How To Catch Live Bait For Catfishing: 3 Effective Methods That Work

Do you always see those anglers on social media pulling up monster catfish and wonder how they accomplish such a feat? It’s not that you aren’t any less skilled than these anglers, but perhaps it’s the bait you’re using. More mature catfish tend to prefer to eat primarily live bait; thus, this tutorial will go over how to catch live fish for catfishing.

This guide will cover the standard regulations for using live bait, what species to target, and the allowed methods for acquiring live fish.

Things To Consider Before Using Live Bait

As always, before using baitfish at your local fisheries, please make sure to look up your local regulations at your state’s conservation department’s website. Here are other considerations you should look into before using live bait:

  • Does my state restrict catching bait to certain seasons?
  • Which of these methods are legal in my state?
  • What species of bait am I allowed to catch in my state?
  • Does my state outline certain length limits?
  • What are my daily limits?

Additionally, when using live bait, it is best practice to never release organisms from one waterway to another and never dump your leftover bait back into the water. Discarding unused bait can likely disrupt ecosystems and potentially cause the spread of an invasive aquatic species.

What Live Bait Should You Target For Catfishing?

Each species of catfish prefer to feed on different baits. For example, younger catfish tend to prey on smaller live bait such as crayfish, worms, or aquatic insects. In contrast, mature catfish are more carnivorous and eat larger baitfish like bluegill, sunfish, perch, minnows, carp, and gizzard shad.

How To Catch Live Bait For Catfishing

Method One: Trapping

Trapping is an excellent technique for collecting small bluegill, sunfish, perch, minnows, and crayfish. Before selecting a trap for your application, make sure to choose one that meets your state’s guidelines on the dimensions for the throat opening and the trap itself. Also, your state may require you to check your trap within a certain amount of time. You’ll also have to label it with your full name and address or conservation number.

Here’s how to use a trap for catching bait:

  1. Bait your trap; I like to use bread to lure in minnows.
  2. Where you are fishing, find a shallow area with a current and rock debris.
  3. Find somewhere to tie your trap off to; tree limbs and large rocks work well.
  4. Place some weights in your trap to anchor it down; rocks are greats weights.
  5. Place your trap in the water next to the rock debris; crayfish and small fish like to live near rocks.
  6. Make sure to anchor your trap down to the bottom.
  7. Make sure to orientate your openings towards the current.
  8. Check your trap after several hours.

Method Two: Cast Net

Using a cast net is my favorite way to catch baitfish because you can effectively target gizzard shad or bluegill schools and pull up a substantial amount of fish with minimal effort. However, throwing a cast net does come with some initial learning curves, but it is worth it once you learn how to throw it correctly.

When choosing what size of a cast net to buy, I recommend starting with a smaller sized one, about 4 to 6-feet in diameter, because they’re easier to handle. Then, when you get more consistent with your throws, you can always go up to a larger-sized cast net.

Before purchasing your cast net, please check your state’s guidelines to see if there are any limits on what size net diameter and mesh you’re allowed to use.

Pro Tip: Practice throwing your cast net at home in your yard. You can place a soda can or something that won’t ruin your cast net in your yard and practice aiming at it, making sure to throw consistent circles each time.

Once you feel comfortable enough with throwing your cast net, it is time to take it to the waters. The ideal place to find baitfish is by targeting areas with structure. These tiny baitfish like to hang out near structures like fishing docks and floating debris.

If you are trolling in a boat, check out lake coves and pay close attention to the water. You can usually see the shimmer of gizzard shad schools jumping near you if you look closely.

Method Three: Rod And Reel Fishing

When fishing for small baitfish like sunfish and perch, I recommend picking up either an ultralight or light action rod and lining it with some clear monofilament 6-pound-test. Fishing with a lightweight set-up like this will give you the sensitivity you need to feel the bite of these smaller fish.

If you’re targeting bluegill or other sunfish species, the most common technique is to use a slip bobber rig. Here’s how to set up a slip bobber rig:

  1. Get some rubber bobber stoppers; trust me, the rubber ones are worth every penny.
  2. Thread your line through the eyelet above the rubber bobber stop.
  3. Give yourself a couple of inches of slack to work with.
  4. Pinch the tail end of your line, back towards your main line.
  5. Pull the rubber bobber stop onto your line until it’s entirely over the tail end.
  6. Keep pulling your bobber stop up your main-line to where it’ll be above your split bobber.
  7. Cut off just the tail end of your line that got pinched by the bobber stop.
  8. Thread a small bead up to the bobber stop.
  9. Attach a split bobber under the bead; set your bobber from 1 to 3-feet deep.
  10. Tie a small hook at the end of the line; use a size six to 10 light wire long shank hook.
  11. Clip the tag end.
  12. Attach a small split shot weight a few inches above your hook.
  13. Bait your hook; live bait like small mealworms or crickets.

Pro Tip: When presenting your bait to sunfish, make sure to keep it slow, to where your bait looks almost motionless in the water because sunfish do not like to chase their food.

Don’t Dump Your Bait Buckets!

Live bait is an all-around excellent baiting method for catching catfish, especially if you’re trying to lure out those more mature catfish from their holes. You can choose various techniques to catch live bait for catfishing, including trapping, throwing a cast net, and using your everyday rod and reel.

Additionally, after a day of fishing, please remember never to dump your bait buckets. Disposing unused bait into the waters can lead to the spread of invasive aquatic species and likely ruin your favorite fishing holes.

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