The Ultimate Guide To Catfishing Gear is an in-depth resource to help you buy the right catfish tackle and gear and save money while doing so. It covers everything you ever needed to know about choosing the right catfish tackle.
The Ultimate Guide To Catfishing Gear covers all of the essential catfish tackle items you’ll need for fishing for all species of catfish using a variety of techniques. Catfish gear and tackle items are broken down by species and technique with more details so you can choose the right tackle and gear to increase your success. We’ll cover the essentials like hooks, weights, floats, terminal tackle, and accessories plus some other essential tools and tackle items you’ll need.
Be sure to check out the other in-depth catfish fishing resources like:
Quick Jump Links
Because of the length of this article and the in depth information provided we’ve provided the quick jump links below to help you jump to specific sections in the event you can’t cover all of the information in one setting or want to learn more about a specific area of catfishing tackle and gear.
Use the links below to navigate to the sections:
Gear Up For A Cat Fight
The Catfish Tackle Problem
Saving Money On Catfishing Gear
Channel Catfish Hooks
Blue Catfish Hooks
Flathead Catfish Hooks
Weights (Sinkers) For Catfishing
Floats (Bobbers) For Catfish
Catfish Fishing Line
Leader Line For Catfish Rigs
Catfish Lures and Rigs
Catfishing Gear Basics, “Other Stuff” You’ll Need
The Working Tackle Box System
Creature Comforts – The “Other Stuff”
Choosing The Right Catfish Tackle
One of the great things about fishing for catfish is that it doesn’t require a lot of tackle and gear to get started.
Unlike fishing for bass, crappie and many other species of fish there aren’t thousands of variations of hooks, lures, jigs and other items needed to be successful.
I’ve been fishing for catfish exclusively for a couple of decades and I’ve been a catfish guide for more than fifteen years and have my tackle down to a science.
I’ve learned exactly what works and what doesn’t when it comes to catfishing gear and have slimmed my tackle down to a minimum number of items.
Looking back over the years I hate to think about how much money I wasted in the beginning on stuff that wasn’t right and was never going to work.
There was a time where I’d try anything and everything and it not only cost me a lot of money (that I didn’t have) but I wasted a tremendous amount of time, plus it didn’t help me at all to catch more fish.
This is the resource I wish I had when I got started. A simple no frills guide to what works, what doesn’t and what I needed (and more important, what I didn’t need).
Following you’ll find all of the basic catfish tackle items you need and nothing you don’t, as well as an explanation of these items and how, when and why you’ll use them.
Plus you’ll get some great tips to help you save money when buying tackle.
Catfishing Gear Made Simple
I guess most people envision fishing guides and tournament anglers having large elaborate tackle systems with tons of neatly organized compartments and large tackle boxes with tons of trays and storage areas.
What I use is pretty simple, it is neat and well organized and I have a fine tuned system for storing it all that works very well, is efficient and saves space.
I only fish for catfish for the most part. It’s rare that I fish for anything else.
Most people new to fishing or new to catfishing face some “overwhelm” with the items they see others using and start buying everything they can.
Choose carefully and spend your money wisely because for the most part, you don’t need much.
The Catfish Tackle Problem
One of the major challenges with catfishing is the lack of “marketable” products.
Look at Bass fishing and the pro bass tournament trails.
Every boat and every pro angler has a different brand on them and some have multiple brands. There seems to be no shortage of sponsors and products wanting to put their name out there.
There are hundreds of variations of reels, rods and who knows how many different types and styles of fishing lures and weights when it comes to bass fishing.
When you add the color and size variations of these lures to the different styles, there are hundreds of thousands of products being “pitched” and all of them are sold as being better than the rest.
Take a trip to your local Bass Pro, Cabela’s or just look in a catalog and you will see that the amount of catfish tackle versus everything else is a fraction of one percent.
Catfish tackle is not complicated and fishing for catfish does not require a lot of tackle or variations of tackle, so it’s difficult for many companies to come up with products to market towards catfish anglers.
Then you add the “DIY” (do-it-yourself) nature of many catfish anglers where many are willing to spend extra time designing and building their own gear and it makes the marketing process more difficult for tackle companies.
Finally, many of the “big brands” have failed to truly recognize catfish anglers and their needs.
Many understand the popularity and importance of the catfish market but very few have managed to produce products that truly meet the need of the catfish angler.
Instead, they mass produce gear that isn’t a good fit for catfishing and the products fail. This results in less interest in the research and development of products for catfishing.
There’s countless examples of these product failures that have taken place in the past ten years and I still see them today on a very frequent basis.
It’s a result of poor (or no) market research from big brands.
This void in the marketplace have provided a tremendous market for “boutique” companies like Whisker Seeker Tackle, Team Catfish and others that truly understand the needs of the catfish angler and are willing to produce quality products
Some of the response to this “lack of marketable products” is companies coming out with products that are nothing more than an attempt to find something they can make a buck on.
The numbers of companies marketing junk you don’t need and won’t ever need is growing by the day.
A prime example of this has been the marketing of “weigh slings” in the past few years. These are nylon or canvas slings used to weigh catfish and some of the sales pitches are nothing short of hilarious.
I’ve been catching big catfish for a very long time and have never once needed a sling to weigh a fish. I speak with other guides and tournament pros on a daily basis and I don’t know one single person who uses one of these or could justify in any way needing one of these weigh slings.
Saving Money On Catfishing Gear
One of the questions I am constantly asked is about how to get the best deals on catfish tackle.
I’m cheap and don’t like wasting money, spending money on items that are not necessary or overpaying for items.
The area where I live (Dallas/Fort Worth) is ranked in the top 10 largest metropolitan area in the United States and there are tackle and sporting good stores everywhere.
Despite the presence of tackle and sporting goods stores it is still very difficult to find the catfish tackle items I need and when stores do have them they rarely have enough in stock to last me a week.
Driving around in a Chevrolet 2500 truck that burns a ton of gas and wasting time in traffic adds to the expense of the tackle so I have found over the years that I am better off buying online in bulk and having these items shipped to me.
Buying online saves me a LOT of money.
I buy most of my tackle through Amazon.com and occasionally through Bass Pro Shops or Cabela’s.
The only time I typically buy anything locally in a retail store is when I make a mistake and run out of something and this usually involves going to three or four different stores to get enough of one single item to get through a short period of time.
To get the best deals and save money, here are some tips:
Buy as many items as you can to “bundle” your purchases. Don’t buy hooks, and then swivels and other various items and spread them out over multiple orders. Order as many items as you can in one purchase and consolidate shipping.
Buy through Amazon when possible. They have shipping centers all over the United States and have super fast shipping and excellent customer service. Amazon has almost everything listed here. I make about 95% of my online purchases through Amazon.
Sign up for an Amazon Prime Membership.
With Amazon Prime you pay $79 for a one year membership and you get free shipping on all Amazon Prime eligible items.
You can also pay an extra $3.99 on prime eligible purchases for one day shipping. Not all purchases are eligible for prime shipping but many are and it saves a ton of money over the course of the year (especially if you buy more than fishing items from Amazon).
You can learn all about this on their Amazon Prime Membership information page.
When possible buy in bulk packages or larger quantities. There are many examples of this.
It’s cheaper to buy a one pound spool of fishing line than it is to buy four ¼ pound spools of line.
It is cheaper to buy a bulk pack of 100 peg floats (for Santee Cooper Rigs) than buying small consumer packages with 4 floats in them for $2 each.
Watch for free shipping deals at Bass Pro Shops. They run them all the time.
When buying fishing weights (sinkers) buy them in bulk and buy them through eBay. I’ve shopped everywhere over the years for sinkers and eBay consistently has the best prices for sinkers.
Buy sinkers in bulk. A package of 25 or 50 sinkers will save you a significant amount of money over buying packages of 5 or 6 at a time.
Contact sellers through eBay and ask them to bundle purchases and shipping to get better deals.
It’s setup this way so I can easily grab a small box and jump in someone else’s boat and have everything I need, or in the event I decide to head off on foot and do some shore fishing I can pack light.
Having a nice organized system that’s light and portable is critical regardless of whether you’re fishing from a boat or from shore.
My tackle boxes are what I call “working tackle boxes”.
There’s two, one for blue catfish and flathead catfish and the second is setup with everything I need for channel catfish.
The “working tackle boxes” are Plano Stowaway waterproof tackle boxes that keep water from getting into them so my tackle does not rust.
They latches are heavy duty so I never have to worry about them coming open and spilling or the tackle getting mixed up.
Everything I need is in the boxes except for my leader line, a pair of scissors and when fishing for channel catfish, the “Secret Catfish Rig” I use.
When fishing from the boat, my leader line and scissors stay on the console of my boat along with the Secret Catfish Rigs.
When I jump in someone else’s boat or head out on foot I put these items in a small “fanny pack” found in the hunting section at Bass Pro Shops. It easily holds my small tackle box, leader line and scissors, Secret Catfish Rigs and a couple of bottles of water plus I can strap it on my waist or throw it over my shoulder for ease in carrying it.
I also have plenty of room in the bag for my GoPro camera so I can shoot video or photos while fishing if the urge hits me.
Extra tackle is carried in a dry storage box. The dry storage box is used to store extra weights, hooks, swivels, scissors and my digital scales for weighing fish.
I’ll cover some more details on each of these boxes later, once you have a better understanding of the tackle you need for each species.
Catfish hooks have come a long way in the past ten years.
When I first started fishing for catfish there were very few options available that really fit the need of the catfish angler and I had to rely on many traditional hook styles like the j-hook and kahle hook.
In recent years, the tackle manufacturers have recognized what a huge market there is for catfish tackle and have stepped up in design and development of better tackle for fishing for catfish, including hooks.
Catfish are not like many other species of fish that have soft paper like mouths. The mouth of a catfish is thick and hard and is more difficult to penetrate than most other freshwater fish, so a good sharp hook is critical.
Channel Catfish Hooks
In many areas of the United States, this is the best option. There are fisheries that have excellent numbers of larger channel catfish but they are limited and most anglers that decide to target big fish target blue or flathead catfish where these species are available.
Most of the channel catfish I catch will be within one to five pounds with occasional fish from five to ten pounds being caught. This is typical of most channel catfish fisheries in the United States.
I fish primarily with prepared baits or what many anglers refer to as “stink baits” and the Secret Catfish Rig and have found this to be the most effective bait and rig for fishing for numbers of channel catfish.
The prepared baits I use are “punch” baits or “fiber baits”.
These baits allow you to fish with bare treble hook so you don’t have to use any sponges, dip tubes or dip worms to hold the bait.
There are many good brands of treble hooks but I traditionally use either Eagle Claw, Mustad, Daiichi or Team Catfish treble hooks.
Stick with a reputable brand of treble hook as there are many Chinese import hooks on the market that are very poor quality. They may save you a little money up front but they’ll cost you more money in the long run.
More important than brand, is that the hooks are very sharp, and also durable.
Treble Hook Size
Treble hooks in the appropriate size range for channel catfish are size #2, #4, #6 and #8.
The smaller the number, the larger the hook is so a #2 hook is much larger than a #8 hook.
The #6 size is the best all-around size hook when fishing for numbers channel catfish with prepared bait.
If fishing a slip sinker rig or a heavy slip bobber then you may have issues missing fish with a size #6 hook if you’re not using a sensitive catfish rig like the Secret Catfish Rig.
Most anglers that are missing fish with a #6 size hook will decrease the hook size to a #8 hook in attempts to reduce the numbers of missed fish. The problem is typically not that the #6 hook is too large, the problem is most often that they’re not setting the hook quickly enough.
When you decrease the hook size to a #8 even small fish that are less than legal keeper size can “swallow” the hook.
Again, using a rig that’s sensitive enough to detect the bite at the right time will make the #6 size hook work perfectly.
The only two treble hooks you need carry are a size #6 and #4 in most cases. The #6 hook work well in most situations and in the event the channel catfish are overall larger in size or are biting aggressively, can increase the hook size to a #4 to reduce the number of deep hooked fish.
The better option is using the right rig and setting the hook quickly, as soon as the fish bites. This will greatly reduce or even eliminate the number of deep hooked fish with a #6 hook.
Treble Hook Strength
Hook strength is rated as 2x strong, 3x strong, 4x strong etc. These numbers are the strength of the hook you’ll find listed on the package.
The higher the number, the stronger the hook is.
2x strong treble hooks will work find for landing channel catfish but as you begin to remove the hooks from fish, they’ll break.
2x strong hooks won’t handle much twisting and pulling and will typically break after landing a few fish.
Get the highest break strength you can find, like 4x or 6x and you’ll have much fewer hooks break during use or when removing them from fish.
The stronger hooks will cost a little more (but not much) than the weaker hooks but will actually save you money because they’ll last much longer without breaking or bending.
Hooks For Dip Baits Or Sponge Baits
If your preference is sponge style baits or dip baits there’s a cost-effective alternative and it works better than anything else I’ve ever used.
Dip tubes, dip worms, sponge hooks and commercially manufactured “catfish lures” for fishing with sponge and dip baits are very expensive and you’ll go through a lot of them, so the cost adds up quickly.
To make these hooks take a felt hat cleaning sponge and cut it into small squares.
Take the squares and insert the shank of the treble hook through the sponge and tie the hook on your line.
One felt hat cleaning sponge will make a ton of dip or sponge bait hooks, they’ll work better than any plastic tube or worm you can buy and you’ll save a ton of money on tackle!
Kahle Hooks and Circle Hooks For Channel Catfish
In the event you’re fishing with something other than prepared bait for channel catfish then the best option is a kahle hook for channel catfish in most instances.
These are great hooks for alternative baits like cut bait, hot dogs, grasshoppers, shrimp or anything other than prepared bait.
Outside of circle hooks, the Kahle hook is one of the most popular catfish hooks on the market.
Circle hooks can work well with channel catfish that are biting aggressive and the channel catfish are larger. For smaller channel catfish circle hooks can be a bit of a problem though.
The optimal size for channel catfish is typically a 2/0 or 3/0 hook when using a kahle hook.
If you choose circle hooks for small to medium-sized channel catfish then a 5/0 or 6/0 size will usually work best.
Blue Catfish Hooks
Years ago I kept hearing catfish anglers praise circle hooks.
I tried them several times and couldn’t stand them, I hated not setting the hook and didn’t catch much fish with them. In fact, I had a hard time catching fish with them.
This was all due to the hook style I was using and not having a good understanding of how to fish with these hooks or choose the right size.
The “new breed” of circle hook allows you to set the hook using a modified hook set or they can be fished like a traditional circle hook where you simply allow the hooks to set themselves.
Whether you let the hook do the work for you or prefer to set the hook, it’s hard to argue the effectiveness of the circle hook for catfish.
Circle hooks do most of the work for you and when used correctly they are very effective not only at hooking fish but also at reducing gut hooked or deep hooked fish.
If you are fishing for catch and release purposes, regardless of what size fish you’re targeting, then circle hooks will help greatly to keep from deep hooking or gut hooking fish.
I use circle hooks almost exclusively for fishing for blue and flathead catfish.
There’s one specific time of year where I’ll use other hooks on a very limited basis because they outperform circle hooks. It’s a short period of time though.
Circle Hook Sizing
For circle hooks to work correctly hook sizing is critical.
This was the first mistake I made when I started using circle hooks and a lesson it took me a long time to learn.
I’ll save you a lot of time, trouble and headaches.
For a circle hook to work properly it needs to have room to turn and slide towards the corner of the mouth of the fish.
If the gap of the hook is too small or not “clear” the hook will not work properly.
It took me a lot of trial and error to understand this. When looking at properly sized circle hooks it seems like you are using a hook that is way too large, but this isn’t the case.
In fact, I often catch cats on circle hooks where it seems like it would be impossible for the fish to even get the hook in its mouth.
Sizing varies greatly from different manufacturers.
It’s common to hold a 10/0 hook from one manufacturer up to a size 7/0 hook from another manufacturer and for them to be close to the same size or exactly the same size.
Pay more attention to the overall size of the hook and the gap of the hook than the numbers on the package.
Circle Hook Styles – Traditional and Modified
Traditional circle hooks are built in more of a true “circle” shape and often have a very small gap in them.
The “new breed” of circle hook popular with catfish anglers is what I call a “hybrid” circle hook.
It looks like a cross between a circle hook and a kahle hook.
These “hybrid” circle hooks allow you to fish the hook like a traditional circle hook and allow the hook to do all the work for you.
You can also set the hook like a traditional hook using a modified hook set if you choose.
Inline Circles Vs’ Offset Circles
Another topic of great debate among catfish anglers is inline circle hooks versus offset circle hooks.
The hook point is perfectly in line with the shank of the hook with an inline circle hook. The hook point is offset slightly from the shank of the hook in an offset circle hook.
Everyone claims that one works best over the other, there are many strong opinions regarding both as well.
After years using both hook circle hook styles I prefer offset circle hooks over inline. There’s nothing wrong with inline circle hooks but offset hooks have the highest hook set ratios and best performance overall.
Which Circle Hooks To Use
After years of struggling to find the “perfect” circle hook that had all of the features I needed as a catfish angler, I teamed up with Whisker Seeker Tackle to build my own line of “hybrid” circle hooks, the Triple Threat Catfish Hook.
The Triple Threat Catfish Hook from Whisker Seeker Tackle feature:
- Hybrid circle hook (you can set the hook or use like a traditional circle hook)
- Super sharp chemically sharpened points.
- Extra heavy gauge hooks to stand up to monster cats.
- Offset shank
- Upturned eye
- Extra-wide gap (as needed for catfish)
And best of all they’re very cost-effective.
Kahle Hooks For Blues
If used correctly circle hooks can be very effective and will work well most of the year. Most of the time you’ll have much better success with a circle style hook.
There is a brief period of the year when I fish a pattern outlined in the Spring Blue Catfish Techniques ebook that the fish will bite very short, and not very aggressive and only in a certain area.
This is one time of the year that I will venture away from circle hooks for blue catfish. During this brief period, in a very particular area, the circle hooks don’t work as well.
Holding the fishing rod and making a quick, short and aggressive hook set will produce eight to ten times more fish during this time, so I switch to Kahle hooks.
You might encounter times where a more traditional hook is preferred or a better option.
Kahle hooks are a great choice for these instances and have long been a favorite among cat fishermen.
Circle hooks used with the right gear and used correctly will hook more fish in most cases but it’s always good to have options.
The 4/0 Kahle hook is a good all around size for fish from 1 to 10 pounds and a 5/0 size is good for fish larger than 10 pounds.
The Whisker Seeker Tackle Catfish Wide Gap Circle Hook is a great choice in this category.
Flathead Catfish Hooks
Flathead catfish fishing is usually all about size. When targeting flathead catfish it’s rarely a numbers game so you need good hooks capable of hooking and catching big catfish with all of the same characteristics you would look for in a hook for trophy blue catfish.
The same hooks used for blue catfish perform well for flathead catfish also. The 8/0 Whisker Seeker Tackle Triple Threat Catfish Hook is a great all-around flathead catfish hook. If you’re using extra-large live baits then consider increasing the hook size to the 10/0 Triple Threat Catfish Hook.
Terminal tackle is the “bread and butter” of catfishing gear.
This is all of the stuff you need for various catfish rigs. These items are all used fishing for all three species of catfish unless otherwise noted.
Just about every catfish rig you use will involve a swivel of some type. Barrel swivels are the most common choice among cat fishermen but ball bearing swivels are also an excellent option.
Swivels help prevent line twist which keeps leaders and other elements of your catfish rigs from tangling, plus helps keep your line from breaking when fighting larger catfish.
I’ve never once had a swivel “fail” on me in all the years I’ve been fishing and guiding. There’s no need to buy expensive swivels in my opinion.
Larger swivels like a size 1/0, #1 or #2 swivel in either barrel or rolling swivels will serve the purposes you need for all species of catfish.
There’s a variety of brands on the market and always consider buying in bulk to save money.
A step up in performance from barrel swivels are ball bearing swivels.
Ball-bearing swivels are generally more durable than barrel swivels and offer smoother performance helping to further reduce line twists and kinks.
Ball-bearing swivels also command a higher price than barrel swivels.
In most instances, a ball bearing swivel won’t be needed but these higher performance swivels are popular among tournament anglers and trophy hunters.
What you need these for: Virtually every catfish rig you use will require the use of a barrel swivel.
The sinker slide has a snap swivel and the design allows the sinker slide (and sinker) to move freely up and down the line, The snap swivel allows quick and easy changes of sinkers if you need to swap sizes or styles.
If you’re catfishing in changing conditions sinker slides are a great choice as they give you the ability to adjust the amount of weight without having to change rigs, cut line and tie new knots. You simply open the snap swivel on the sinker slide and swap weights.
If you fish in various currents, or changing weather conditions changing the amount of weight can be a frequent task. Sinker slides make these changes quick and easy. They also work great for attaching slinky weights or snagless drift fishing sinkers to the mainline.
Sinker slides also provide a quick and easy way for you to remove weights when you’re done fishing.
Several ounces of weight on your catfish rigs bouncing around, banging into your fishing rods can do damage when transporting your catfishing gear.
Being able to quickly and easily remove weights makes this problem a thing of the past.
Get more information on the Whisker Seeker Tackle quick-release sinker slides.
What you need these for: Adjusting weight quickly and easily, excellent for drift fishing.
Foam Peg Floats
Peg floats used for the “Santee rig” or “Santee cooper rig”, an excellent rig for catching catfish of all species using a variety of techniques
The small float is added to the leader line a few inches above the hook to help lift the bait up off the bottom. The addition of the float helps keep the bait out of the mud and sediment which often gets baits into a better position to get more bites.
Foam peg floats are also used for a variety of other catfish rigs.
Peg floats come in standard and slotted styles.
Standard floats must be threaded on the line during rigging.
Slotted peg floats have a slit running from end to end and you insert a peg into both ends to “pin” the float on the leader.
Slotted foam peg floats are preferred by many anglers as they allow for quick changes to add and remove floats to your catfishing rigs.
When you snag and even when catching large catfish it’s common for the foam floats to get crushed and damaged. Using a slotted float allows you to quickly and easily replace them without having to cut lines and tie new knots.
Peg floats come in a variety of sizes but 2” and 3” are your best choices. The 2” size will work fine for small to medium size cats. If you’re targeting trophy catfish then consider increasing to the 3” size to provide extra floatation for larger cut baits.
For the best price buy, peg floats in packages of 100 instead of small consumer packaging. You’ll save substantially buying in large packages instead of the small consumer packages with 3-4 floats per package.
For a peg float “on steroids” check out the Whisker Seeker Tackle foam peg floats available in 2” and 2.5” sizes and a variety of colors.
Most peg floats are made from styrofoam which breaks down and is easily damaged. Whisker Seeker Tackle peg floats are constructed from durable EVA foam (similar to foam fishing rod handles) and much more durable than the styrofoam floats.
Whisker Seeker’s peg floats are more expensive than the traditional styrofoam peg floats but will last much longer also. If you’re not one to break off and lose catfish rigs frequently and are using a lot of floats because of damage the Whisker Seeker foam peg floats are a great option.
What you need these for: Santee cooper rigs, float rigs, and other catfish rigs to suspend baits slightly off the bottom.
Sinker Bumpers or Beads
The theory behind using a sinker bumper or bead is to keep the sinker from banging into the knot on the barrel swivel repeatedly, that this will cause the line or knot to weaken in this area and break. They also help terminal tackle to perform better in some instances, for example, they’re a must-have addition when using sinker slides or Versa Rattles.
If you’re fishing in heavy current or using large weights then it would be a good idea to use a bead or bumper on all of your catfish rigs.
Many of the big river catfish anglers also tell me they use these because the current banging the sinker into the swivel causes the line to weaken when using larger weights in heavy current.
There are many options available when it comes to beads. I use the Whisker Seeker Tackle Sinker Slide Bead Stops.
What you need these for: Rigging for drift fishing with sinker slides, rigging with heavier weights and fishing in current.
Weights (Sinkers) For Catfishing
I see people really getting caught up in what style weights to use and especially in sizes.
You can easily end up with dozens of different styles and sizes of weights.
Most of you won’t need this and will be able to accomplish most of what’s needed with a small selection of sinkers.
95% of my fishing is done with the same rigs each and every time and in the event I decide to “branch out” and use something else, the same weights work.
You shouldn’t have a need for huge varieties of sinker styles and sizes in your tackle box.
No Roll Sinkers
No roll sinkers are a staple catfishing gear item and one of the most popular (if not the most popular) sinker style for catfishing.
A no roll sinker works much like an egg sinker, sliding up and down the line when fishing with a slip sinker rig or a Santee rig. Rather than being round it’s flat on two sides.
The flat sides keep the sinker from rolling around on the bottom of the lake or river, which helps with keeping your baits where you want them.
Targeting structure is a common technique for fishing for blue catfish.
You’ll cast your baits on ledges and other changes in the bottom structure. Egg sinkers will roll around and move making it difficult to keep a “tight line”.
The no roll sinker will hold much better and stay in place, helping you maintain proper bait placement.
They also assist when fishing on level ground with a tight line because the sinker will not roll around.
What you need these for: Fishing on anchor with the slip sinker rig, santee rig or any other rig where you want your bait to “stay put”.
Split Shot Sinkers
Split shot sinkers are a staple in my channel catfish tackle.
The most effective rig I use for channel catfish is the Secret Catfish Rig.
Slip bobbers are also a popular and effective way to rig for channel catfish.
Regardless which rig you’re using for channel catfish split shot sinkers are a good item to have on hand.
I only use a size 1 for the Secret Catfish Rig but each and every angler is different and it’s a good idea to keep an assortment of split shot sinker sizes on hand.
What you need these for: Fishing for channel catfish with the Secret Catfish Rig or a slip bobber rig. You may find occasion to use them with other catfish rigs as well.
Drift Fishing Sinkers
Drift fishing is a common technique for blue catfish and channel catfish.
Traditional drift fishing involves dragging baits across the bottom to catch fish.
Through the process of dragging baits, you’ll come across all sorts of unruly stuff on the bottom to hang up on.
Sticks, stumps, trees, roots and just about everything else imaginable will cause you to hang up and break your fishing line.
Some bodies of water are worse than others when it comes to hanging up but even in the bodies of water with the “cleanest” bottoms, you’re going to get hung up.
One way to minimize the number of hang-ups when drift fishing is to use snagless drift fishing sinkers.
Despite their name, they’re a far cry from being snagless but they do help to greatly reduce the “hang-ups” when you are drift fishing and will save you a LOT of fishing tackle (and frustration).
If you like to “tinker” and don’t mind spending the time to make sinkers you can make your own snagless drift fishing sinkers.
The DIY snagless sinkers can be made in a variety of ways.
The simplest version way is to take small egg sinkers and string them on a piece of monofilament fishing line and add a barrel swivel on one end.
Some anglers like to go an extra step and dip the ends of the sinkers in Plastidip to add a rubberized coating or to use heat shrink tubing to encase the string of sinkers.
Other alternatives for snag-free sinkers include using paracord or hollow-core shoe strings stuffed with weights or lead shot.
- These are easy to make also but stuffing the cord or string with lead can be somewhat tedious.
- Simply fill the cord or shoestring with your desired weight, melt the ends with a lighter and smash them closed while they’re hot.
- Use a needle to poke a hole in one end while the material is still hot, add a snap swivel and you’re done!
- Just be careful with the melted ends so you don’t burn yourself.
What you need these for: Fishing for channel catfish and blue catfish drift fishing using a variety of rigs.
What Size Weights Do You Need?
I’m constantly questioned on how much weight should be used for catfish rigs.
You can ask ten anglers about weights and will get a variety of different responses on how much weight you should use.
The justifications for this are nothing short of comical. The only thing more amusing is people trying to explain why they’re fishing with 100-pound test fishing line for catfish.
There are times when catfish are feeding fast and furious and it doesn’t matter what you throw at them, they’re going to come along like an underwater freight train and hit it.
There are also times where the fish will be much more fickle and will play around with a bait or “peck at it” more.
I could fill pages with “how’s and why’s” of fishing weights and all of my observations over the years but this book is about catfish tackle.
Here’s some simple tips to help you when choosing weights:
Channel catfish are finicky and it is common for them to do what I call the “mealy mouth” with the bait and just swim up and kind of suck on the bait or play around with it.
They also have a tendency to hit very quickly and then be “gone”.
If you don’t set the hook immediately when they start playing around with the bait, you’re not going to get another opportunity.
This is why the Secret Catfish Rig works so well because you can tell exactly what is going on with your bait.
I talk about this in-depth in both the Secret Catfish Rig books and the Summer Channel Catfish Technique books so if you want to learn all of the “juicy” details check them out.
Regardless, when fishing for channel catfish you’ll catch much more fish when you use the minimum amount of weight possible in most instances.
Blue and Flathead Catfish
Blue catfish and flathead catfish often require a much different approach than that used for channel catfish.
For the most part, blues and flatheads are not “weight shy”.
I’ve encountered situations over the years where blue catfish seemed to be affected by having too much weight on the line. Reducing the weight resulted in increased catch ratios when fishing for smaller 1-10 lb “box fish”.
Unless you’re fishing in current using a weight that is 1.5 to 2 ounces is more than sufficient in most instances and provides a good balance between casting distance, keeping your baits where you want them and still hooking fish.
General Weight Selection Guidelines
There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to weights, the style you should use or size.
There are so many variables that it would be impossible for me to cover every single scenario.
In lakes, reservoirs and small to medium-sized rivers fishing from a boat 1.5 to 2 ounces of weight is the perfect amount for me targeting blues and flatheads.
When fishing for channel catfish I always use the minimal amount of weight possible, which is a very small split shot.
The more weight you use the further you’ll be able to cast.
This may be critical if you’re fishing from the shore and need to cast long distances or even need to cast long distances from a boat.
If you are fishing in current, moving water, or even drift fishing in high wind then more weight may need to be used to either keep the baits in your chosen location or keep the baits on the bottom.
Regardless of which species of catfish you are fishing for, whether you’re fishing from a boat or from the shore, the best approach is going to be to use the least amount of weight possible, while still achieving your casting distance and ability hold your baits in the proper location.
Be aware of weight and the fact that it can have an impact on how many fish you’re catching. If you’re getting short strikes or missing fish, you may need to adjust the amount of weight you’re using.
Again, blue catfish and flathead catfish are much less of a problem when it comes to shying away from the weight. It can be an issue at times so be aware of it and make adjustments as needed.
Floats (Bobbers) For Catfish
Floats, bobbers or corks are all the same thing. Regardless of what you call them, they’re used for keeping bait off the bottom and can be an incredibly effective way to fish for channel catfish and on some occasions blue and flathead catfish also.
There’s a few main essentials to keep in your tackle box.
Before you start buying floats for channel catfish check out the Secret Catfish Rig.
I use this for channel catfish and it’s the most effective rig available. Not only will it catch more fish than anything you can buy, but it will save you money as well.
The Secret Catfish Rig will make a huge difference in the amount of fish you catch, especially when fishing for channel catfish because it allows you to detect the ultra-light bite of channel catfish.
Many anglers report catching as many as 500% more fish when using the Secret Catfish Rig instead of a slip bobber.
A slip bobber is used in place of a traditional float that “clips” in place on the fishing line. Slip bobbers slide up and down the line instead of being in a fixed position. By placing a bobber stop on the line above the slip bobber you set the depth you’re fishing.
Depth is adjustable by moving the bobber stop which can be reeled on the fishing reel with the line. This allows you to move the bobber stop and fish with a slip bobber in water that’s any depth, deep or shallow.
Using a bobber or float with a fixed position would be impossible in deeper water, but not with a slip bobber.
The best slip bobbers I’ve found for channel catfish are also the cheapest, the Durafoam Slip Float made by Comal Tackle Company. These are light and sensitive and work well for smaller fish.
For larger catfish (or even alligator gar) I like the Whisker Seeker Tackle slip floats. These are larger and heavier weighted slip floats and excel when using larger baits.
You’ll also need bobber stops when fishing with slip floats. It’s possible to make your own bobber stops if you’re willing to put forth the effort. I’ve always purchased mine ready to use as the thought of sitting around making small knots doesn’t appeal to me. Ready to fish bobber stops are very inexpensive.
There’s much more information on rigging a slip bobber here.
What you need these for: Fishing for channel catfish, occasionally blue catfish and flathead catfish. Slip bobbers work great for keeping bait off the bottom and suspending baits near cover or structure. When fishing for channel catfish the better option in most instances is the Secret Catfish Rig.
Round Weighted Foam Floats
Round weighted foam floats are much like “traditional bobbers”, the red and white plastic floats that clip in a fixed position on the fishing line.
These floats are made from dura foam and have weight built into them. The additional weight aids with casting longer distances and with casting accuracy. Durafoam makes them much more durable also.
The disadvantage of floats such as these is you can’t fish deeper water because they attach to the line. You can use these style bobbers when fishing the bait one to four feet below the float.
The techniques for using these style floats are limited but if you plan on doing any “splat fishing” you’ll want to have some of these in your catfishing gear.
What you need these for: Fishing for blue catfish or channel catfish in shallower water when using “splat fishing” techniques or when you don’t require a lot of sensitivity to detect light bites.
Catfish Fishing Line
Fishing line is the critical link when it comes to landing fish.
The goal when choosing a fishing line is to find something heavy enough that is capable of landing the fish but still light enough to maintain performance.
Catfish anglers have a tendency to go way overboard and make a lot of poor decisions when it comes to fishing line for catfish. This is most often because they don’t understand how their fishing reel drag system works and what it’s capable of.
I fish in lakes, reservoirs and small rivers with very little current.
I prefer the monofilament fishing line for most of my fishing. There’s a time and place for catfishing with braided line but my rule is to use braid only when I absolutely have to.
“Splash” the 121 Lb Texas State Record blue catfish, and former world record blue catfish, was caught on 20-pound test monofilament fishing line.
The current world record catfish caught in Virginia in 2011 weighed 143 pounds and was caught on 30-pound test monofilament fishing line.
Catching monster cats on monofilament fishing line that has a break strength that’s a fraction of the weight of the fish is all possible due to a smooth drag system on the fishing reel and having it set properly.
Now, I will be the first to admit that there are a time and place for braided fishing line. If you are fishing in deep heavy cover with lots of nasty stuff that could break your line, then braid is a good line to use. I still don’t use it though and I rarely have problems losing fish.
Fishing Line For Channel Catfish
If you’re targeting larger channel catfish skip down to the suggestions for fishing line for blue and flathead catfish.
Most of my time spent targeting channel catfish is focused on catching numbers of fish quickly using prepared bait.
Ten to twelve-pound monofilament fishing line is more than sufficient for most channel catfish when targeting numbers of channel catfish.
I like this lighter weight monofilament fishing line because it is heavy enough that it can handle the biggest channel catfish we generally catch plus gives me some extra cushion. It’s also light and flexible enough that it’s easy to fish with using finesse fishing techniques.
This 12-pound test line is heavy enough it doesn’t snap easily and still small enough in diameter that I can still fill my 5500C3 fishing reel with a good amount of fishing line.
Nearly 100% of the fishing I do for channel catfish is done with the Secret Catfish Rig. I use this rig because it is more sensitive than any other rig and it puts more fish in the boat.
When “finesse fishing” I rely on being able to get baits in very specific areas to produce fish and the 12-pound test fishing line provides a good balance between strength and casting ability.
You can certainly use heavier fishing line than 12 lb test for channel catfish but I have never found a need to. This heavier line also does not fit into the techniques I use finesse fishing for channel catfish with the Secret Catfish Rig.
Line For Blues, Flatheads and Big Channels
Targeting blue and flathead catfish can mean different things to different people. When fishing for blue and flathead cats the size catfish I’m targeting can vary greatly based on time of year, why my clients want to catch, and their fishing skill level.
Simply put I fish for everything from smaller one to ten-pound blue catfish up to trophy class blues and flatheads.
When targeting smaller catfish there’s always a chance of hooking into larger ones as well so you have to be versatile and ready.
When you target and hook big catfish, fishing line is critical.
It’s important when fishing for smaller fish also but when it comes to big trophy class cats, good fishing line is critical.
I use 20 to 30-pound test monofilament and most everyone I know that’s catfishing in lakes and reservoirs does as well (as do many of the river anglers). Most often I’m using 20-pound test monofilament line, I generally try to avoid using anything heavier if possible.
These 20 to 30-pound test monofilament fishing lines will do anything you need them to do when catfishing if used correctly.
I have caught or watched my clients catch countless numbers of trophy blue catfish over the years and have never once had the fishing line “snap” while reeling a big catfish in.
If you have the drag properly set on your fishing reel and use it correctly you’ll never have any issues with these fishing lines.
The Hi-Vis Advantage
Fishing line color is often overlooked and misunderstood in the catfish world. Anglers have been beaten over the head for years with propaganda from tackle companies about stealth fishing lines and different degrees of “invisible” line.
Every tackle company that manufactures fishing lines is on a constant quest to produce a product that’s less visible in the water than the next.
I won’t dispute the importance of fishing line color and it being invisible when fishing for bass, crappie or any other species of fish, they’re not my cup of tea.
I’ll tell you this though…… catfish are not line shy.
I’m not claimed they can’t see or cannot see well because they can see better than most people give them credit for.
I’m telling you that they’re not line shy and you’re not going to catch any fewer fish because you’re using a high visibility fishing line that can be seen in the water really well.
In fact, not only will these hi-visibility fishing lines not hurt you’re catch rates, they’ll actually help you catch more catfish!
There’s a variety of options on the market today in bright green, yellow, orange and every other color under the rainbow. The actual color you choose is not as important as you having the ability to easily see the fishing line.
No two people are the same, everyone’s eyes are different and what really “pops” and stands out for one person may not for the next. Just make sure when choosing a fishing line for catfish you pick something that’s hi-visibility and easy for you to see while fishing.
When fishing for blue and flathead catfish it’s common practice to fish with multiple rods at one time. It’s not uncommon for many anglers to have ten rods or more in the water at any given time.
When you have multiple rods in the water it’s important to understand where the lines are at all times, and understand where they are in relation to each other, it doesn’t matter if you are drift fishing or anchored.
In an ideal world, all catfish would take the bait and swim directly away from the fishing rod in a straight line but that happens a small portion of the time.
Successful anglers understand this and use high visibility fishing line to their advantage.
It’s common for fish to take the bait and run in any direction including sideways or towards the fishing rod. Being able to clearly see the fishing line and what’s taking place is critical to knowing when you’re getting a bite.
If the line all of the sudden goes slack, it’s a good indication that a fish has hit, or something has hit and is moving towards the fishing rod.
If a line moves left or right, something has hit and is swimming sideways with the bait.
Often times the only way to tell this is by seeing the line in relation to other lines in the water.
In addition, keeping a tight line can be critical, especially if fishing with circle hooks or relying on a bait clicker to alert you.
With high visibility fishing line you can easily see your lines and constantly monitor them, not only for a tight line but also for an alert that will help you land your next fish.
I’ve used a wide variety of fishing lines over the years including yellow Team Catfish Tug-O-War Monofilament line, yellow Bass Pro Shops Offshore Angler Line, green and yellow Ande Monofilament and a variety of others.
I’ve been using hi-visbility orange monofilament fishing line for the past several months.
I’m currently using the Whisker Seeker Tackle Sunburst Orange fishing line.
What you need this for: Should be pretty self-explanatory. You’re going to have a heck of a time catching fish without fishing line.
Braided Fishing Line For Catfish
Braided fishing line is the most overused pieces of fishing tackle and catfishing gear there is.
The number of people that use braided fishing lines always amazes me and the size of fishing line they use is even more baffling. I constantly see references to people using braided fishing line that’s one hundred pound test or more when fishing for catfish.
I’m not saying there’s not a time and place for the use of braided fishing line because there certainly is. What I am saying is it’s used way more than it’s needed and if you don’t really need it then don’t use it.
Don’t think that because you could catch an 80-pound catfish you need to use 80-pound fishing line.
The current world record blue catfish that weighed 143 pounds was caught on thirty-pound test monofilament fishing line.
The current Texas state record blue catfish and former world record of 121 pounds was caught on twenty-pound test monofilament fishing line.
The drag system on most popular fishing reels used for catfish like Abu Garcia Ambassadeur fishing reels has a maximum resistance of approximately fifteen pounds.
When you begin using super lines that are larger than thirty-pound test the only thing you’re gaining is additional abrasion resistance, nothing more.
There was a point before I became a guide that I thought braided line was the greatest thing ever but I learned some valuable lessons along the way.
My take on braided line is most anglers don’t need it and it should always be used as a last resort.
Braided fishing line is very expensive, and you can easily pay 2-3 times more for braided line over monofilament.
Braided line has no stretch, so it is very hard on fishing reels and if you are not careful you can damage your reels when trying to break the fishing line or free from a snag.
Continued heavy long term use of braided line will also damage fishing rods. I threw away a dozen fishing rods because the braided line had worn a groove into the rod eyes which caused the line to snap every time I set the hook on a fish. That “groove” in the eyes was like a razor when it came in contact with the fishing line.
Last but not least, braid does not cast or perform as well as monofilament.
There are some advantages to using a braided fishing line.
If you’re fishing in big rivers with heavy current, braid is a great choice because you get a higher tensile line with a smaller diameter, which helps the line cut through current. This aids with keeping the line tight and having the current carry it off.
If you’re fishing in areas with heavy snags, rocks or timber and need additional abrasion resistance then braided fishing lines are a great option as they’ll hold up better than monofilament.
If you need additional sensitivity or line with no stretch then braided super lines are a great option as you can feel more with them. This can be important when fishing deep water where you need to feel the bite at the first touch from the fish or need to set the hook quickly with no stretch in the fishing line.
If you’re catfishing in these situations then you very well need braided fishing line to be part of you’re catfishing gear but don’t just use because you “think” you should. You’ll be wasting money, it’s much harder to fish with and much harder on your catfish rods and reels.
I don’t use braid anymore than I have to and usually when I do I use it when targeting catfish in deeper water fishing vertical so I have the benefit of increased sensitivity and no stretch.
I’ve been using Whisker Seeker Tackle High Visibility Sunburst Orange Braid for my braided fishing line.
Leader Line For Catfish Rigs
Most of the catfish rigs you’ll use will involve leader line.
I rarely use a leader line for channel catfish as I target numbers of smaller fish most often but when fishing for blue and flathead catfish I always use a leader line, and you should also!
Leader line is traditionally a piece of monofilament fishing line that is heavier than your main line. It’s traditionally clear fishing line so it also helps offset any concerns about the use of hi-visibility fishing lines.
The purpose of leader line is:
To have a clear piece of monofilament fishing line on the end of your high visibility line
Serve as a “shock absorber” for the fishing line. The use of heavier leader line (and a properly set drag) allows you to land fish that are much heavier than the break strength of your main fishing line).
Provide additional abrasion resistance so the line doesn’t break. The inside of the mouth on a catfish is very rough (like sandpaper) and the mouth rubbing up against lightweight fishing line can cause the line to snap.
Connect the hook to the swivel. Without the use of a swivel, the fish can “roll” the line up putting it under tension, causing it to snap.
Most catfish anglers use either 50 or 60-pound test clear monofilament or fluorocarbon fishing line for their leaders on catfish rigs.
I’ve never had a leader line break and I see no need to use anything heavier than 60-pound test for leaders.
What you need this for: Attaching between your hook and your swivel, providing abrasion resistance and acting as a “shock absorber”.
I’m currently using Whisker Seeker 60 Lb Test leader line.
Catfish Lures and Rigs
The first time I ran across the “catfish lures” over at Whisker Seeker Tackle I chuckled a bit. I remember seeing a reference on social media from another angler that had a similar feeling about them.
I’d heard the term “catfish lures” used on occasion but never seen anything actually marketed as an actual catfish lure and dismissed the product as some sort of gimmick at first sight.
Fast forward a few months, Matthew Davis the owner of Whisker Seeker Tackle and I started talking often. This eventually lead to me working with him to develop the Chad Ferguson Signature Series Catfish with Whisker Seeker Tackle.
I realized in speaking with Matt that the Whisker Seeker catfish lures were something he used, he was passionate about them and how well they worked and truly believed in the product. I knew him well enough at that point that it caught my attention.
I think catfish anglers (myself included) haven’t begun to scratch the surface in terms of new and innovative techniques. This is especially true when it comes to how catfish react by sight, sound, and vibrations in the water.
Catfish have very sophisticated senses so it only makes sense that there are some baits and techniques that can be used to capitalize on that and catch more fish.
We all have tendency to be a little closed-minded at times as we get more experienced and start catching fish. I’ve really tried to change this myself the past couple of years and am “thinking outside the box” more in my approach, tackle and techniques.
I knew Matt well enough at that point that it opened my eyes and got me thinking so I had him send me some of the Whisker Seeker Float Rigs, Seekers and Rattlers.
I threw them in the boat, used a few, lost a few and caught some fish and never really put much thought into it at that point.
Then I started hearing some stories from some tournament anglers about the Whisker Seekers, that got the gears turning.
Then there was a particular tournament win that caught a lot of people’s attention. The team that won smoked the competition by a huge margin.
What wasn’t publicized at the time (and still hasn’t been made public) is they were fishing with Whisker Seeker lures during the tournament. There’s a longer story to it but through several conversations, I decided I needed to try a few new techniques and test the results.
I’ve been using the Whisker Seeker Rattlers, Seekers and Float Rigs for a while now and I’ve had some very interesting results.
I’m not going to claim that you must have these to go catfishing. I’ll say this though. I’ve had good results and using the catfish lures and continue to use them in a variety of techniques with great success.
The results have been impressive enough that I stocked an entire selection of various sizes, styles, and colors on my boat and will continue to use them.
I’ve got more questions than answers at this point and need more time fishing with the products to answer those questions. It’s something I’ll be following up on with more details in the future I’ve got some catfishing videos in the works also where I’ll cover some more on these products and their uses when catching cats,
Until that time I’ll leave it at this……
If you’re fishing for catfish and want to try something new, spending a few bucks on some of the Whisker Seeker Catfish Lures is money well spent. I’ve had good enough results to say it’s worth giving them a try in addition to your current catfish rigs and techniques. If you approach using them with an open mind you’ll likely be surprised with the results.
I like the following Whisker Seeker Tackle catfish lures and rigs based on what I’ve used so far.
X3 Rattlers (for bigger baits
Catfish Rig Rattles
I had such great success with the Whisker Seeker Tackle Catfish Rigs I began experimenting with sound and vibration in catfish rigs. I did a LOT of testing and found that catfish definitely respond to sound and vibration. I didn’t always want to use floats on my catfish rigs so I teamed up with Whisker Seeker Tackle to find a way to incorporate rattles into all my catfish rigs. That’s when we released the VersaRattle Catfish Rig Rattles.
There are days where the fish are very active and you won’t see a significant difference with rigs using rattles and those that don’t. Then there are days where catfish rigs that use rattles will catch every single fish and get all of the bites. I’ve learned enough and had rattles make such a difference in my fishing that I now use VersaRattle Catfish Rig Rattles on ALL of my catfish rigs.
Catfishing Gear Basics, “Other Stuff” You’ll Need
These are some of the basic accessories you should have on hand when fishing for catfish.
Having these accessories in your catfishing gear will make your fishing much easier and assure you’re prepared for anything you catch as well as make sure you have the right bait.
Needle Nose Pliers
Any old pair of needle nose pliers will work but pliers specifically for fishing generally have a longer nose. This helps aid in removing hooks more easily because you can get further into the mouth of the fish.
Fishing pliers are also traditionally made of stainless steel to help prevent rust. Traditional pliers that you buy at the hardware store will rust quickly and easily and become difficult to use.
If you’re looking for a better alternative than the traditional heavy stainless steel fishing pliers then look at aluminum fishing pliers.
Aluminum fishing pliers are much lighter in weight than traditional fishing pliers so they can be kept in your pocket for extended periods of time. They also typically have additional tools built into the pliers like braided line cutters and split ring tools but also carry a premium price.
I’ve seen aluminum fishing pliers selling for as much as $75 a pair. I’ve been using the ZiTrades Aluminum Fishing Plier for quite some time now and have several pairs. They’re the least expensive option I’ve found and I’ve had excellent results with them!
What you need this for: Removing hooks from fish, straightening or offsetting hooks, emergency repairs, you name it.
Lip grips are a device that “clamp” on to the mouth of the fish and aid in handling them.
When you start to handle large catfish on a regular basis you’ll learn very quickly that you need to have a pair of lip grips on hand.
The mouth of a catfish is very rough, like very coarse sandpaper. This course area runs along the inside of the mouth on the top and the bottom from left to right.
The larger the fish, the more coarse this area of the mouth is, and the more damage it can do (again one of the reasons you’ll use a heavier leader line than your mainline).
Blue catfish have a very powerful bite.
I’m not talking about being able to take a finger off, but when a big blue catfish bites down on your hand, you know it.
They can make you more than a little uncomfortable.
I used to handle large catfish with my hands. I’d hold them, take them off the hook, handle them in the boat while my clients had their pictures taken with them, and then handle them again when releasing them.
My hands and fingers looked like ground-up hamburger meat all the time. A lip grip is quite possibly the single best investment I’ve ever made in fishing gear.
I’m not sure why but nobody was using these “lip grips” back then, myself included.
One day my good friend Jackie Kennedy was on the boat with me removing a hook from a catfish.
In the process, the fish bit down on his finger and went into a “death roll”, rolling about three or four times while it clamped down on his finger.
It still makes me laugh after all these years. I laughed at that video for weeks, and still to this day laugh out loud every time I watch it.
It was a matter of days after filming that video that I was removing a hook from a big blue catfish and had one do the same thing to me. With mine, the corner of the hook caught my hand between my thumb and forefinger and the hook went all the way through my hand.
This wasn’t nearly as funny as what I’d filmed, never is when it happens to you.
Shortly after that, I invested in a pair of “lip grips” and now I keep several pairs on my boat at all times.
A pair of lip grips not only aids in handling bigger fish, releasing them and taking pictures with them, etc. but also provides an easy way to weigh these fish by simply latching the grip on their mouth and then attaching the scale to the grips.
There’s a variety of options available, just make sure you get something that’s well built and capable of handling large catfish.
Regardless of which style or brand you buy, having a good pair of these on hand will certainly make it much easier on you when landing, handling and releasing fish.
What you need this for: Handling and releasing big fish and weighing big fish
Scales For Weighing Catfish
Some people don’t care about how much a fish weighs and perfectly content with catching the fish and either throwing them in the live well or releasing them back into the water.
I don’t weigh all the fish my clients and I catch but when we catch nice trophy-class fish, I usually get a good weight.
Most fishing scales have a maximum capacity of 20 to 50 pounds because they’re geared towards traditional freshwater fishing. Most freshwater fish don’t get as big as catfish so these lighter weight scales are more than enough for many anglers.
If you’re fishing for catfish and targeting trophy class fish or fishing in waters where they’re present then larger scales are needed.
For years I carried fishing scales that had a capacity of up to 50 pounds, and we constantly caught fish that would exceed their capability.
I always hated putting big fish back in the water and not knowing the exact weight.
I always had to “make do” with scales that were too small and then I designed these scales with Whisker Seeker Tackle and was able to fix all of the issues I’d had with scales in the past. In short, they’re water-resistant, have folding arms for weighing large catfish, automatic beep when weight locks in, automatic shutoff and operate off AAA batteries.
What you need this for: Weighing fish
I don’t fish in other people’s boats very often but when I do it seems they never have hand towels in their boats and it drives me nuts.
Shad are slimy and nasty to handle and prepared baits are nasty as well. Then you add blood and guts from cut bait and catfish slime and you have a major mess on your hands (literally).
Keep a couple of hand towels around and use them to wipe your hands after you cut bait, bait hooks and after you handle fish and it will keep your boat and catfishing gear much cleaner.
The simple option is to use some old rags or cheap towels you have laying around. The downfall of these is you have to keep track of them or they’ll go flying out of the boat while driving.
A better option is to use fishing towels or golf towels like the Whisker Seeker Catfish Rag that have clips on them so you can attach them to your boat or even to your belt loop. These clips help keep your fishing towel handy and readily accessible. They also keep secured so you don’t lose them when driving across the lake.
What you need this for: Cleaning your hands after handling bait and fish, wiping up messes and wiping shad slime and scales off of your gear.
Fixed Blade Fillet Knife and Bait Knife
Every angler needs a good sharp fixed blade knife. You need something for cutting bait, fishing line and a variety of other items you’ll encounter while fishing.
Cut bait is a popular form of bait for catfish so you’ll need something to cut shad or other fish into chunks or sections and you may also want to fillet larger fish like carp, buffalo or drum as well.
You can also use these to fillet catfish if you want to keep a few to take home for a meal but the primary purpose is to cut bait!
Electric Fillet Knife
You can certainly use a traditional fixed blade fillet knife but my preference has always been an electric fillet knife.
An electric fillet knife makes cleaning fish a quick, painless process and if you follow my techniques for how to clean a catfish in 15 seconds you can really fly through the process of cleaning fish.
For years I used the American Angler Ultra MT knife and it is hands down the best electric fillet knife I’ve ever used but it’s no longer in production.
Since they stopped making the American Angler Ultra MT knife I’ve been trying a variety of knives, none of which come anywhere close to having the power or lasting as long as the American Angler Ultra MT.
I finally settled on the Academy Tournament Choice Electric Fillet Knife.
There’s nothing special about it, it’s not as powerful as my beloved MT3, it won’t last for extended periods of time under heavy use (for a weekend angler you’ll get a lot of life out of it) and there’s really no “wow factor” at but in a slough of mediocre electric fillet knives, it’s the best!
That’s not a knock on Academy. I love their store and they make good products. Judging from all of the products on the market, it’s hard to build an amazing product when it comes to electric fillet knives.
Here’s why I’m using the Academy Tournament Choice Electric Fillet Knife:
It’s cheap at a whopping $19.99 full price.
It works as well as all others on the market and significantly better than all of the other $20 to $30 options and it performs as well as the $50-$60 electric fillet knives on the market.
Academy stands behind any product with the Tournament Choice name on it (their store brand). I don’t abuse the fact that they do this but on occasion, I’ll have a knife that only lasts a couple of days. I take it back and they make it right!
It accepts the Mister Twister Fillet Knife Blades. That’s important. Keep reading and I’ll explain why.
If you are cleaning fish a couple of times a month these knives will last you a long time if you take care of them, make sure they don’t overheat and use good sharp knife blades.
I’ve found over the years that 12-volt fillet knives lack power and also don’t hold up as well as 110 fillet knives.
Obviously you may not have a 110 power supply where you are cleaning fish. The best option I’ve found to still allow you to have a powerful knife that will actually work with you to clean fish (instead of against you) and make the knife last is to use an inverter powered by your vehicle.
You can then run the knife off the inverter and still use a 110 knife for cleaning catfish.
What you need this for: Cleaning catfish.
Replacement Blades For Electric Fillet Knives
The key to speed and efficiency when cleaning catfish and making your knives last longer is using good sharp blades.
The Mister Twister 9” electric fillet knife blades are my “go-to” blades.
When I buy a knife that does not come with these blades any other blades are given away or thrown in the trash. I will not clean fish with anything else.
Having a long flexible blade is essential to the process of cleaning fish. Check out how to clean a catfish in 15 seconds for more details.
What you need this for: Cleaning fish, replacing dull or worn blades
Game shears are big heavy-duty scissors used by hunters for processing game. After years of fighting with knives and trying to cut up boney fish like carp, drum, and buffalo I had a brainstorm one day and decided to start using a pair of game shears to cut bait.
Not only is it easier to cut through the bones and thick flesh of these fish when you’re making cut bait but it’s also much safer to use game shears also.
I have several different pairs but my favorites are the Gerber Take-A-Part Game Shears.
The difference between these and other game shears is they come apart, which makes it a breeze to clean when you get them caked up with fish scales, blood and guts from cutting up fish.
What you need this for: Cutting up fish for cut bait. Can also be used for cutting fishing line.
Walk into any bait and tackle shop and you will see an assortment of scissors, nail clippers and other devices for cutting fishing line. There are unlimited options including everything with expensive brand names on them to “fishing line clippers” with retractable lanyards.
You need a good pair of line scissors on hand at all times for making catfish rigs, cutting fishing line and various other tasks.
You can pick these up for less than $3 through Wal-Mart, an office supply store or on Amazon.
What you need this for: Cutting fishing line, tying catfish rigs, etc.
If you’re going to fish for blue catfish you’ll most likely be using either freshly caught whole baitfish like shad or skipjack herring or some form of cut bait like cut up carp, buffalo or drum (or even cut shad or skipjack).
Keeping this bait fresh is critical so you’ll want a way to keep it cool at all times, even while you’re fishing.
I have seen a variety of specialized “bait coolers” on the market alleging to be the latest and greatest thing for storing bait. You don’t need these. This is another example of a lack of marketable products and a tackle company attempting to find something to sell you.
I do suggest you have some sort of dedicated bait cooler so you can keep your food and drinks separate from your bait. There’s nothing worse than reaching into the ice chest to grab a cold drink only to find it’s covered in shad slime or having your ham sandwich stink like fish.
Any old ice chest will work for a bait cooler. I like a smaller cooler that is 20 to 28 quarts in size. These are small enough that they don’t take up a lot of space but still provide enough room for several bags of bait and a full bag of ice to get you through the day.
When buying any cooler for fishing, make sure that the lid attaches to the cooler on one side. Many coolers have lids that are not attached and this is a recipe for disaster when transporting them in the beds of trucks and on boats. I’ve got an endless collection of coolers with no lids.
An even better option is a durable five-day cooler like those from Brute Outdoors. I’ve been using these for years and can’t say enough good things about them.
You’ll pay more upfront for a heavy-duty five-day cooler like the Brute Outdoors Cooler but will save money in the long run.
They’re super tough so you won’t be tearing them up and replacing them frequently like the cheap coolers from the big box stores.
They also hold ice for days, a huge step above the cheap coolers. I’ve held ice in my Brute Outdoors coolers for over well over a week at times. The savings on ice alone quickly pays for the cooler.
You can use the coupon code CATCHCATFISH for a discount on Brute Outdoors coolers at checkout.
What you need this for: Storing fresh fish for bait.
A big box of large Ziplock bags is a staple in my boat and definitely something to keep on hand.
If you’re going to target blue catfish fresh shad, skipjack herring or cut bait will be used and you’ll want to keep this bait as fresh as possible. To do so, you’ll need to keep your bait cool (in your bait cooler).
You never want the bait to come in direct contact with the ice because it washes away the blood, slime and amino acids that make the bait attractive to fish.
Keeping your bait in a Ziplock bag is the simplest way to keep it cool and from coming into direct contact with the ice in your bait cooler.
If you plan on keeping some catfish for the dinner table now and then you’ll want some Ziplock bags to transport your fresh fillets also.
What you need this for: Storing shad and other fresh bait, transporting fillets
Catfish Landing Net
The first time you hook into a decent-sized blue catfish without a landing net you’ll understand why you need one.
Landing trophy class catfish without a landing net is “interesting” to say the least. It’s certainly possible to do but having a good landing net will make the job much easier.
If you’re primarily fishing for smaller channel catfish then you can get by without a net. If you plan on fishing for blues or flatheads you’ll need a landing net capable of doing the job.
Most landing nets on the market are geared towards bass fishermen or anglers who target smaller fish. Make sure to choose carefully when you’re shopping for a catfish landing net.
Make sure you choose a large landing net.
The opening in most nets are way too small and make it very difficult to easily scoop up a large catfish. Having a large net opening and a deep net capable of landing big fish easily is critical.
I also prefer to have a net with a handle that collapses or folds up as it saves a tremendous amount of room in the boat when not in use.
I’m currently using the Ranger Octagonal Handle “Big Game” Landing Net from Amazon.
The Ranger “Big Game” Landing Net has the following specifications:
- 48-Inch Handle
- 34 x 31-Inch Hoop
- 48-Inch Net Depth
- Lifetime Warranty
Best of all this net is available from Amazon and ships free with two-day shipping with Amazon Prime.
What you need this for: Landing big catfish
To be a successful blue catfish angler you’ll need fresh bait. Learning how to find, pattern and catch shad or skipjack herring is one of the single biggest steps you can take to start being successful catching blue catfish.
In lakes, rivers, and reservoirs where shad is the primary food source threadfin shad or gizzard shad is without fail the best bait for blue catfish. Frozen bait is mediocre at best, you’ll probably catch a few fish with it but fresh bait will always out fish frozen bait.
Simply put, if you are going to fish for blue catfish:
- You need a cast net
- You need to know how to throw your cast net
- You need to know how to pattern shad
- You need to know how to catch shad
There are many variables when it comes to choosing the right cast net including:
- When you’re going to be using it
- Where you are going to be using it
- What you want to catch with it (i.e. threadfin or gizzard shad and what size).
Learn everything you need to know about choosing the right cast net and then make sure you’re using the right cast net for the task at hand.
I use Bait Buster Cast Nets because they’re an excellent quality cast net, they’re heavy (which really matters at certain times of the year) and the unique Dragon Head Swivel design makes repairs much easier than other nets on the market.
Once you’ve got a good cast net make sure you take the time to season or prepare it so it will be easier to use and work better.
From there all you need to do is learn how to pattern and catch shad and you’ll be on your way to catching catfish!
What you need this for: Catching fresh shad for bait for blue catfish
If you are keeping fish you’ll want to make sure you have a simple system for keeping track of how many fish you’ve kept. Even if you’re releasing all of your fish many anglers want to track how many they’ve caught in a day.
Most states have a “limit” on how many catfish you can legally keep and if you exceed that limit you’re breaking the law, which usually comes with a hefty fine.
Every time you put a fish in the ice chest or live well, you push the button on the tally counter to keep track of the number of fish kept or caught and you have a good running total to refer back to.
I’ve tried a number of different ways to keep track of the number of fish caught over the years and always fall back on using a tally counter as it’s a simple, inexpensive method for keeping count.
When the fishing is fast and furious like covered in the Spring Blue Catfish Techniques and Summer Channel Catfish Techniques books you need a simple, reliable way for tracking because more often than not you’ll be catching fish at a rapid pace.
What you need this for: Keeping track of the number of fish caught or kept
The Working Tackle Box System
These are my “working tackle boxes” that I use all day long when fishing.
I have a box for channel catfish, a box for blue catfish and a “surplus” box that holds extra tackle for both species.
The Channel Catfish Tackle Box
The following items are stored in my channel catfish box.
The box itself is a Plano Waterproof Stowaway Box Model 3640
Items in the box are:
- 1/0 Barrel Swivels
- Size 1 Split Shot Sinkers For The Secret Channel Catfish Rig
- Felt Hat Cleaning Sponge
- Surgical Tubing For The Secret Channel Catfish Rig
- # 6 4X Strong Treble Hooks
- 5/0 Team Catfish Double Action Circle Hooks
- Size 3/0 Kahle Hooks
- Size #4 4X Strong Treble Hooks
- Silica Gel Packets (Absorbs moisture and prevents rust)
- Bobber Stops
Blue and Flathead Catfish Tackle Box
The following items are stored in my channel catfish box.
The box itself is a Plano Waterproof Stowaway Box Model 3640
Items included in the box are:
- 1/0 Barrel Swivels
- 7/0 Daiichi Circle Chunk Light Hooks
- 8/0 Team Catfish Double Action Hooks
- 1.5 Ounce No Roll Sinkers
- 2 Ounce No Roll Sinkers
- 4/0 Kahle Hooks
- Team Catfish Sinker Slides
- Team Catfish Sinker Bumpers
- Silica Gel Packets
- 2” Slotted Cigar Peg Floats
Bulk Storage Box
My “bulk storage box” stays in my boat at all times. I keep extra tackle to restock my working tackle boxes in the “bulk storage box” as well as my other tackle and tools that will not fit into the “working tackle boxes”.
I carry a surplus of hooks, weights and swivels in here. It is rare that I don’t have enough to get through the day using my working tackle boxes but I always keep plenty of extra items in this book “just in case”.
I only keep a surplus of “essential” items that I use a LOT of and don’t keep excess tackle for low usage items.
Here’s what I keep in my bulk storage box:
The box used for the overflow tackle is a Plano Deep Dry Storage Box
- Secret Catfish Rigs (Ready To Fish)
- 1/0 Barrel Swivels
- # 6 4X Strong Treble Hooks
- 7/0 Daiichi Circle Chunk Light Hooks
- 8/0 Team Catfish Double Action Hooks
- 1.5 Ounce No Roll Sinkers
- 2 Ounce No Roll Sinkers
- Team Catfish Sinker Slides
- Team Catfish Sinker Bumpers
- 2” Slotted Cigar Peg Floats
- Round Weighted Foam Float For Splat Fishing
- Stainless Steel Fishing Pliers
- Team Catfish Lip Grip
- American Weigh H110 Digital Scales
- Gerber Game Shears
- Cheap Scissors
- Leader Line (40-50 Lb)
Creature Comforts – The “Other Stuff”
These are some of the other items you should consider when fishing for catfish. These are good general fishing items that will work in a variety of applications fishing for any species but items that many anglers don’t consider when they’re purchasing catfishing gear.
A good pair of polarized sunglasses takes the glare off the water and allows you to see below the surface. This gives you the ability to see fish and bait below the surface which greatly helps your fishing abilities.
This is especially true in shallow water. When you can see what the fish are doing you tailor your approach to their activity and start catching more fish.
There are a variety of polarized sunglasses available in all price ranges. You can spend as little as $10 or as much as $200 (or more) depending on the brand and style you choose.
Is there a difference between cheap polarized sunglasses and the expensive pairs?
Yes, there is.
Good polarized sunglasses give you a much clearer view of what’s taking place below the surface of the water. Different lens colors also help with clarity based on the conditions. I prefer mirrored blue or mirrored green lenses for fishing in freshwater.
Costa Fathom is my “go-to” sunglass for fishing and everyday wear. They do an excellent job taking the glare off the water and are very clear. This in addition to being a very comfortable, durable pair of sunglasses. They’re hands down the best sunglasses I’ve ever owned and backed by an excellent warranty.
You can get a great deal on Costa Fathom’s here.
Regardless of what brand or style you choose, make sure you have a good pair polarized sunglasses while you’re fishing.
They’ll not only help you see more and catch more fish but will help protect your eyes from harmful UV rays.
What you need this for: Taking the glare off the water and providing a clear view of what’s below the surface, including shad and fish!
Everyone loves fishing pictures and loves to hold on to their memories of successful fishing trips. Whether you’re fishing for a big mess of “numbers” of fish or that trophy class blue catfish of a lifetime you’ll want pictures of your catch.
In today’s digital age almost everyone has a camera with them on their cell phone. The iPhone has a great built-in camera that is capable of taking great pictures and video and there’s no need for an extra camera for many people.
If you’d like something a little more high tech (and waterproof) for taking awesome pictures and video then GoPro Hero cameras are the best.
The GoPro hero is capable of taking still photos and video and can even be set to take several still photos each second so you can capture all the action.
You also have the option of a variety of mounts, including wearing the camera on your head, which makes for some great action still shots and video.
I’ve got GoPro cameras mounted all around my catfish boat to capture the action when catching catfish and some of my best photos and videos come from the GoPro hero.
GoPro is constantly releasing new models and accessories with the most recent being the Hero 8 Black.
What you use this for: Taking still shots and action videos of your fishing trip
Cooler For Fish, Drinks and Food
Obviously you’ll want some food and drinks to keep you well-nourished and hydrated while fishing. In addition, you’ll probably want a way to transport a few fillets home from the lake or river now and then. You may even want a way to keep a few frothy adult beverages around for the end of your fishing trip.
Many anglers who are keeping catfish for the dinner table also prefer to put their fish directly on ice in a cooler instead of on a stringer or in a live well.
Regardless of what your plans are, you will want to have a good ice chest or cooler on hand.
Depending on whether you fish from the shore or a boat, how far you have to walk and how much storage space you have you need to adjust the size of the cooler to your specific situation.
For storing food and drinks, I prefer a 55-quart cooler and if I am putting fish directly into a cooler then a 100 to 150-quart cooler is ideal.
After years of using cheap coolers and tearing up as many as five or six of them in a year I broke down and got a five-day cooler from Brute Outdoors.
These coolers are built much heavier than traditional ice chests and have much more insulation so they are able to hold ice longer, and they don’t break easily.
I was hesitant to spend this kind of money on a cooler but after using one for a few months I quickly realized it was saving me money. I am no longer buying a new cooler every month.
Plus, since these coolers will hold ice for five days, even in the extreme Texas heat, I am spending a fraction of money on ice.
What you need this for: Food, drinks, fillets and maybe even storing fish after you catch them!
Cold Weather Fishing Gear
If you don’t live in an area that “ices out” in the winter and you can still get on the lake or river and fish in the colder months, you’ll want to fish.
Winter is one of the most amazing times to catch blue catfish and is known for not only producing excellent numbers of catfish but also excellent numbers of monster blue catfish.
Being dressed appropriately in the winter not only keeps you safe but makes you a whole lot more comfortable as well.
Two essentials for cold weather fishing are a good set of rain gear and a good pair of winter boots.
Getting hit with boat spray, throwing a cast net, catching shad and even handling fish all exposes you to the elements. The last thing you want is for your clothes to get wet or to have cold wet feet.
You’ll want to wear these items whether it’s raining or not when fishing in colder weather.
I use the Bass Pro Shops 100 MPH Rain Gear and the Bass Pro Shops Pro Qualifier Rain Gear. I have both and I’ve been using them for over ten years. There are less expensive options available but nothing comes close to the quality of this gear.
The essential pieces of this gear are the bibs and parka but the WINDSTOPPER liner jacket really helps to cut the cold in the winter.
The bibs, parka, and liner are made from Gore-Tex so they’ll keep you warm and dry.
They also come with a lifetime warranty.
Fishing Footwear For Cold Weather
You’ll want something that will not only keep your feet warm, but will also keep them dry. When faced with boat spray, water falling off your cast net when catching shad, pulling drift socks and anchors in and out of the boat you’ll have water constantly falling on your feet.
Insulated Gore-Tex boots help cut the cold and make sure your feet stay warm and dry all day long.
I’ve been wearing Rocky insulated Gore-Tex boots for years and can’t say enough good things about them.
The brand or style you prefer is not important though. Just make sure you have a good pair of waterproof insulated boots that will keep your feet warm and dry.
What you need this for: Staying warm and dry when fishing.
Being exposed to the water and wind can make your hands a bit uncomfortable. The first line of defense is keeping your hands in your pockets when possible.
Adding a few Hot Hands hand warmers in your pockets make the cold weather fishing tolerable and take some of the “bite” out of having cold hands.
They’re inexpensive, work great and a staple for many anglers, hunters, and people that work outdoors.
I always keep a set of these in my coat pockets in the winter and in really cold weather I have been known to stuff them in my boots, my pants pockets and even in my hat.
What you need these for: Keeping your hands warm when fishing in the winter
I had never seen a neck gaiter until I took a trip to the coast to fish the saltwater. All the guides were wearing them and I picked one up at one of the local tackle shops and used it at the coat. It immediately made its way into my catfish boat and I’ve always had a few on hand ever since.
If you are out to win a fashion contest you’re not going to do so wearing a neck gaiter but they do wonders for keeping the sun off of you in the hot summer and helping to cut the cold wind in the winter.
Fishing neck gaiters are a seamless tube of fabric that can be worn a variety of different ways. The special UV fabric available in some of the helps block 95% of the sun’s harmful UV rays and also wicks away moisture as well.
Neck gaiters can be worn many different ways but I typically use it as a sun guard to protect my neck, face and the back of my head.
Neck gaiters do wonders for keeping the sun off your skin and help to keep you cool as well. If you pull them over your face they easy to breathe through and in cold weather they provide just enough protection to help prevent windburn and keep your face a bit warmer.
We liked the fishing neck gaiters so much we decided to make a custom Catfish Edge fishing neck gaiter.
What you need this for: Protection from the sun, wind and cold
I grew up in a day and age where nobody wore sunscreen and will rarely sunburn. Even in the extreme heat of the Texas summer I can spend all day in the sun and not burn.
I never worried about the sun much. Like most young people I was bulletproof and it would “never happen to me”.
In my mid-thirties friends started having to get chunks cut out of their faces and necks where they had small skin cancers. I too started having weird spots show up on my skin and my wife finally convinced me to get checked out.
Luckily, everything was OK but after the doctor checked me out he gave me a stern talking to about my exposure to the sun and protecting myself going forward.
I am consistent about applying sunscreen most of the time now. I’ve gotten in the habit of putting sunscreen on the back of my neck and my face and doing a better job covering my arms when I’m out in the sun. I also started applying SPF30 lip balm to my lips when I’m fishing also.
Unless you’ve been under a rock for the past twenty years you know that long term exposure to the sun is not good for you.
I’ve always been concerned that having sunscreen on my hands would foul my baits and the fish would detect the smell of the sunscreen so I apply it at home before I leave the house. This way I can wash my hands thoroughly with soap and water.
I’ve used just about every kind of sunscreen available and prefer Bullfrog over anything else.
What you need this for: Protecting yourself from the harmful UV rays of the sun.
Columbia Performance Fishing Gear
I’m rarely concerned with making a fashion statement. I’ve been showing up late, dirty and stinking like fish my whole life.
I really like the Columbia PFG (Performance Fishing Gear) shirts though. Not only for fishing but even for running around town with the misses.
The Columbia PFG shirts are super comfortable and really light and cool even in the extreme heat. PFG fabric also has built-in UV protection, stain resistance, and smart activated cooling fabric.
I wear the long sleeve Columbia PFG fishing shirts in the heat of the summer to not only keep me nice and cool but keep the harmful UV rays of the sun off my skin.
I like the Super Bonehead style shirts for a traditional button-down style fishing shirt and the Skiff Guide 3 for a long sleeve t-shirt style fishing shirt.
What you need this for: Keeping the harmful UV rays of the sun off your skin and staying cool and comfortable while fishing.