There are few things I enjoy more than a summer night by the river fishing for catfish. But many people don’t know what baits work best for catfish in rivers. Truthfully, any bait that you fish for lake catfish will catch river catfish, but you do have the current and other factors to consider in river catfishing. Bait has a tendency to fall off the hook easier, catfish have the current pushing against them and messing with their senses, it can create a lot of confusion for catfish anglers.
Stick with the baits below and I’m sure you’ll be catching great river cats in no time. These all catch good sized catfish too – so be ready for a monster!
1. Chicken Livers
I have never find a better bait to catch catfish than chicken liver. Catfish primarily feed by smell, and if you’ve ever opened a tub of chicken livers you know the stench. Unlike other baits on this list, chicken livers will also only catch catfish. So you don’t have to worry about pesky other fish nibbling off your bait either. Plus, chicken livers can be found at most any grocery store.
But, they come off the hook extremely easily. Especially in rivers with current rushing against them. So if you’re going to fish for catfish in rivers with chicken liver, you need to buy some pantyhose. Take the panty hose and cut them into strips. Wrap the panty hose around the chicken liver and then use the hook to seal up the pantyhose creating a little mesh pouch for the livers to sit in, protected.
If you want a video tutorial and some other methods that you can use as well to keep chicken liver on a hook, check out this video by Catfish & Carp. Of all the methods he described, I found pantyhose to be the easiest and most effective. But drying them with salt if you have the time beforehand will also work well.
2. Cut Bait
If I’m not using chicken livers, I’m likely using cut bait to catch river catfish. Cut bait is essentially dead fish cut into pieces, or even used whole if you’re chasing after big catfish. This is extremely effective for catching river catfish because it is something naturally occurring in the river that they are used to eating – dead fish.
You can go about getting cut bait in several different ways. If you get to your spot early enough, just use a little worm and bobber setup to catch some minnows, panfish, or other smaller species in your river. Then save them for later that night. You can also take home shad or other species from a lake nearby, or some tackle shops might even sell you (or give you) dead minnows from their tanks.
Like chicken livers though, sometimes cut bait can be hard to keep on the hook. The best way I have found to keep cut bait on the hook is to cut bait in half – the head and tail.
The head section is my favorite to use, as you can easily hook the fish through its eye socket and push the hook straight through its forehead – where the bones are. The eye socket and bones in a fish’s head are the strongest parts and help the hook stay in no matter the condition. The tail is not as easy to keep on the hook, but if you find the meatiest part right in front of the tail it’s your best bet to keep it on. But frankly it won’t stay on as long as the head section. So use them as much as possible.
Also, many states and local ordinances outlaw or regulate the use of cut bait – so please make sure that your area allows cut bait and you adhere to all regulations regarding it. It’s not worth the fine you may incur for breaking the law.
3. Stink bait or dip bait
As mentioned before, catfish in rivers hunt mostly by scent. So naturally, stink or dip bait is going to be a great bait for catching river catfish. Though they come in different types like “Shad” or “Blood” scents, I haven’t found one that works much better than the others. Just use the stinkiest one you can find and you should be good to go.
The reason it falls behind cut bait and chicken livers for me is that it’s extremely difficult to keep on a hook without specialized materials. Even then, it will naturally dissolve over time and you will need to re-bait every 15 minutes or so. For river catfishing, I prefer to let my bait sit out as long as possible., so I don’t prefer this method.
But it will absolutely catch fish AND bring a lot of cats into your area as it dissolves. So if you don’t mind re-applying bait every so often and want to catch them all night long – it is a good option. I just recommend buying a dip bait worm to go along with your stink bait of choice. It is essentially a rubber tube that will hold the bait and protect it for longer, but still has a treble hook attached to catch anything biting it. They’re only a few dollars and well worth it to keep the bait on for longer.
4. Rotting meat or fridge food
Maybe the best thing about catfishing is they’ll eat about anything rotten you were about to through out. If you have chicken that was going bad? Save it and throw it on a hook. You’ll probably catch some catfish. I’ve had great nights using hot dogs that weren’t eaten during a camping trip as catfish bait. I’ve seen people catch them on every meat imaginable and even balls of cheese.
The best part of this method is it means no extra trip to go buy bait or worry about it. Just use whatever you have. The downside? It’s not the best bait you can use unless you really let your meat get rancid. As I’ve hammered home by now, catfish in rivers hunt by scent. So you want your meat to smell really bad to get their attention. Usually, this just isn’t the case.
There are some sprays or scents that you can apply to get this effect, but they all do eventually wash off and you will need to reapply. And it’s just an extra step when you could use something like a chicken liver which has the scent built in.
Depending on the food type you use, rigging can also be challenging. If possible, you can use the pantyhose trick mentioned above with chicken livers to try and keep it on the hook longer if you have issues with your baits washing off.
No fishing list would be complete without mentioning that worms will catch about every fish under the sun. Catfish, bluegill, bass, carp, you name it. I’ve caught about every freshwater fish imaginable using worms. Even some turtles…
Which is why this comes in last on the list for catfish baits. It will absolutely catch catfish, but usually the bigger cats won’t get it before the smaller ones do. You’ll also have smaller species like panfish or suckers eating on it all night. Which if you want to catch anything is okay. If you’re looking to catch only catfish, it can get pretty annoying.
The best part for worms is that if you thread them on the hook correctly they’ll last a good long while. More so than a lot of the baits talked about previously even. So that’s one thing you won’t have to worry about while river fishing for cats.
If you are going to use live worms, try and find nice sized nightcrawlers so that you can make a good meal for any catfish. You might even get a few smaller fish to leave it alone if it’s large enough, though small fish will likely still peck at it occasionally. I also recommend using spray or scent on your nightcrawlers to get river catfish to notice as earthworms aren’t the most naturally pungent of all baits.
Let me know if you’ve used any of the baits above or have your own favorite river catfish bait you want to share with the community by leaving a comment below. A beauty of catfishing are the myriad of different homemade baits that I’ve seen people come up with, and I’d love to give yours a try!