Discover the Best Homemade Catfish Bait

Written by Alyssa Shea
Published: November 6, 2023
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It’s hard to pin down what the absolute best homemade catfish bait is. Everyone has a recipe that they swear by! The reason why baiting for catfish requires so much thought is that catfish have thousands of scent receptors all over their bodies. One popular method is to make a dough ball to use on your lure. Let’s learn all about this technique and more information about catfish!

Close up of a Channel Catfish and Fisherman on a Lake

Did you know that the greatest concentration of sensory organs is on a catfish’s whiskers?


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Think You Can?

If you ask around, you’ll find that fishing for catfish is a popular sport. So why are catfish so popular with anglers? Many claim that catfish are easily the most fun type of fish to catch! They put up a pretty big fight once you get them on the line, and there are plenty of catfish to be found. Also, catfish tend to swim in schools, so where there’s one, there are often many more. This can make for some fun, fast-action fishing. Catfish are known to be very eager to eat, so they are always willing to bite whenever you’re ready to cast. And finally, the most popular reason people fish for catfish is because they taste so good! Their meat is sweet and tender and easy to prepare.

Where to Find Catfish

The location of catfish near you will depend on where you live. While most catfish are found in freshwater, there are a couple of families that are considered saltwater species. Some states are more known for their catfish population than others. You can expect to see them in Mississippi, Arkansas, and Alabama, as they usually top the list of the top catfish producers. There are plenty of other spots in different rivers across the country, so make sure you check your local fishing spots!

So, how can you find catfish? They tend to hang out in muddy waters, such as a tributary and its outflow. It’s good to check deep structures as well. This includes river bends, the base of drop-offs, deep holes, and humps. They prefer spots where they can hide, like among standing timber, boulders, or deep weed edges. You’ll also find that they prefer hard bottoms like clay or gravel floors.

Which Scents Attract Catfish?

Strong smells can end up repelling catfish. That’s why you will find that many fishermen use gloves and continuously wash their hands while fishing for them. They’ve learned to avoid human smells like perfume, smoke, insect spray, and gasoline. Here are some of the most popular scents that attract catfish:

  • Anise
  • Garlic
  • Cinnamon
  • Liver
  • Spoiled shrimp
  • Hot dogs
  • Blood
  • Nightcrawlers
  • Wet dog food
  • Limberger cheese

Some of the more strange scents that catfish love:

  • Ivory soap
  • Green apple bubblegum
  • Alcohol
  • Preparation H
Channel catfish laying in a net in the bottom of a fishing boat.

Catfish have highly sensitive membranes inside their nostrils, giving them a keener sense of smell.


How to Make the Best Homemade Catfish Bait

The three main ingredients of catfish dough bait are as follows:

  • 1 cup of flour
  • 1 cup of cornmeal
  • 1 oz bottle of anise extract

To bind this mixture, you have a few options. You can use oil or water to make a dough-like mixture. Fill a pot half full with water and bring it to a boil. Make small ping-pong ball-sized dough balls and drop them in the water. Allow them to boil for a maximum of three minutes. This will keep the dough balls bound together.

You can easily add more options to this recipe, too! Some people will throw a whole can of sardines or some garlic and chicken livers in. It’s up to you what you choose!

Does dough bait sound unappealing? Good news, you have plenty of other options! The most common type of bait for catfish tends to be nightcrawlers. You can also opt to use stinkbait, either by making your own or purchasing a jar of pre-made stinkbait. Stinkbait is made by taking multiple potent-smelling options like those listed earlier in the article and grinding them together into a pulp.

Many fishermen will dip their lures or other bait into this jar before they cast their line. You can also use live bait like frogs, crawfish, shad, or herring. Artificial bait, such as plastics or crankbaits, are not commonly used when it comes to catfish. If you do choose to go this route, pick an artificial lure that rattles or vibrates a lot.

Common Earthworm Nightcrawler (Lumbricus Terrestris)

Nightcrawlers make such good bait because they tend to wiggle a lot.

©Liz Weber/

What to Use If You Run Out of Bait

Have you found yourself without any bait, or maybe you ran out of bait during a fishing trip? You can have some options! Use your environment to your advantage. Look under rocks or break open a rotten log and grab some insects. If you have snacks like some granola or jerky with you, try throwing those on the line, too!

If you’re brave, you might try giving it a go by hand! This process is noodling, and many families enjoy this tradition together. Noodlers look for holes in the waterbed where catfish tend to burrow. Then, they risk putting their arm into that hole and hope the catfish latches on. This activity can be incredibly dangerous and lead to drowning if you’re not careful. Make sure it’s legal in your state before you give it a try.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters / Public domain – License / Original

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About the Author

I'm a 36-year-old mother of 2 and military wife. I have 2 dogs and a cat that I'm thoroughly obsessed with. When I'm not writing for work, I'm writing as a hobby. You can find me knee deep in a pile of books or way too invested in a video game.

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