Best Winter Catfish Bait Options for Cold Weather Fishing

By Andy Whitcomb

Dec 14, 2017

If you want to brave the cold, most catfish can be caught during the winter if you know where to find them and what winter catfish bait to use.

Winter fishing tips always include the reminder to fish slowly. And the best way to catch catfish is to fish slow anyway so winter catfishing can require some serious patience. But with the frigid water temperatures, unless you own a neoprene wet suit, at least you don’t have to worry about some questionable friend trying to talk you into noodling.

Best Winter Catfish Bait Options

For advice on winter catfishing, I contacted Keith “Catfish” Sutton, author of three catfish books on how to catch catfish. He shared a couple of good points regarding winter catfish bait. “The same baits will entice cats in winter that you might use during other seasons,” he shared. “But some live baits like shad, skipjacks and frogs might be hard to come by, forcing anglers to use more easily obtained baits like chicken liver, minnows and night crawlers.

The biggest issue then becomes where to cast your winter catfish bait.  “Winter catfishing is different in the fact that cold-water channel and blue cats often congregate in deep wintering holes, making them sometimes difficult to find.” Anglers targeting these strong fish species may need to heavily rely on the deeper areas they marked and recorded during all fishing trips in warmer months.

When considering the best catfish bait, keep in mind that although metabolism is low, most catfish will still eat. However, “Catfish” Sutton wrote that if the water drops below 40 degrees, the flathead catfish bite shuts down completely.  For channel catfish, blue catfish, and the bullhead species, I like to offer a big, hearty, temping chunk of cut bait. Over the course of the year, just for catching catfish in the winter, I accumulate left-over bait such as sunfish and creek chubs in a hopefully unnoticed corner of our freezer. Also, depending on the state regulations of your body of water, you may be able to chum to help fire up some winter catfishing activity.

As long as your boat registration is up to date, fishing below a dam can be a great place to lob a weighted rig with some winter catfish bait. But be sure to take all of the necessary cold temperature precautions against the
possibility of hypothermia. Catching catfish in cold weather can be slow but very rewarding to those willing to brave the cold. Because you don’t have to make frequent casts, your winter catfish bait smelling hands can remain warm in your coat pocket until that reel starts to sing.

Andy Whitcomb
Andy Whitcomb
Andy is an outdoor writer ( and stressed-out Dad has contributed over 380 blogs to since 2011. Born in Florida, but raised on banks of Oklahoma farm ponds, he now chases pike, smallmouth bass, and steelhead in Pennsylvania. After earning a B.S. in Zoology from OSU, he worked in fish hatcheries and as a fisheries research technician at OSU, Iowa State, and Michigan State.