Many anglers have questions, concerns, and presumptions about catfish. Whether you catch them by noodling or with a traditional rod and reel, catfish carry with them a wide range of myths and superstitions. One such myth is that catfish will not strike a lure. While it is widely accepted that catfish prefer live bait, it is rather common for them to investigate lures.
In 2002, the Nebraska Master Angler Program solidified this belief when 415 catfish were caught with a high percentage being done so by a lure. However, this begs the question, which lures for catfish work best and what fishing method should be used?
Catfish are a unique type of fish in that they are typically caught by mistake. For example, many anglers catch catfish with a spinner, spoon, or jig while fishing for other fish, especially bass. Bass typically wait in dense areas waiting to ambush their prey, and some catfish are known to do the same. Therefore, it is no surprise that anglers unintentionally catch catfish. This proves that catfish will strike anything and that they can be targeted with a lure. Make no mistake, it is difficult to target a catfish with a lure and enjoy a high rate of success. Nonetheless, under the right conditions it is possible to catch a catfish with a lure.
Commonly caught species include channel, flathead, blue, white, and bullheads. Each species possesses their own unique characteristics and know-how of where to find them and how to catch them. Most species are known to roam the murky depths of lakes and rivers which led many to believe that they have poor eyesight. While it is true that they primarily hunt with their keen sense of smell (they can sense small traces of a certain smell down to the parts-per-billion level), catfish also have superb sight in clear water. An interesting side note is that the color of the water often dictates the color of the fish. In murky water, their skin will tend to be a brownish color while clear water promotes a black color.
In addition to great eyesight and sense of smell, catfish have great hearing. Their ears are designed to allow them to hear a wide range of underwater frequencies. When combining their great sense of hearing with their exceptional smell and eyesight, it is easy for them to use all of these senses to track down prey. Therefore, it is important to take all of these factors into consideration when selecting a lure to use as catfish bait.
According to many state records, catfish appear to prefer crank baits, spinner baits, jigs, soft plastics, spoons, and top water lures. These baits create stimulation in one of the senses of the catfish which triggers a reaction and causes it to bite. Since catfish are mainly bottom feeders, lures resembling an injured or decaying bait work relatively well when fishing for catfish. However, catfish have also been known to ambush prey and wait around heavily sheltered areas such as around a river bend or in an area with wooden cover.