Best Bait for Catfish: Stink Bait or Natural

best Bait for Catfish

Best Bait for Catfish

What is the best bait for catfish? Stink baits, punch baits, and dip bait for catfish are very popular among catfishermen because they do catch fish, are easy to acquire, and frankly, they are easy to market. But I want to give you my 2 cents on how good I think they are and how they compare to natural baits.

Stink baits will be effective for small-to-medium sized channel catfish but fresh or frozen natural baits like bluegill, shad, and clams will be much better for catching big channel catfish, giant blue catfish, and monster flatheads. Stink baits are convenient, but they are messy, smell terrible, and simply don’t catch big cats the way natural baits will.

Best Bait for Catfish Options

Stink Bait

Stink baits are any number of foul-smelling concoctions or mixtures designed to put a ton of scent into the water for the sake of catching catfish. They often rely on blood mixtures and cheese mixtures to create them. They stink to high heaven but they can be very effective baits for channel catfish. Many catfish anglers swear by them but I do not. They have their place but I feel they are far inferior to natural baits.

Natural Bait

Natural baits cover a wide range of food items that you use for catfish. My favorite bait types are schooling baitfish like shad, shiners, or alewives along with bluegills, small carp, goldfish, suckers, bullheads, and freshwater clams. Those are my absolute favorites for big catfish. I almost never use anything else. The above listed baits will catch you all sizes of flatheads and blues as well as big channel catfish. For channel catfish, I have found that nightcrawlers and crayfish do well too. Now I’m going to tread into a gray area here but I consider sweet or feed corn, hot dogs, and chicken liver to fall into the natural bait category. Each of these baits on a hook can catch some nice channel cats.

Stink Bait vs. Natural Bait

Target Species & Size

What is it you are trying to catch? Are you okay just catching some nice channel catfish from the bank or do you want to snag into a 30-pound blue or flathead catfish. Maybe a 10-pound channel catfish is more your target. For whatever reason, I have caught more smaller channel cats using stink baits than I ever did using natural baits. I don’t have a good explanation. The stuff does work. But if you want to catch some real tankers, I don’t think anything works better than natural bait. There is a reason most serious catfish anglers use natural baits almost exclusively. Big fish grow big by eating the best and oftentimes biggest meals they encounter everyday. A monster catfish may cycle between 2 or 3 food items and ignore everything else. In most US waterways, shad and bluegill are primary food sources. If freshwater clams are present, fishing with clam meat along the clam beds and flats can catch you big flathead and blues too. Big cats will also eat other “rough” fishing like small carp, goldfish, bullheads if those are the best options available. Match the bait size to the mouth of your target. Big channel cats and blue catfish have relatively smaller mouth parts so while they will bite a living shad or bluegill, they prefer cut shad. Flathead catfish, on the other hand, have gaping jaws like a largemouth bass. They can engulf a substantial prey item with ease. The best prey for big flatheads in my opinion is a living bluegill in the 4-6” range or a 5-8” gizzard shad (big meals). You can also catch them on cut bait but it won’t be as attractive as a living big bait.


Mess & Hassle

This was the biggest reason why I stopped using stink baits. I hate dealing with messy disgusting baits. No matter how careful I was, I would get that stuff over the handle of my rods, on my line, on my reel, inside the cab of the truck. It’s just a total mess. Now if you’re a man’s man or you don’t care if you keep a girlfriend, I guess it doesn’t matter if the inside of your truck smells like rotting blood meal and fermented cheese. I find that freshly caught or thawed shad, bluegill, or shiners smell a whole lot better and are much less hassle to handle. If you don’t want to deal with fish, nightcrawlers or clam meat can be great substitutes for channel cats. A lot of anglers like fishing with chicken liver which works great if you have some bait thread or even dental floss to keep the soft organ meat on the hook. A tougher, more effective alternative to chicken liver is rooster liver. Check with your grocery store meat section. Sometimes they will have some in the back. The tougher rooster organ meat will stick together better on the hook and has a slightly stronger smell which can draw in more channel cats.

Bait Acquisition

Oftentimes, the decision to go with stink “punch” baits over fresh stuff is out of convenience of acquisition. Most stink baits come in tubs which are normally shelf stable. You can just grab one off the bait shop shelf, drop a couple bucks, and go fishing. You can also buy shiners, dead frozen or cured shad, or worms pretty easily too. Living shad are near impossible to purchase since most shad die immediately after net capture, especially in the summer. I don’t know of any bait shop that sells bluegills as bait, nor do I believe it is legal practice. I would argue it is easier to buy stink baits than it is to get natural baits. Speaking of legal matters. In some bodies of water, live bait is illegal to use, especially fish as bait. No game warden will argue with you that a tub of stink bait is a natural or living bait.

My Conclusion

Stink baits definitely have their place. You will probably catch some fish using them but likely those fish will be small-to-medium sized channel cats. Bigger channel cats, blue catfish, and flatheads especially will probably ignore your baits. They prefer eating fresh natural bait. If you just want to catch some channel cats, I think punch baits are fine. But big catfish grew big eating what they like. They don’t like trying new things. While all three North American species of catfish will eat both dead (cut and intact) and alive bait, blues and channels prefer cut bait and flatheads prefer whole living shad or bluegill. I used to say that stink baits are better at catching fishermen than fish. I have walked that back a little since then because they are effective channel cat baits. But for the big catfish, don’t waste your time using smelly punch or dip baits.

Related Questions

Are stink baits or natural baits better for bullheads?

I haven’t had much luck with smelly punch baits for bullheads. I consistently catch big bullheads on minnows, worms, and even grasshoppers. You can also use cut bait as well. I have fish for brown and yellow bullheads and never had success with stink baits.

Are any lures good for catfish?

You can absolutely catch catfish using lures but don’t count on it. Ask any bass angler with a ton of experience in finesse fishing with ned rigs or senkos. You are going to bycatch some channel catfish along the way. I have caught a few catfish in my life using moving baits like small crankbaits or spinners. That said, natural baits are the way to target cats. A lure can occasionally catch catfish but natural bait will be what consistently wins out.

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