish before it gets to the hook.

Creek Chub

Creek chub are very similar to minnows. They have no spines or spikes, and are relatively small. This makes them excellent bait for catfish. May I note they are also very good cut bait.

Creek chub fit in any catfish’s mouth very easily. They are very common in most creeks and some rivers. You can catch creek chub the same way you catch panfish.

Simply drifting a small worm with a split shot and small hook will get the job done. Creek chub are very effective for other species of fish as well, such as bass, and large predatory fish. So you may experience some by-catch using live chubs.

Perch

This may not be as common depending on your area. Perch of all kinds are great live bait. White perch is actually the first type of live bait I ever tried out on my local body of water.

Perch are relatively hardy, that’s why I like using them so much. The catfish I catch tend to prefer bluegill a bit better than perch. You can catch perch the same way as most of these species.

A worm and small split shot should do the job. I often find perch mixed in with panfish when I go and catch my livebait. It is not uncommon.

Nightcrawlers

You can’t beat the good ole worm! Nightcrawlers may be the best simple bait for catfish. Finding live worms is so easy! Most of us can probably walk outside right now and find at least 2-3 worms.

They are also sold at just about every walmart and bait shop. The only problem with using live nightcrawlers is A LOT of species eat them. Bass, bluegill, perch, literally every fish that swims.

Catfish do like a good live worm, but you need to make sure catfish are the main species in your body of water. If there is much of a population of anything else, you can be getting your bait pecked off your entire trip.

Bullhead Catfish

Okay I know this one sounds a little unorthodox, but hear me out. Catfish are cannibals, meaning they eat their own species. Bull head catfish are a tiny species of catfish that would fit well in any other species mouth.

Bullhead catfish have been known for being very effective bait for flathead catfish. Flathead have extremely large mouths, so even bigger baitfish like bullhead are easy for them to eat.

Bullheads are common throughout ponds, rivers, and some creeks. I have caught them as by- catch when carp fishing many times. All it takes to catch these fish is the same rig I have been mentioning. A simple small hook and a split shot will do the trick.

Worms, bread balls and corn are all great baits for catching bullhead catfish.

Shad

Shad might be one of the best, and looked over live baits for catfish. Shad are a MAJOR food source for all species of catfish.

We all are probably used to using these fish for cut bait, as they work very well. But, if you can catch them the right size, they can be outstanding live bait.

Shad populate a large variety of main rivers across the united states. During the spring months they can be caught using small spoons, jigs, spinners, and any other kind of small lure. You may need to check your local regulations regarding shad, as they are forbidden to use in some states.

Another common method of catching shad is throw nets. Throw nets can be used from shore or from a boat. This is a great way to get a lot of bait quickly when fishing for catfish.

How to Hook Live Bait

There are many different ways to hook live bait. All of the baitfish share the common methods.

  • Lip hook-Hook the baitfish up through the bottom lip through the top lip
  • Tail hook-Hook the baitfish on the top, meaty part of the tail above the lateral line.
  • Stinger hook-This is a double hook rig. You take the first hook and run it through the batfishes lips. You then take your attached treble hook and attach that to the tail using one hook. This rig is ideal for bigger baits, and finicky fish.

These are the most common methods for hooking live bait.

The Best Hooks for Live Bait

It can be tough at times to choose the right hooks for your live bait. You need to pick the right size and style to best match your baitfish.

You can not go wrong with circle hooks. The my favorite brand for live bait is gamakatsu. They are sized accurately, they aren’t too heavy, and are are very sharp. Circle hooks are sort of the standard for catfish, so you can not go wrong.

J hooks. There is a time and place to use J hooks, as they can be a valuable tool for catfish. When hooking bigger baits such as carp or sucker, J hooks can be a better option.

I personally LOVE the Big River Bait Hooks. They are probably the sharpest hooks I have ever used, and they are thin enough to hook live bait. A double hook rig with these hooks are a better bet with bigger baits. You want to make sure that if the catfish bite only half of the fish, that they get at least one hook in them.

Kahle hooks are a very popular hook for catfisherman. I have used them a lot over the years and have always had high hook up rates. These hooks are the preferred style for hooking crayfish. The style of the hook fits perfectly when tail hooking them.

Do not be afraid to experiment around your local body of water and see what works for you!

I hope you all know what live bait your going to use next!

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