Fishing for catfish is as popular as it is challenging. How can you best set yourself up for success? There are a number of factors to consider when determining when catfish will bite.
So, when do catfish bite? Catfish are most likely to bite in the late spring and early summer months. The best time for catfish to bite is when the water is warm, between 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit.
Let’s take a look at the three major types of catfish in the United States and the factors that influence when they bite.
What time of year do catfish bite best?
Generally speaking, catfish are more likely to bite when the water temperature is on the warmer side. You can get a catfish to bite when the water is at 50 degrees Fahrenheit, but the most activity will happen when the water temperature is between 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit, or even warmer.
For this reason, catfish won’t bite when any of the water is still frozen from the winter. It is best to wait 2-3 weeks after the last of the ice has melted before trying to get catfish to bite.
In spring, frequent rains in warm temperatures will help to speed up the heating of the water, and could cause catfish to bite earlier in the season. The same applies for unseasonably warm temperatures in spring months. Around this time, if the water is still too cold (below 50 degrees), the catfish will be in deeper waters when possible, where it stays slightly warmer in the winters. In the spring if catfish aren’t yet biting in shallow waters, you might have more luck trying deeper water.
What month do catfish start biting?
The month that catfish start biting can depend on the region you are in. Catfish will start to bite when the water warms up, a few weeks after the ice melts. If you are in the south, this could mean as early as March, but farther north in the country you might have to wait until May. On average, catfish will start biting in mid April. Remember, the water temperature needs to be at least 50 degrees.
Three different species of catfish
There are countless different types of catfish, but there are three types that are the most common in the United States: blue catfish, flathead catfish, and channel catfish.
In most cases, all three live in the same waters (lakes and rivers) and largely feed on the same prey, though there are slight differences that make each type unique. (Prey will also increase in size as the different types of catfish increase in size.)
Blue catfish are by far the largest, weighing in at over 100 pounds when they are fully grown. As you might guess from their name, they are silvery blue in color, have a distinctly forked tail and a dorsal fin that is very flat. Blue catfish can be up to four feet long.
Flathead catfish are the second largest in weight of the three types, coming in between 50 and 100 pounds when fully grown. Flathead catfish are the longest of the three major types of catfish in the U.S., growing to be up to four feet long. They are yellowish colored and have the same characteristic “whiskers” as the other types of catfish. Unlike blue and channel catfish, flathead catfish do not have a forked tail.
Channel catfish are the third major type of catfish in the United States. They are the smallest of the big three, coming in on average at just under two feet long, and weighing under 50 pounds. Channel catfish are olive brown to gray colored, and can have dark spots on them. Like the blue catfish, channel catfish have a deeply forked tail. Channel catfish are some of the most common to catch, and put up quite a fight.
What is the best time of day to catch catfish?
You might have heard that catfish bite more during the night. While this can sometimes be true, it isn’t because of the time of day. Instead, it is because the temperature of the water and feeding habits of the catfish. During the hot hours of the day, the shallows heat up too much and the prey of catfish avoid the heat by staying in deeper waters. At night, the shallows cool down, and their prey emerge. The catfish follow their prey, making it so that they too are in the shallows after the heat of the day has passed.
Flathead catfish only feed at night, which makes it less likely for them to bite during the day. However, they are also the most territorial, so if you can find the spot where they are resting for the day you can get them to bite. Territorial instincts can be triggered by dropping small live bait directly into the area where the flathead catfish are spending the day. Even though they strictly feed at night, a flathead catfish will eat a small live bait to get the bait out of its territory during the day. This strategy requires finding the different areas the catfish spend time- their daytime location, when it will be harder to get them to bite, or their night time location when they will be actively feeding. When they are feeding at night, it is much more likely for a flathead catfish to bite. The other types of catfish aren’t as strict about feeding only at night, so they will bite more easily during the day.
How far out are catfish?
How far out catfish are can vary slightly based on temperature and the location of their prey. In summers when the temperatures are hot and the sun is even hotter, their prey will avoid the heat and stay in deeper waters. Naturally, the catfish will follow their prey so that they can eat. At night when the sun is down and temperatures cool off, catfish will follow their prey into shallower waters.
Catfish can be found in rivers and lakes. They favor murkier waters, hiding among reeds or around corners made by fallen trees, or even behind a dock, river dam, or rocky bottom.
What is the best bait for catfish?
Catfish will rarely go for plastic baits, and all three major types (blue catfish, flathead catfish and channel catfish) prefer natural bait (live or from a living thing). Mostly, anything that is native to living in a river or lake would be an appropriate thing to use as bait. It is even more effective if you start with bait from a natural food source, and alter it to make it even more appealing to the catfish. For channel catfish in particular, the stinkier the bait, the better.
Best natural baits for getting catfish to bite
- chicken liver
- nightcrawlers (especially loved by channel catfish)
- small fish like perch, bluegills or sunfish
- “cut bait” (cut off a part of an oily fish to use as bait, leaving skin and scales to release more scent into the water)
How to make bait even more tempting for catfish to bite
- use store bought dip baits: simply dip your bait into it to magnify the scent for catfish
- “cure” your bait by laying it out in the sun for a few hours (you won’t be able to miss how the smell intensifies!)
Conclusion: When do Catfish Bite?
- During the spring and summer months
- When water temperatures are between 50-70 degrees Fahrenheit
- During the day or night (although depending on type of catfish, they will bite more readily at night)
- When you have natural bait (live bait or cured bait when possible)