Should You Really Be Using Chicken Livers For Catfish Bait?

Chicken Livers For Catfish Bait

Chicken livers are the most overhyped and over rated catfish bait ever!

Many anglers immediately start discussing using chicken liver for catfish bait in my encounters with them . When people find out I’m a catfish guide or call me about booking guided fishing trips often one of the first questions they as is whether I use chicken liver for bait (after they ask if we have to fish at night to catch catfish).

I guess catfish fishing just conjures up images of people sitting on the bank or in a boat, dangling a cane pole, next to an old Coleman lantern with chicken liver on the hook for bait.

Catfishing With Chicken Liver Basics

There was a point and time (probably twenty years ago or more) that I too was one of these people that thought catching catfish involved picking up a bucket of chicken liver or some shrimp. I thought that these two items were the best baits when it came to catching channel cats.

I can honestly say that I haven’t baited a hook with chicken liver in at least fifteen years though, maybe even longer. I don’t know anybody now that uses chicken liver either.

I’m of the opinion that chicken liver is one of the most overrated, overhyped baits ever.

Now, before you chicken liver lovers get all stirred up……

Can you catch catfish with chicken liver? Yes

Are they a catfish bait that you should use as a “go to” bait? No

Why? They’re messy, difficult to keep on the hook, and as a general rule there are far more effective baits available to catch catfish that are much easier to use and much more cost effective.

Most people that are using chicken liver are doing so in the absence of having another bait available (i.e. they cannot catch shad or don’t have prepared baits available) or they don’t know any better.

Don’t get me wrong, there are people that swear by them and you’ll always hear of that one trip where Fred’s uncle Joe caught so many fish on livers that he lost count.

This is the exception and not the rule. As a general rule there are far better baits than liver as a “go to” bait.

I know some catfish guides (and some tournament anglers) that use chicken liver for channel catfish (and even on occasion blue catfish) but these are usually third or fourth string baits for them if the fish are not hitting anything else (or for some reason they don’t have or cannot catch Threadfin Shad or Gizzard Shad for fresh bait).

This is more of a “last ditch effort” than anything.

Now, with all this in mind, there was a point and time where I had perfected the art of using chicken liver for catfishing.

How To Keep Chicken Livers On The Hook

One of the great debates to using livers for bait is the best way to keep them on the hook, because this is the biggest challenge to fishing with them. They can be very difficult to keep on the hook, but not if you follow some very simple steps.

  1. Make sure you always use FRESH chicken livers. By fresh I mean attempt to find containers that have never been frozen. Many grocery stores sell chicken livers that have already been frozen but some stores will sell fresh livers that have never hit a freezer, just ask, they will usually be able to tell you. I’ve found if the chicken livers have been frozen once, they will work OK. It is the process of thawing and refreezing that makes them “mushy” and prevents them from staying on the hook well. The fewer freezings (or re-freezing), the more firm they will be, and the better they will stay on the hook.
  2. Always keep chicken livers COLD. – When chicken livers heat up, or start getting warm. They start getting mushy (when left in the juices) and they become difficult to keep on the hook. Keeping them on ice will help to reduce this.
  3. Always use a GOOD SHARP KNIFE. The cutting process most people use breaks down the liver and causes it to get mushy. Using a good sharp fillet knife and making the fewest cuts possible will reduce the membranes in the liver breaking down, helping to keep them firm.
  4. Handle them as little as possible – The least amount of handling, smashing or otherwise breaking down of the membranes the better off you will be, and the tougher the bait will be.
  5. Use Liver Hooks – Yes, that’s right, I said LIVER HOOKS (also often referred to as live bait hooks). What are liver hooks? Imagine a treble hook with one of the barbs removed (two barbs instead of three), a longer shank, and a metal clip that helps hold the chicken liver on the hook when you are catfishing (sort of like a safety pin on the hook). You can find out more here on liver hooks.

Other Tips For Using Chicken Liver For Catfish Bait

There are a number of other well known tips for keeping chicken liver on the hook. If you follow the steps outlined above you shouldn’t need any of these to keep the chicken liver on the hook, but I want this to be a comprehensive guide, so I’ll cover them all.

  1. Wrapping In Thread Or Elastic Thread – Bait the hook (most often a straight shank hook like a circle hook or kahle hook) and then once the hook is baited cut a length of thread (or elastic thread) and wrap it around the bait (and hook) several times and them tie the bait onto the hook.
  2. Pantyhose – Some anglers prefer to encase liver in pantyhose. Some are even so calculated that they will wrap the baits in hose and then tie them up into small “packages” to bait the hooks with, before going to the the lake or river.
  3. Tube Gauze Chicken Liver Catfish BaitGauze – Gauze bandages are another common item used to wrap around the baits that some catfishermen prefer. The gauze soaks up blood and add structure, helping to keep the chicken livers on the hook when catfishing. many anglers will use tube gauze and insert the livers into the gauze.
  4. Leather Livers – There are a couple of different processes for this. The livers are spread out on a piece of screen wire, hardware cloth, a cookie sheet (or even a piece of plywood) and allowed to sit in the sun so they begin to dry. This drying process causes them to toughen up, making them easier to keep on the hook. An additional step is to add salt or garlic salt to help add in the drying process (some people swear by this).
Adding Scent and Color To Livers

Some anglers prefer to add additional scents and colors to their liver baits.

Color – It’s common practice to soak chicken livers in red food coloring. I have heard claims over the years that this adds a level of effectiveness and that at times people found catfish would hit these baits with additional red coloring but not the unaltered ones. If you choose to add coloring, food coloring will stain anything it comes in contact with, including boat carpet so beware!

Scents – In addition to adding coloring, adding additional scent is a fairly common practice. Garlic, anise, vanilla and even asafetida are often added to buckets of fresh livers to add additional scent. Asafetida is a spice used in many Indian dishes, it is also referred to as “devils dung”. If you open a bottle of it and smell it you will quickly know why.

Adding Chicken Livers To Other Baits

Outside of just adding livers to a hook and fishing with them, it is fairly common practice for those making their own homemade catfish bait to add livers to their recipes. Most of these recipes involve running the livers through a blender or a grinder and adding them to either a cheese based bait or even a dough bait.

There’s Livers MUCH Better Than Chicken Livers

If you absolutely insist on fishing with livers there’s a much better option that chicken livers. They stay on the hook without all the added frustration of using gauze or thread.

Turkey livers are tougher than chicken livers, will stay on the hook better. and in my experience catch just as many or more fish.

Turkey livers are not widely available but you can purchase them through a local butcher (they may have to special order them).

Turkey livers usually come in a case quantity in a large frozen block and have to be broken down into smaller quantities for long term storage. You often have to buy a large quantity but if you fish on a regular basis you won’t have to buy so many turkey livers that you won’t use them (and you can keep them frozen).

I am not knocking those that prefer catfishing with chicken livers but many anglers use them because that’s what they think they’re “supposed to do”.

I don’t personally know anyone that heads into a trip with the intentions of using chicken livers as a primary bait.

If your targeting blue catfish, fresh shad is hands down the preferred choice for most fishermen and will typically catch more catfish. When targeting channel catfish punch baits and dip baits will out produce (or produce as well) as liver in most cases and have proven time and time again to be much less hassle to bait the hook with as well as keep on the hook. For catching numbers of channel catfish it’s hard to beat prepared baits. If you’re after larger channel catfish then fresh cut bait is a better alternative.

If your baiting up with some sort of liver, ask yourself why, and really take a close look at whether or not they are truly a good choice of catfish bait for you. Chances are that a change of catfish bait can change your overall performance and increase your catch rates.

If you’re dead set on fishing with livers then by all means give turkey livers a try.

Want More Catfishing Tips?

Want more catfishing tips on baits, how to catch catfish and more? Check out the Ultimate List Of Catfishing Tips.

To get on the fast track catching catfish check out the Catfish Edge products for in depth tutorials and information on locating and catching catfish using a variety of techniques.

Article Name
Should You Really Be Using Chicken Livers For Catfish Bait?
Chicken livers are a popular bait for catfish but should you really be using chicken livers for catfish bait? Theres much better options......
Summer Channel Catfish Techniques


  1. J.C. Stowell says

    Chicken livers are only one tool in the toolbox of a well rounded catfisherman. They work for the same reasons that other “prepared” baits/attractants (cheese, blood, soured grains, range cubes, soaps, etc) work – they closely mimic certain chemical profiles of natural baits. They are not an exact match though and could be compared to a dieter satisfying a chocolate craving with an artificially sweetened carob candy. It’s close, but still not the same as the real thing. As for using string, gauze or liver hooks, there are other options available that allow liver baits to be used on single hooks.

    • Steve says

      Ironic thing is, people will use chicken livers in a dip bait recipe that they want to smell like, chicken livers. :)

      I’ve been using chicken livers for decades and I catch channels quite often. To keep the bait on the hook, (I NEVER use treble hooks!) I use Surgilast #GL-701 elastic mesh, which is actually designed for medical usage. You can find it on Amazon at $12 for 20′ (25 yards stretched). I cut a length of the mesh tubing about 2″ long, and tie off one end with kite string which is about $1.69 for 500 feet of the stuff.. Elastic thread is just a PITA because I can never seem to get it tight enough, because it stretches. Not to mention it breaks rather easily.

      So, I tie off one end of the mesh tube with the kite string, then turn it inside-out to protect the wrap of the threads from short strikes, rocks, etc. Some folks will use proper hook placement in the bait in order to keep the mesh bag shut. I just stuff the liver in so the size of the bait is about the size of a PING-PONG BALL, or perhaps a bit larger. Then I tie the other end, and trim off the excess thread. It’s a bit time consuming, but you can do this while watching the tube, and you’ll have all of your baits ready BEFORE you get to your honey hole. Be sure to store your chicken liver mesh balls in the same container as your unused liver, so it can retain it’s bloody juices and not dry out, and keep them refrigerated. Finally, when I go fishing, I just put the hook through the liver/mesh and leave the point down to the barb exposed. That’s all you need to do. One other thing, only make enough of these liver balls for one outing of fishing. You DO NOT want to dispose of your bait balls into the river where a fish could potentially swallow it and die.

      • Jake says

        The surgilast or surgi glide tubing is great and all I use if I’m using livers but I make my liver balls softball size and they work very well. (For big channels 15lbs+ ) I’ve never caught blues or flat heads on livers tho. I’ve had luck using minnows and small brim for those.

    • Danny says

      Are you kidding. You start off you think there’s other baits better than liver then talk about it thru the whole thing except the Turkey liver and say shad 2 times. Lol. I no how t o use liver its good shad is great but I was hoping to find a better bait to use what is it. Don’t get me wrong thank you for the help but I wood love to find a better bait wether shad or a home maid baits that’s better God bless the help. Thanks so much. I did love the story. I hope your not mad at me just thought there was more to the story.

  2. Tony says

    Hey now lol I have used both and agree with most but I use a eagle claw 1 0 hook and do not tie livers on or any the mentiond thoughts I like turkey livers chicken is by far the first I used have found out that with any livers u choose freshest is best agree that freeze thaw freeze makes them all soft and as I say jelly like not good for fishing nvr heard of a punch bait hook me up more info and where u guide at as it is one of my bucket list items bit I would like or enjoy a lil more than average catfish trip willing to get in down and dirty to have a good time catching releasing as I usually put back what I catch one or two pan size for dinner rest back for future sport I’ll end my book on that note hook me up catch me up tight line me back and or reply back plz so I know yr truly what it says u r thank u for your time

  3. Debs P says

    Good information Chad! I am one of these people that like to use Chicken Livers to fish for catfish .. I used to live in Phoenix, AZ and when fishing the lakes at night, we found that the catfish much preferred to hit on chicken livers. And, I never found any shad in AZ, so that was out of the question. LOL Keep up the good work, and thank you for all that you do for us.

    • joel w carter says

      I like to use pork and beef liver for catfish. it is tougher and better. will stay on hook better.
      or, you can always use liver flavored dough bait.

  4. Jim says

    Hello. Thanks for the article. I’m just getting into fish at the ripe old age of 40. Pretty sad I know. But one of the group of is that fish took issue with me using a stink bait and I wanted ask about those. His issue the fact is said “blood flavored”. I wanted to assure him where was no actual blood in the bait and he didn’t need to worry about any blood borne illness. Do you know of that is true? Does it have real blood? It does say made with real chicken livers bit I figured of there was any real danger of us coming in contact with blood there’d be a warning on the package. Anything you cam share is appreciated.

  5. cedric says

    Hi chad I learned some rigs from you and hook ties I want to purchase tackle from your catalog I don’t know where I can order one at and are 2 piece cstfish rods any good some folks say no one piece are better and what’d a good baitcast reel thats not expensive with good drag and that you may have in your catalog for catfishin

  6. Todd says

    Weed-less hooks help keep livers on, at least that is what I use for fishing a trashy river like the Brazos. I use gauze, and panty hose. Though the thing to remember is science class from your school days, ‘connective tissue’ that are still attached to some livers really help hold liver on. Usually I use fish guts, stomach, intestines, or if I’m lucky to score chicken entrails, I’ll use the guts for holders. Throw it in your liver bucket, let it absorb your liver smell, then use it. Stuff the livers inside, and then bait on hook. If I really want to get the smell flowing, I’ll cut slits in the sides on the liver stuffed entrails.
    What I’ve learned from survival training school, you can use fish, and animal, entrails as bait, even the eyes,(Which stay on a hook a very long time).

  7. Michael R. says

    I have found that livers produce numbers not trophy cats. I usually have two lines baited with livers and the other two lines baited with live shad. The livers IME have caught more eating size cats usually channels, while the shad catch the bigger bragging size cats which are usually the flatheads. At times I have switched to hot dogs doused in strawberry kool aid and garlic when the livers aren’t hitting. I think chicken livers, stink baits, and homemade baits are all part of a well rounded arsenal of baits. Catfish are finicky; one night they may be all over the livers and the next night hot dogs are what they want to devour. But if you are wanting trophies than shad/bluegills are the only way to go IME.

  8. Will says

    Hey gang. I want to toss another bail in the mix. It is Rooster Livers, I use them every time I go fishing. When I first heard of them I thought the elderly gentleman telling me this had tripped and fell straight up. But trusting in his advanced years I started my search and soon found out there is such a thing. The difference is the hens are slaughtered around 1 year old and the roosters around 4 to 6 years. They are very tough and easy to keep on a hook, I defrost mine and precut them usually 4 baits per liver. I put 1teaspoon of vanilla extract and a good sprinkling of garlic salt on them stir good and go fishing. They freeze and refreeze with no problem. here in Central Ga. they really do work, day or night.

  9. price heard says

    I have never used live baits. mainly cause i dont knot how to use them. do you cut the fish or just hook them. im always up for more tips in catching beter catfish besides just using livers and night crawlers.

  10. Mike says

    Have fished my whole life, used many bates. Never had any luck with artificial bates/shad/cut bait. I still use them and in fact just bought a rather expensive ($49.99) bucket of cheese bait. Last weekend I used the bucket/gold fish/ once frozen shad/Chicken Livers. Caught three big blues and one nice channel cat all on liver. Chicken livers and worms have been and always will be my go-to.

  11. Tony Zine says

    I still use beef liver on occasion but it must be fresh. I tried frozen once and was it a mistake, they were hard to keep on the hook and I never got bites. I go to beef liver when some other things are not working. When garlic-cheese and worms fail me (I fish the Rio Grande) then I try my fresh liver that I Keep as cold as possible so it will stay on the hook and it has worked many times when other baits have failed me. We have all three species of catfish in the Rio Grande and the Flathead Catfish only seem to like worms. I will get a Blue on occasions but most of the time it is Channel Cats. My wife loves to eat them so it is important to get a few.


  12. Larry says

    We’re do I find channel cats when’s it 95 degrees in the day time I’m trying to let my 8 yearcold catch his first catfish

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