Learn Best Times to Fish for Catfish for Better Results

Traditionally, night is considered one of the best times to fish for catfish. These effective predators are equipped for low light surroundings with bait detecting barbels or “whiskers” and large vacuum-like mouths to compensate for their relatively small eyes.

When fishing for catfish in low, clear water conditions during the day, it may be easy to jump to the conclusion that there might not be any catfish here. However in that type of an environment, they will be resting in deeper holes, under cut banks, and in the shadowy ledges of large rocks. A patient, night angler may be pleasantly surprised by the catfish potential of many bodies of water.

But regionally, the best times to fish for catfish can depend somewhat on the body of water and the fish species. For example, blue catfish are often conditioned to start feeding when water is released below dams of large reservoirs. Baitfish, often gizzard or threadfin shad, can be stunned during the water release and these massive opportunistic predators grow quickly because they rarely pass up an easy meal.

Rising water from heavy rains can trigger aggressive channel catfish bites in rivers and lakes any time of day. Also, in all turbid, murky water, such as farm ponds where livestock constantly stir the stilt, there is less light penetration to the bottom. This results in darker conditions more like night and so feeding catfish and thus fishing for catfish, never needs to stop. And then there are bullheads. I have yet to discover any conditions where the bullhead bite was "off".

Catfish fishing tips always recommend bait, usually strong, smelly stuff. Chicken liver (or beef liver which stays on the hook longer), hotdog pieces, cheese, and any one of the many “stink bait” products frankly all work extremely well. Of course, the closest “sure thing” to catch catfish is using live bait such as grasshoppers, nightcrawlers, shiners, or sunfish.

Another catfish fishing tip is that these fish can hit lures too. I frequently read about tournament bass anglers casting lures such as heavy jigs or crankbaits and think they have hooked a new record bass, only to see eventually the unmistakable shape of a large, dark catfish at the end of the line. My perception of these normally bottom dwelling fish has changed over the years. They are not always just the sluggish night feeders many believe. On several occasions, I’ve caught them on spoons and spinners while casting for white bass. One time I even watched a 1 ½ pound channel catfish leap completely out of the water to try to catch a dragon fly. 

Still, for the absolute best times to fish for catfish, the odds are more in your favor during evening hours. Grab a flashlight, a friend or two, plenty of bait, a few rods (check your state regulations), and a thermos of coffee if you need to. Screaming reels await. When do you like to go fishing for catfish and what’s your favorite bait?

Andy Whitcomb

Andy Whitcomb

Andy Whitcomb is a columnist, outdoor humorist, and stressed-out Dad. He says there are “people who fish”… and there are “fishermen”.  One of the few things he knows is that he is a “fisherman”...  To the point it could be classified as borderline illness.  Sharing this obsession is rewarding, therapeutic. He likes to encourage people to “stop and smell the crappie."  Enjoys catching fish, but gets a greater thrill out of helping someone else hook up.
Born in Florida, but raised on the banks of Oklahoma farm ponds. Now relocated to western Pennsylvania. He has fished, worked, lived all around the US.  He has a B.S. in Zoology from Oklahoma State as well...
And he met his wife while electrofishing. He has been contributing weekly to www.takemefishing.org since 2011.