Using Minnows For Catfish Bait? Don’t Miss These Tips!

Video do catfish eat minnows

If you were to rank the most popular baits for catfish, minnows would probably not rank in the top 5…or even top 10 for that matter.

But why is that? We know catfish eat minnows based on their stomach contents…so why aren’t they commonly used as bait?

In this article, ill discuss using minnows for catfish bait…and why you may want to give it a try the next time you are out fishing.

Can you use Minnows for Catfish Bait?

While traditional catfish baits like chicken gizzards, shad and shrimp are all common and effective, do not overlook using regular minnows for catfish bait.

In fact, using minnows for catfish is a tactic that can be very effective in certain bodies of water, depending on the species of catfish and forage available.

Additionally, minnows are usually readily available at bait shops, or easy enough to catch your own.

Which species of catfish eat minnows?

Virtually all species of freshwater catfish will eat minnows, but I’ve had the most success targeting brown bullheads, yellow bullheads, channel catfish, and white catfish.

Flathead catfish love to eat other fish as their primary food source…and although sunfish are a better bait choice, shad, shiners or large minnows can also be very effective.

How to Catch Catfish with Minnows

To specifically target catfish with minnows as bait, you need to fish your baits on or near the bottom. A simple sinker/knocker rig consisting of a circle hook, leader, swivel, and sinker is effective and versatile.

In lakes and ponds, catfish will generally be found near structures and vegetation along the bottom, as they like to hide out and take cover for hours at a time.

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See Also: The Best Time Of Day To Catch Catfish

If you are fishing a small area, you can chum the area first with dead minnows to help spread out the scent and attract nearby fish.

Then, cast out your catfish rigs along the bottom. Experiment with different depths to find where the catfish are located.

I like to cast one line in the deepest section, another in the middle depth area, and the last line along the bank or shoreline.

By keeping your minnows on the bottom, you’re less likely to get bites from sunfish, bass, and other fish you may not be targeting.

Which Minnows are Best for Catching Catfish?

Catfish are not too picky when it comes to living bait or fresh (dead bait). Fathead minnows and golden shiners are popular choices, as these are both naturally occurring forage and large enough to target catfish.

However, here in Florida, I’ve used a bundle of small crappie minnows or mosquitofish to target brown bullheads and channel catfish.

Just hook 3-4 minnows on a hook (similar to putting a few worms on a hook). Fish it on the bottom and wait!

PRO TIP: A great money-saving tip for catfish anglers is to ask bait and tackle shops about their dead minnows. They will often give them away for free, as they can’t sell them and do not want to deal with the smell and pests involved with throwing them in the garbage.

Related: How Many Minnows are in a Pound/Gallon/Scoop

How Do You Rig Minnows for Catfish?

One of the most common rigs to catch catfish using minnows is the classic Carolina rig. Be sure to use small gauge circle hooks (2/0-4/0 size is best) and just enough weight to keep your rig along the bottom of the water column.

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The Carolina rig is often used by anglers fishing from docks or piers in still water. This bottom fishing rig works to keep the minnow at the bottom of the lake while keeping a natural motion.

This is a “set it and forget it” approach to catfishing, and multiple lines are often used at once. The more the better!

“Slip bobbers” or “float bobbers” also can be helpful tools when river fishing for catfish in rivers, where the current may be too strong to fish on the bottom.

The bobber allows the minnow to stay high enough to float in the current, making it a great target for waiting for catfish near drop-off areas of the river.

I still strongly suggest you keep your floats adjusted so that the minnows are along the bottom of the water column.

How To Hook Minnow When Targeting Catfish?

If I am using live minnows, I will hook them through the tail so they stay alive and flutter/swim while on the bottom. If I am using dead minnows I will usually hook them through the head, as this is the most secure location.

How To Keep Minnows On The Hook

The biggest reason why minnows come off the hook is that the hooks are the incorrect size, or they are cast off and the hooks rip out.

Try using small gauge wire hooks, and match the hook size with your bait and intended target.

For example, If I am trying to catch 1-3 pound brown bullheads, a simple 1/0 circle hook is sufficient.

Related: The Ultimate Catfish Bait Soap Recipe (EASY!)

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Are Live or Dead Minnows Better For Catfish?

While live bait is hands down the best option for targeting most species of fish, fresh dead minnows can actually work better when targeting catfish. Catfish rely on smell more than any other sense to find food, and the scent of fresh dead minnow or shiner can release attract catfish.

This technique works particularly well when fishing in creeks and rivers, as the motion of the water will make it less apparent that the fish isn’t moving.

Releasing scent and oils into the water will draw in a variety of fish, working to chum the water while fishing.

Final Thoughts

So, should you use minnows exclusively for catfish bait?

No, that is not what I am suggesting…

But catfish are one of the few freshwater fish you can really experiment with different bait options.

I think you will find that some catfish respond to certain baits better than others, and that may vary from lake to lake.

Next time you are out crappie fishing with minnows for crappie, walleye, or bass…throw a few on a bottom rig and try for some catfish.

You may be surprised at what ya catch!

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>