Cut bait literally means that you are using a cut piece of a fish as bait.
Cut bait is a very popular catfish bait and is widely considered to be one of the best catfish baits available for blue catfish and larger channel catfish. Cut bait is rarely used for flathead catfish as flatheads most often prefer live bait (there are some exceptions though).
Many anglers will use fish they’ve purchased in stores, but most anglers prefer fresh-caught fish as cut bait for catfish. Most anglers opt to catch fresh fish on the lake or river they’re fishing on using a cast net or on rod and reel.
Common Fish To Use As Cut Bait For Catfish
Some of the most common fish to use as cut bait are:
- Carp (All Species)
- Freshwater drum (gaspergou)
- Threadfin Shad
- Gizzard Shad
- Skipjack Herring
In most instances the oilier the fish is the better bait it will be.
Before using any fish for bait you should check the legality of it in the area you’re fishing.
How To Prepare Cut Bait For Catfish
The bait chunk size you use depends on the fish you’re cutting up as well as what size and species of catfish you’re targeting.
If you’re targeting smaller 1–2 pound blue catfish or channel catfish you’ll want to use a smaller chunk.
If you’re targeting larger fish (like trophy class blues) you’ll often want to use a larger piece of bait. That’s not to imply that larger fish will not bite a small bait, because they will. Most anglers that target larger blue catfish just prefer to use larger baits.
The cut bait size also depends on the type and size of the fish you’re using for cut bait. If you’re fishing with gizzard shad, you might cut a 6-inch gizzard shad into two or three pieces to target smaller catfish, but if you’re going to use a large carp, buffalo, or drum to cut up you might have to fillet the fish and then cut the fillets up into smaller chunks or strips.
The first step in preparing a fish for cut bait is to remove the scales. For fish with smaller scales (like perch) knocking the scales off with a fillet knife is generally the best approach. If the fish has larger scales (like a carp) these can generally be removed by starting at the tail and running your thumb under the scales down the fish towards the head.
Next, especially on larger fish, the fins are cut off and removed/discarded. If fishing with baits likes cut gizzard shad this may not be necessary but on larger fish with large hard fins (like carp or drum) cutting and removing the fins will be beneficial.
The skin, ribs, and other pieces are typically left intact to go on the hook.
Always leave the chunk or strip as it was removed from the fish. Never wash or clean it. because the blood, oil, and amino acids that the chunk of fish lets off is what spreads through the water and attracts the catfish.
There really is no “right or wrong” way to cut up fish for cut bait but most anglers follow one of these two methods:
Slicing the bait in chunks based on the overall size of the fish. Smaller fish are generally cut in two to four pieces at an angle. The head is also one of the most prized pieces of cut bait because it is generally very tough and catfish really like them.
Many anglers prefer to fillet the meat off the fish and the fillets for bait. The downside to this is it may not stay on the hook quite as well.
My preferred method is to cut the bait into chunks. Some anglers claim that filleting or chunking the bait will make a difference in catching fish. I’ve never found this to be the case.
It has more to do with size than it does whether the bait is chunked or filleted.
Fishing For Catfish With Cut Bait
You can use cut bait on any type of catfish rig. Choose the rig based on your application and catfishing technique.
You can also use any style of catfish hook based on personal preference. In recent years masses of anglers have switched to circle hooks for catfish. These hooks work exceptionally well with cut bait.
When choosing a circle hook for catfishing with cut bait choose carefully, making sure you use a hook that’s large enough. For circle hooks to work correctly they must have a large enough gap in the hook so it can turn and hook while in the fish’s mouth.
You also need to assure you leave the gap of the hook open and hook the bait so it doesn’t double hook itself. This is one of the three most common circle hook mistakes. Once you’ve got the circle hook baited correctly you can just let it do the work for you.
If you choose to use very large pieces of cut bait and have problems missing fish consider using a double hook rig. This will often increase the hookset ratio with extra-large pieces of cut bait and it works with all of the popular rigs for trophy catfish like the slip sinker rig, santee rig, and three-way rigs.
If you really want to up your odds of catching catfish combine your preferred catfish rig with some cut bait and use a Catfish Versa-Rattle with it as well.
This is a good basic overview of what cut bait is, how to prepare it and what catfish species to target with cut bait as well as tips for using it.
Threadfin shad and gizzard shad are one of the most popular and most effective baits to use for blue catfish.
If you want to get on the “fast track” to catching shad and also learning to pattern catfish check out the Catching Shad program.