Chicken livers are the most overhyped and overrated 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 the 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.
- Make sure you always use FRESH chicken livers. By fresh I mean an 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Pantyhose – Some anglers prefer to encase liver in pantyhose. Some are even so calculated that they will wrap the baits in the hose and then tie them up into small “packages” to bait the hooks with, before going to the lake or river.
- Gauze – Gauze bandages are another common item used to wrap around the baits that some catfishermen prefer. The gauze soaks up the blood and adds 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.
- 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 to 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 are Livers MUCH Better Than Chicken Livers
If you absolutely insist on fishing with livers there’s a much better option than 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 intention 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 you’re 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.
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