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How to Catch Big Catfish - The Best Baits for Giant Flatheads and Big Blues

Gary likes to catch catfish. He likes to pursue the big ones!

How Would You Like to Catch One of These Brutes! Keep Reading. We can teach you how.

How Would You Like to Catch One of These Brutes! Keep Reading. We can teach you how.

Best Catfish Bait

Which bait is best is the age-old question of catfishing!

Even more, the bait is one of your most single important elements! You can have the best rod, reel, line, guides, boat, etc. None of that even comes into play if you never get a bite, right. Now don't get me wrong, I spent days writing pages about the best equipment to use in my other hubpages so read those too, you can find links to them further down this page, but your bait is critical.

What if you do use the best bait and hook that 120-pound flathead only to lose him because you used a cheap line? Those hookups don't come often and when they do, you gotta be ready. Look I'm not just saying that because it sounds good, I've been there done that.

On a beautiful afternoon I waiting on just such a bite, I was using a hand-size bream on an 8/0 Gamakatsu hook with a OML25 reel spooled with 100-pound PowerPro. I was ready, or so we thought. WHAM!!! The rod is bent over like lightning, and now it is just there, warped down toward the water, not moving, as if it was attached to a boulder. After a quick astonished glance toward my buddies, I grabbed the rod and struggled to free it from the rod holder. As I pulled up on the rod the beast began to pull back, I was fishing about 12-18" of the bottom and that's where he wanted to stay!

I pulled up hard trying to get him up off the bottom, my buddy was just getting the video camera started when the fish came up 3 or 4 feet and that must have really ticked him off because all of a sudden the line started pulling of the reel and SNAP!, he was gone. What seemed like 10 minutes was really 30 - 45 seconds.

Well as fast as he hit, he was gone, what made it so bad as I thought I was ready. So please do this for me and you both- use the best equipment you can, look for deals, and get the good stuff at a discount- cause I want to see the pictures of you with a monster catfish, not the face like I had of a 4-year-old kid who just dropped his ice cream cone!

OK, enough about my problems, let's see what kind of bait you are going to use to catch your own monster catfish.

That is One Big Flathead,Tommy caught this on Santee Cooper Reservoir.

That is One Big Flathead,Tommy caught this on Santee Cooper Reservoir.

Big Flatheads Are Out There!

Let's start off with the flathead catfish. Now you all have undoubtedly heard that the best time to catch flatheads is at night, right. Well, I agree, this said lots of people don't fish for or target flatheads in the daytime just because of this. Big mistake, just because they bite better at night doesn't mean they won't smack down a good bait in the daytime.

Flatheads are preferential to live bait, we've all heard this and it's true. But, I have seen flatheads caught on all kinds of stuff,hotdogs, shrimp, cut herring, chicken, liver, bream heads, frogs, snakes, stink baits and even soap why? Because it happened to be there when they were feeding. Now given their druthers they seem to pick live flashy active baits much faster than all that other stuff.

Since nearly all catfish over 2 feet long feed mainly on other fish almost exclusively, your best bait choices are going to be other fish. Which ones depends on where you are, what season and a few other factors.

So if you are going to spend your time and money in pursuit of these big flathead catfish you may as well use the baits that draw them into action or at least give you your best shot, right.

After he smacks down on your bait it's all up to you and your equipment from there!

Now let me get the legal stuff out of the way right here: "Gary says" will not hold water when you tell the Game Warden some junk about what I recommended. I was in Alaska recently and suggested we use live bait, people all looked at me like I had three heads then started laughing as if I was kiddin'.
Read your local Fish and Game regulations book in the State you plan to fish. No live bait for freshwater fish in Alaska.
In Georgia a bream must be no longer than 4" to use for bait, the Game Warden told me, but in South Carolina there is not a size limit imposed on them. On page 17 of the 2009 South Carolina DNR Rules and Regulations it says "Game fish may be used as bait to catch fish but must be included in the daily bag limit." On page 12 of the Georgia it says something very similar.

Check your local regulations, if you can't find an answer you can call them and ask them specific bait questions. It's a good idea to ask what page that is found on in the DNR book just to be safe. I have been told Fishing fines aren't what they used to be!


Rules and Regulations

Rules and Regulations

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Read More From Skyaboveus

OK, enough legal mumbo jumbo, we want to catch some fish today!!!

My number one choice -jumbo bluegill, you can catch them at the same place you are fishing for big cats or catch them in advance. I recommend catching them in advance, they seem to dissapear when you need them. You may us line and pole, cast net, or even buy them off a stocking truck-check your regs, please, I fish all over, what works one place is illegal another.


My favorite flathead catfish baits are bream, bluegills to be exact.

Hand size Bluegills

Big Flathead Candy

Big Flathead Candy

My second choice of bait is most likely going to be a big gizzard shad or herring, they aren't as hardy on the hook sometimes as you would like them to be but the big cats love'em. You can pick these up at local bait stores or catch them with a cast net or a sabiki rig as you are going out. Speaking of sabiki rigs and herring, you have to see this crazy video of herring being caught for bait.

Catching Bait the Fun Way!

My third choice is going to be big flashy goldfish. Check your regs on this. Big flashy goldfish are very hardy and large baits can be purchased or grown. I grow my own, you can purchase them for $10 - $15 a hundred when they are 1' - 1 1/2' long. In a large tank they grow fairly rapidly. I have a 2000 gallon tank I grow them out in. I get the bright orange, the albino orange mix and the mottled ones. You can also buy grown ones at larger bait stores just be prepared to pay a few bucks for them.

Goldfish are a hardy flashy bait.

Goldfish are a hardy flashy bait.

The next big catfish bait I would try would be some bullheads or small catfish. A large flathead can easily eat a 10 pound fish so don't be wimpy with your baits. If you can get big baits use them. Bullheads are very hardy on the hook and in the bait tank. You can purchase them at some bait stores or just catch them yourself on worms and chicken liver.

WARNING: Be very careful when handling small catfish, their sharp pectoral fins don't come back out easily and can give you quite a sting. One camper learned the hard way, he told me he could unhook his own fish and that he knew about the fins. A few minutes later he stood in front of me with a catfish fin through his hand. I had to wedge in a pair of snips because they are barbed fins and don't want to back up. Pretty nasty so please handle them with respect.


Bullheads make good bait, they come in several species.

Bullheads make good bait, they come in several species.

White perch, now there is a good bait, hardy, they will last for hours. They will be tugging till the cows come home. They are one of my favorite baits. You may find these in a bait store or you can catch them with a cast net. Jigging a  1/4 Hopkins shorty will land you a few sometimes too.

White Perch are a Great Bait

White Perch will work hard to get you a bite.

White Perch will work hard to get you a bite.

Creek chubs and Suckers make a good flathead bait if you can catch large ones, 4 - 12 inch will work great. You can buy these in some bait stores or catch your own. I catch mine in a nearby creek with a large minnow trap. You can catch them sometimes with a #10 or #12 hook baited with little pieces of worm.

Salties or Black Salty is a kind of brackish-saltwater carp that some bait stores are carrying now. They are very hardy and make a good flathead bait.

If you have access to eels, they are also a great live bait option for big flatheads.

American Eel

Eels make a good bait.

Eels make a good bait.

Flathead Baits

© 2009 Gone Fishin Club


ty allison on May 18, 2018:

santee cooper is the best place to go I catch a boatload of them every time I go I catch them on bluegill and herring

Jasper on August 11, 2017:

What places do you think are good areas to fish for some catfish in Northwestern part of Connecticut and also what type of bait should I use?

John on June 22, 2017:

I live in Dardanelle Arkansas. Right on the Arkansas river. Whats your opinion on fishing the Arkansas river, And what baits are best for the big blues? Thank you.

Richard Adams on June 22, 2017:

yeah I grew up in Pennsylvania and I've been fishing in the Monongahela River for many years now I need to take and catch me a big catfish out of that River but I need to know the best bait that I can use and the mine what's the test line I can use in the best hooks

Shawn martin on April 27, 2015:

Hey Gary looking for some fishing advice in west Virginia in the mononghalea river for some nice flat heads any advice is appreciated thanks

Trey on June 26, 2014:

Hey Gary. Great article I'm only 14 but I love catching big ole catfish. I'm going Saturday to lake blakshere in Cordele Ga. In the tailgaters of a hydroelectric dam .I'm gonna try brim and goldfish for the first time.And do you have any tips for summertime daytime and nighttime for flatheads and channel cats. Any help will be greatly appreciated!

AaronW on May 19, 2014:

Hey Gary I live in SE Oklahoma and lately I've been fishin the Red river. I get plenty of bites on fresh caught cut shad and bluegill perch but it seems I can't get the hook to set very good. I get the fish about 3or 4 feet away from the bank and they pop off my line. I use small circle hooks . Any advice??

john boy on April 10, 2014:

Were having good luck on little asian carp for yellowcat on the lower mississippi trying to break 100lb

brandon on February 18, 2014:

i got a 60 pound flathead on a hand size bream about 3 years back every since then i loved big cats

catfish John on January 08, 2014:

I spend my winter months from October thru March camped on the Colorado river and all American canal. I use Sonny's stink bait, with two Wal-Mart plastic cages, and a number two treble hook. I go through about 12 gallons of bait per season. I have caught 25 gallon bags full of fillets. I fish every day. My biggest channel cat was 26 lbs. A couple of 15-20 lbs. Most of my fish are in the 5-6 lbs. range. I used to fish with chicken livers, but they are to messy. I am going to try and radio in on big flatheads fishing this fall when I return. This is great fishing south of the Imperial Dam, all the way to the Mexican border at Algodonas.

jason on October 31, 2013:

Is the new king cat line is it any good????

Brian on September 11, 2013:

Hi Gary,

Any info on Lake Conroe in Texas? They have both Blues and Flat Heads. I have a boat and can fish just about any method.

Thanks, Brian

Xyang on August 16, 2013:

I've just started catfishing this year with very little luck. Doing more research than fishing still not doing so well. Seems like i just wanna give up when countless hours past by without a nibble. I've caught a 40 lbs and a 18 lbs flathead by accident going for walleye. What is there to look for in a river to know that there are monster cats lurkin in there? B.T.W. im from MN. Only place i know that flathead exist is the Mn river, mississippi, and st. Croix. If there is any advice to help me out would much be appreciated. Thanks. Using a heavy 7 ft St. Croix rod with 65 power pro braided lines..

kattmatt on July 10, 2013:

I fish a local watershed reservoir, only about 330 acres but great catfishing. I've had flatheads there break off # 60 tarred twine. Not to mention 50 and 100 lbs powerpro. Usually use 7/0 or larger hooks and 4 to 8 inch bream for bait

Gone Fishin Club (author) on June 29, 2013:

Hello Tom, can you give me a little more information, where do you fish in Charleston. Catching a 69 lbs is a awesome catch but I understand the drive to find bigger cause you know they are in there! Just out of curiosity where did you catch the 69 pounder and on what bait! Looking forward to your reply. Tight Lines!

"Tight Lines and Squealin' Reels put a Smile on my face eveytime"

Gary Turner

Gone Fishin Club (author) on June 25, 2013:

Hey Nathan, get rid of that line yesterday!!! If it is 3 years old and has been out in the sun and rain it needs replacing ASAP. I like Power Pro braid but there are some good mono out there too. Change the line and see if the next monster that hits doesn't make it to the bank!

Send us pics of the monsters you catch!!!

Looking forward to your reply.

Good Luck out there!

Gary Turner

Nathan on June 22, 2013:

The line is about 3 yrs old but my rod stays in the back of my truck in the weather. berkley 3w1230 wire-wound steelon leaders. My line breaks about 10 minutes in fight. Some nights it breaks on the hit.

Gone Fishin Club (author) on June 20, 2013:

Hello Nathan, sounds like you are hooking into some good fish! Are you fishing around structure or open water? Can you write back and tell me more about the fishing you are doing and the circumstances when the braid breaks? How old is the line? Has the reel been left out in the weather for any amount of time. I know these seem like dumb questions but it may explain what os going on with your line. I love PowerPro and use it on nearly all my rods. How old is the line you are using? OK, I hope you can answer some of these ? so I can solve this mystery. What are you using for a leader? Does the line seem to be breaking close to the end each time? Are you putting beads on above your knots if you are Carolina rigging?

Looking forward to your reply.

Good Luck out there!

Gary Turner

Gone Fishin Club (author) on June 20, 2013:

Hello Cody, thanks for your question. Flatheads are notorious for hitting live baits but the can also be caught on other baits at times. Some other baits for big flatheads besides live baits that work fairly well are fresh cut bait, shad, herring, suckers, bream, and chicken chunks will sometimes pull them in. The biggest thing really is fresh bait. I know you are going to think I am crazy but when I use chicken I get the Tyson stuff. It cost more but compared to lots of other baits it is still a good deal.

If you don't mind me asking, where are you fishing at?

Good Luck!!! Let us know how you do.

"Tight Lines and Squealin' Reels put a Smile on my face eveytime"

Gary Turner

Gone Fishin Club (author) on June 20, 2013:

Hello Roth, can you tell me what area of Kentucky or what lakes and rivers you plan to FISH! The great news is you live in a great state for Catfish!!! Glad you enjoyed the article. Looking forward to your reply!

"Tight Lines and Squealin' Reels put a Smile on my face eveytime"

Gary "Gone Fishin" Turner

Gone Fishin Club (author) on June 20, 2013:

Hello Cole, Tuttle Creek has lots of good spots. Try around where the Big Blue river feeds into Tuttle , the water is up and that's good fishing , drive around and look for some drive up spots on the river access along the bank. I would use worms, cut bait, hotdog chunks, liver or cut chicken chunks should find you some good eater size fish. Hope you catch a stringer full. Send us some pics if you do good!

"Tight Lines and Squealin' Reels put a Smile on my face eveytime"

Gary "Gone Fishin" Turner

Tom on June 20, 2013:

I have fish in charleston for 20 years and the biggest i caught has been 69 lbs and want to know how to get the record breaker ones....

Nathan on June 19, 2013:

I use power pro 150 lbs. I fish in the charleston river West Virginia

Nathan on June 19, 2013:

Catching some big cats but every night my line is broke idk what line to use?

cody on June 14, 2013:

What are some other types of baits for big flatheads besides live bait that works fairly well

Gone Fishin Club (author) on June 09, 2013:

Hello Tyler, I apologize for the delay in response. I have been fishing as much as possible myself. It looks as of late all the rain has the Skunk river running pretty high. Many of the boat ramps are underwater. When it gets back where it is a safe level to bank fish scope out an area to fish. Look for some deadfalls or logjams. Catch some live baits, whatever is swimming in the river should work good. Check your local regulations about what you can use for bait. I like green sunfish, warmouth, bluegills, shad, lots of things will work. After you have your bait, using a good size hook, 8/O or 10/0 is what I like for big live baits. Now with or without a bobber, ease it into the deadfall or logjam.

Then hang on, if there is a big flathead in there you may get hit. There are other methods and tactics but I would start here. Please look at some of my other hubs for more info too.

Good Luck!!! Let us know how you do.

"Tight Lines and Squealin' Reels put a Smile on my face eveytime"

Gary "Gone Fishin" Turner

roth on June 08, 2013:

I live in Kentucky and I would love to know the best place to catch big blues, and flatheads. I enjoyed your article by the way....

Cole on June 07, 2013:

I'm originally from Oklahoma and am now living and going to college in Kansas. I don't know much about lake fishing for cats as all i've done is pond fishing back home. what's the best way to catch lots of catfish out of Milford Reservoir and Tuttle creek lake? I'm not looking to catch monsters because I just don't have the gear for that.

tyler on April 27, 2013:

I live in iowa and fish the des moines, skunk, and iowa river. largest we've caught this year was 10 lbs on a leopard frog, i know of some guys that catch about one big flat head every year on the skunk but im still trying to get the hang of it. any good tips for angling, using bank poles etc. i dont have a boat

Gone Fishin Club (author) on May 13, 2012:

Hello Rippinlips, thanks for your question, again let me apologize for the delay in an answer for you.

Been pretty busy here fishing, working and having my youngest graduating high school has kept things hopping here. Lake Livingston, Texas, aka the Catfish Capitol.

I think you will get some argument from several other lakes but it is a very good catfishing lake. I have lots of family in east Texas.

Anybody that has run jugs, trotlines and limb lines will tell you of the thrill of pulling on that line and having it pull back hard really makes your heart pump, and sets your mind to racing with anticipation!

It may turn out to be a big turtle, a big catfish or something else but it will get the adrenalin going just the same.

Make sure you check your local regulations first, then make a plan. What kind of jugs you want to put out, how many, will you have friend come with you to help... For day or night fishing either one, I like to run a few different depths.

Often dropping them along an old creekbed or river channel in the main lake can be very rewarding. Make some 3' 6' 10' 12' and maybe even 18'. Bait with cut bait, small live bream work good, sometimes so do hotdog chunks and old shrimp.

For the limblines use the same type of baits, often the weather will not be in your favor and you may have some slow nights with small catches.

If you do this often enough you will hit a night that everything clicks and you catch coolers full. On those nights please turn back some of the bigger fish so they can repopulate and grow to be trophies again another day.

There is not really any great wisdom to pass you here except that anything that works once should be repeated again to see if it is a method or a fluke. This is true of all fishing but especially on a lake you are learning.

The limblines do sometimes see more action if you put the live bait right at the surface so the fish can hear them struggling. If you don't eat turtle line up a few people who do so you have a place to donate them if you catch lots of them. There are very few things I catch that if I don't want them I don't have somebody lined up to give it to.

I hope this helps with your quest to catch more fish and see the better side of jug and limblines. Let me know how you do.

"Tight Lines and Squealin' Reels put a Smile on my face eveytime"

Gary "Gone Fishin" Turner

Gone Fishin Club (author) on May 09, 2012:

Hello Michael, thanks for your question, sorry for the delayed answer, been fishin' a little myself. First off I know some people here that would love to catch those monster turtles for mull. But I completely understand when you are out there looking to catch big catfish turtles are roses in your garden. Try moving to deeper water. During the spawn you may have to work through the turtles as the fish are up shallower. But by this time they should mostly be done with spawning and be heading into the post spawn and back into deeper 25+ foot water during the day.I did get one report last week of some catfish still spawning at Santee. Weather may have them confused. Back to the turtles at hand, unless they are seal team 6 turtles they wont be able to hold their breathe that long in the deeper water and should become less of a problem. I have caught some big softshells at Santee in deep water with live baits but only a few. Hope this helps and you are on your way to bigger and better catfish. Let us know how you do and also what state you are fishing in. We all learn off of the information provided.

Good Luck!!!

"Tight Lines and Squealin' Reels put a Smile on my face eveytime"

Gary "Gone Fishin" Turner

Rippinlips on April 24, 2012:

I have a camp on lake Livingston

Tx an have enjoyed a few trips.

I've tried limb line , an jugs an floaters but really haven't come out strong . The abundance of shad is crazy but what am I missing is it day fishin? Or do I need to soak my lines all night just want to have that experience

You gave me good ideas but every lake is different an this one

Is completely different than any of our other south east texas lakes thanks !!!

michael on April 20, 2012:

gary, im fishing live bait like bream an i keep hooking on giant turtles, im talkin 150-200lbs but i dont want that, any other suggestions?

Gone Fishin Club (author) on April 13, 2012:

Hello Grant, of all the questions I have received this one is hard to answer. Let me start out saying that one year I marked out all the full moons on my dayplanner, vowing not to fish any more of them that I had too. Well as my luck would go 3 months that year I had opportunity to go on full moon cycles. How did it go, well 2 of the 3 were great fishing! The other was pretty well a nibblers shutout. So as far as the moon goes, if I have a chance to go fishing I go, full moon or not. High pressure days are a little different, when the pressure hits the ceiling the fish often shut down. The best fishing I can say I find a pattern in is an oncoming cold front seems to get them feeding pretty hard many times. The truth about me, if I have a chance to go fishing I go :), maybe they will be biting maybe not but I will be there enjoying the outdoors and my day!!! Hope somewhere here there is some information you can use. Good Luck!

Gary "Gone Fishin" Turner

Grant on April 05, 2012:

Hey again Gary, just wondering if you put much stock in the moon phases and the barometric pressure when you fish. I've read a lot of things about it. Is it really that important?

Gone Fishin Club (author) on March 26, 2012:

Thanks Ben for your story, at least you did get to see the monster before he got away, he would have been a flapping handful in a paddle boat! Good Luck with whatever you are fishing for out there!

"Tight Lines and Squealin' Reels put a Smile on my face eveytime"

Gary "Gone Fishin" Turner

dakota on March 26, 2012:

yupp will do thanks for all the help

Gone Fishin Club (author) on March 24, 2012:

Hello Grant,

Flatheads don't usually move around as much as blues so you may find that big beastly flathead still around that area of Walnut River Channel. If you can legally catch and use live bait like white perch or bream that would be my baits of choice to try to lure him in. Any live small fish you can catch there should be worth a try including small catfish. An 80 pound flathead is capable of eating a fish up to 25 pounds so you can use even up to a big bream, shad, perch or whatever you can catch that is legal to use for bait.

Hope y'all find a monster or two!

Good Luck!!!

"Tight Lines and Squealin' Reels put a Smile on my face eveytime"

Gary "Gone Fishin" Turner

Gone Fishin Club (author) on March 23, 2012:

Hello Grant, thanks for your question, there are several things you can look for. One thing I like to do is if I can find a topo map of the lake I look at the area I am planning on fishing and see if there are any good holes, drop offs, ledges,old farm ponds that were flooded, or anything else that will give the catfish a place to hold that is within casting distance of the bank. Sometimes you can find these maps for free online. If not WalMart usually has local lakes or local bait shops. Looks like a sample partial map.

If you can't find a map, find a local bait shop, tell them the area of shore you are planning to fish and see if they have any suggestions. I also will walk the bank and see if I see any evidence of where other people have fished. This is not real reliable but if you see a worn trail then a good worn bank spot there is a good chance you have found a hole. Put out several rods in a fan pattern and see what happens. If you get a bite group the baits closer in that area. If all else fails work along the bank, setting up a fan pattern for 30 minutes then moving again if no bites. This does not mean you didn't find a good spot even if you don't get a bite, they may be off right now but this is how I work a bank if I have zero info to go on. Hope at least something here helps you in your quest. If it doesn't let me know I will do some research.