How to Fish for Catfish in a Lake

by Cathryn Whitehead
When prepared properly, catfish makes a tasty meal.

When prepared properly, catfish makes a tasty meal.

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Catfish are strong, meaty fish found in many lakes, rivers and reservoirs. Their ability to put up a fight makes them fun to catch, as long as you're prepared for them to grunt at you when you bring them out of the water. Many people don't like to eat them since they are known as bottom feeders with a strong flavor, but when prepared properly, catfish make a tasty meal. They will take almost any bait, especially if it has a strong odor, and they often end up on the lines of people who were hoping for walleye, bass or panfish.

Items you will need

  • Short heavyweight rod
  • Spinning reel with large spool
  • 10-pound-test fishing line
  • Lightweight sinker
  • Sharp hook
  • Cut bait or prepared bait
  • Sturdy net
  • Needlenose pliers
Step 1

Find a spot on the lake where catfish are likely to be, such as in weed beds or underneath trees. Catch catfish near drop-offs, in areas where streams flow into the lake, by submerged trees or near rocky shores. Fish when the water level rises because catfish are less likely to bite when water levels are falling.

Step 2

Provide bait that the fish will go after. Catfish go after different kinds of baits depending on the season. In the spring and summer, they are likely to eat worms, fish, frogs, crayfish, mulberries, insects and their larvae, often hitting on nightcrawlers, prepared bait, grasshoppers, crawdads and chicken livers. They eat more fish, frogs, invertebrates and insects when the water cools in autumn, making cut bait a good choice. During winter, catfish feed on decomposing organisms that have fallen victim to cold temperatures and can be caught with unpleasantly strong scented bait including dead minnows, stink bait, cheese and cut bait.

Step 3

Use a short, heavyweight rod with a large bait casting reel that is in excellent working order to fish for catfish in lakes. Make sure your reel can hold about 300 yards of line. Use 10 pound-test monofilament or braided nylon fishing line, lightweight slip sinkers and sharp hooks. According to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, hooks with bait holders on the shank are preferred by most anglers for catfish.

Step 4

Troll or drift in shallow water along the edge of a steep drop-off. Troll around points that jut out into the water and fish behind boulders or other heavy structures. Find dark green or black spots in the water or an area with layers of plankton, or fish below dams.

Step 5

Hook your catfish by lowering the tip of the rod then pulling back hard to set the hook. Reel steadily, using a sturdy net to scoop your fish from the lake when it gets close enough. Hold the catfish with your hands out of reach of the spines and remove hooks with needlenose pliers.

Tips & Warnings

  • Larger catfish tend to go after fish-based bait including minnows, cut bait, crawdad tails and shrimp.
  • Don't touch the spines on the catfish's head that look like whiskers, as they can deliver a great deal of pain.

About the Author

Cathryn Whitehead graduated from the University of Michigan in 1987. She has published numerous articles for various websites. Her poems have been published in several anthologies and on Poetry.com. Whitehead has done extensive research on health conditions and has a background in education, household management, music and child development.

Photo Credits

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