12 Fundamental Channel Catfish Fishing Tips

By Ken Schultz

Nov 14, 2018

These essential channel catfish fishing tips inform you where, when, and how to focus your efforts for this popular species in lakes and impoundments.

Widely available, relatively aggressive, and good to eat, the channel catfish is one of America’s most popular fish species. Here are twelve top channel catfish fishing tips, with emphasis on finding these cats in lakes. (A side note: your fishing license allows you to fish for any catfish species, but make sure to check on size and bag limits for channel cats, because they may differ from those of other catfish species.)

  1. While a few channel catfish are caught at mid depths or near the surface, focus your efforts on the bottom, whether you fish in a lake, reservoir, pond, or flowing water. This is mentioned first among channel catfish fishing tips because it is that important to remember.
  2. Stillfishing and drift fishing are generally the preferred methods of catfishing in all of their habitats.
  3. For the most part, fishing on or close to the bottom with some form of bait is the most reliable way to hook this (as well as other catfish) species.
  4. Dead natural baits, cut baits, and smelly bait concoctions are preferred for attracting these scent-oriented fish, but live bait is also a good option, particularly for larger specimens.
  5. While some channel cats are caught by casting with lures, especially diving plugs or jigs, this is generally an ineffective method of deliberately angling for this species.
  6. If you do fish for channel catfish with a jig, try tipping the jig hook with a live minnow or live worm.
  7. In big impoundments, look for channel cats in the tailrace water below the dam, and in rivers that feed the reservoir.
  8. Also in big impoundments, channel catfish lake fishing tips include looking for channel cats along old riverbeds and channels and concentrating on the curves, bends, deepest holes, and the junction of channels.
  9. Other lake places to focus include ledges, or any place where the lake bottom drops off to deep water out in the main lake; humps or shoals that drop fairly abruptly to deep water; and areas with a soft bottom.
  10. Early in the season when the water is warming, try big-lake flats, as well as the area near the dam, particularly the riprap and boulders along the face of it.
  11. Fishing for channel cats after dark is often as, or more, productive than fishing for them during the day.
  12. If the chances of catching large specimens are slim, use lighter gear to get a more enjoyable tussle with channel cats. Heavy tackle overwhelms smaller fish.
For more information about how to fish and fishing tips visit Takemefishing.org.
Ken Schultz
Ken Schultz
Ken Schultz was a longtime staff writer for Field & Stream magazine and is the former Fishing Editor of ESPNoutdoors.com. He’s written and photographed nineteen books on sportfishing topics, plus an annual fishing tips calendar, and his writing has appeared on various websites for more than two decades. His author website is kenschultz.com