Catfish have some of the most-sensitive senses of smell in the aquatic environment, thanks to folds in tissue inside their nostrils.
The average catfish has 140 folds, also known as baffles, in their olfactory system, compared to a largemouth bass, which has as few as 13. Because of the increased surface area involved in olfactory detection, catfish can sniff out a scent at a rate of one part per billion parts of water.
So, it’s good to fish with something that is odiferous.
Stinkbaits or prepared bait are hands down best for catching numbers of smaller channel cats, perhaps due to their maturing olfactory sense. However, experts agree that if you want size over quantity, then try some form of native baitfish cut into chunks. You’ll even catch bigger channel cats than by using prepared baits. For blues and flatheads, nothing beats live fish or cut fish.
Threadfin shad, gizzard shad and skipjack herring are favorites among catfish anglers, and they almost always produce. Other fish like carp, buffalo, drum or perch are popular and will catch fish. If available, start with shad or skipjack and throw some alternatives in the mix if the fish are picky. The guts of a skipjack are prime material.
Worms, especially big, juicy night crawlers, are also effective, and their use opens the door to a productive pattern.
While trolling the bottom for catfish has netted a lot of good fish through the years, veteran angler Hank Lyles believes that pulling the bait just off the bottom, right into the face of a hungry and feeding catfish, works even better.
“I hit on the idea of trolling a whole night crawler under a cork a couple of years ago,” Lyles said. “You’d be surprised at how many big catfish will lay up in 3 to 4 feet of muddy water during the summer, and I mean during the middle of the day.”
To combat spooking shallow-water fish, Lyles pulls a pegged crappie float weighted with a split shot. He can set his bait about a foot off the bottom and slow-troll sandy stretches of bank where the frequent waves from boat wakes continually wash the bank. He uses a 1/0 or 2/0 hook under the rig.
The wave action is enough to call catfish into the shallows, and a great trolling run would be right along a mud line.
“I guess the waves and commotion washes a lot of worms and mussels loose,” Lyles said. “The other bonus to this kind of trolling is that you wind up catching a good number of big shellcrackers that are hanging out in the same area.”