Photo credit: bekirevren

How to Catch Catfish: 4 Ways to Land That Lunker

Catfish are one of the most popular and easily identified fish in North America. There are many ways to catch them, and we’ve got a few good ideas.

These murky water creatures are famous for both their signature “cat-like” whiskered look and the distinctive flavor they bring to the dinner table.

The three main species you’ll find in the United States are blue catfish, channel catfish, and flathead catfish. Blue catfish can grow well over 100 pounds and live up to 30 years. Flathead catfish are second in size but tend to have longer bodies. But it’s channel catfish that are considered the best fare, and they can grow up to 40-50 pounds at peak maturity.

Whether you’re fishing for a bite of something good to eat, or just wanting to spend some quality time on the river, this article will teach you four ways to catch a catfish.

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How to Catch Catfish

Before you hit the water, find your state’s fishing regulations and purchase a license. Know which methods of take are legal and try a few legal methods to nail down what works best for your region.

However, don’t overthink it. Catfish avoid the sun and love the dark. Go fishing in the evenings, in the shallows of a riverbank. This is when and where they most actively feed. Good timing certainly ups your chances of catching a catfish.

Catfish have a great sense of smell, and they eat just about anything with a strong scent. As a result, they love chicken livers, worms, stink bait, hot dogs, and minnows, to name a few options.

fishing catfish
Photo credit: Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing – Northern VA

4 Ways to Catch a Catfish

1. Jugging

Jug fishing involves putting a jug line (a floating bottle or jug with a baited hook, line, and sinker) on the water, letting the jug line sit for a period of time, then patrolling the jugs and yanking them out of the water when a whisker fish takes the bait.

Note: Jugging is not legal in all 50 states. Check your state’s Wildlife Resources Agency website for information on local regulations.

To make a jug line, you will need:

To make your jug line:

  1. Spray paint your jug.
  2. With a permanent marker, write your full name, address, and driver’s license or vehicle’s tag number on the jug.
  3. Cut 6 to 10 feet off your fishing line.
  4. Tie the end of the line to the bottleneck (just below the cap threads) or the jug handle.
  5. Halfway down, tie a hook onto the line.
  6. At the bottom of the line, tie the sinker on.
  7. Bait your hook with your chosen bait.
  8. Place your jug in the water, and watch for any bobbing or weaving of the jug(s). If the jugs are bouncing around, chances are you’ve hooked a cat! Sneak up to the jug, give it a pull, and bring your catfish in!
jug fishing
Photo credit: Patrick Lewis

2. Limb Lining

Limb lining, a cheap and easy way to catch a catfish, involves tying a baited hook, line, and sinker to a tree limb and waiting.

For limb lining, the most important part is choosing the right tree to tie your line to. Choose live, strong branches at least 1 inch in diameter that hang low, and above at least 3 feet of water. A monster cat can easily break a dead or skinny branch.

To make a limb line, you will need:

To make your limb line:

  1. Cut about 2 feet of fishing line. This will be your leader.
  2. Tie a hook onto one end of the 2-foot line.
  3. Tie swivel onto the other end of the 2-foot line.
  4. Determine your fishing spot. (Skip to step 5 if you’ve already done this.)
  5. Cut another piece of line according to your location’s water depth and how far above the water your branch is.
  6. Tie the swivel end of the leader to the second piece of fishing line.
  7. Thread the free end of the line through your sinker, letting the sinker drop all the way down to the swivel.
  8. Bait your hook.
  9. Tie the entire line to your chosen branch, and wait for your desired length of time.
  10. After waiting for your desired length of time, check your limb line and pull in your monster catfish!
limb lining
Photo credit: Thomas & Dianne Jones

3. Rod and Reel

Fishing with a spin rod and reel is the most common way to catch a catfish. This method of catfishing is best suited for those magical evenings on the riverbank. And it’s a great option for those who don’t have a boat.

Remember the man who broke a state record for the catfish he caught with a $20 fishing rod from Walmart?

To catch a catfish with a rod and reel, you will need:

How to fish for catfish:

  1. Tie the leader onto the end of your main fishing line.
  2. Attach the hooks to the side arms of the leader line.
  3. Bait your hook.
  4. At your chosen fishing spot, cast your bait into the water.
  5. Slowly and gently move your rod up and down, mimicking the movements of a catfish’s natural live bait.
  6. When you feel a tug on your rod, set the hook, and reel in your catfish!
rod fishing
Photo credit: Virginia State Parks

4. Noodling

Noodling is a traditional and respected method of catfishing that doesn’t require any special equipment. To noodle, all you need is your bare hands (and a fair amount of bravery) to catch a catfish.

To catch a catfish by noodling, you’ll need to do some scouting. Catfish lay eggs and build nests in underwater holes, hollowed-out tree trunks, and in rocky nooks.

When you find a catfish nest, drop down into the water by the nest and start feeling around. If there’s a catfish there, it’ll probably be protecting its nest and will act aggressively, giving you a chance to grab it by its lower jawbone and get a good grip on it.

Pull the catfish close to your body, lift it out of the water, and take it to shore!


Good Luck!

No matter how many catfish you catch, you know what they say: “A bad day fishing is better than a good day at work.”

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