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Best Flathead Catfish Bait


I admittedly have not covered a lot on flathead catfish here at Learn To Catch Catfish because most of the questions get are about blue catfish and channel catfish. I don’t get near as many flathead catfish questions and don’t gear near as many phone calls from people wanting to fish with me that have a desire to catch flathead catfish. I know there are some readers interested in catching flatheads so I’m trying to do a better job covering this catfish species a little more in depth.

With my recent coverage on the best time to catch flathead catfish I figured I better circle back around and do some coverage on the best bait for flathead catfish as well (similar to the articles and videos on the best bait for blue catfish and best bait for channel catfish).


Best Flathead Catfish Bait

Flathead catfish are a different fish and the best flathead catfish bait in my mind is pretty specific. Much like blue catfish their primary food source is live fresh, but they generally feed on live fish unlike the blue who generally doesn’t care if it’s food is live or dead. Does that mean that you will never catch a flathead on dead bait or cut bait, NO. It means that their primary forage is live fish so you’re going to match the hatch and use a bait that they feed on day in and day out.  


Here are my rules for the best flathead catfish bait.

Rule Number 1 – Flathead catfish bait must be LIVE. I’m not saying you cannot catch flathead catfish on cut bait or dead bait but as a general rule live bait is going to produce the best.

Rule Number 2 – Flathead catfish bait must be LARGE. Because it is live bait I want to eliminate most of the other fish that feed on live bait fish. You can certainly catch them on smaller baits but the larger live baits will help eliminate the bass, striped bass, and other fish that feed on live baits.

Rule Number 3 – I prefer my bait to be NATIVE to the body of water I am fishing. Some bait fish like goldfish are popular but my most productive baits have always been those that are native to the body of water that I am fishing.

Rule Number 4 – It must be easy to keep alive and VERY lively. Some fish are heartier and easier to keep alive than others. For the most success you want bait that is easy to keep and will stay very lively for extended periods of time with very little effort.


So what are some good flathead catfish baits?

There are a variety of good baits that will work that fit within these rules but some of my favorites are perch, bluegill, sunfish, brim and even mudcats. All of these fish are native to the bodies of water that I fish and are relatively easy to catch. On top of being easy to catch they are easy to keep in a standard bait well or bait bucket and will keep for extended periods of time without any specialized equipment (like a bait tank) and frequent water changes etc.

In addition to being relatively easy to keep a alive these baits stay good and lively for long periods of time both off and on the hooks.

One of the keys to being really successful to catching flathead catfish whether it be on rod and reel, juglines, trotlines, limb lines or anything else for that matter is having good lively bait that will really move around a lot. Bait fish like threadfin shad and gizzard shad will stay alive but are hard to keep and don’t stay lively for extended periods of time (see tips on keeping shad alive) and require specialized equipment (see how to build a bait tank).

I’ve been very successful keeping perch, bluegill, sunfish, brim and even mudcats alive in nothing more than a 5 gallon bucket with a little water in it and nothing else, This is not the best route to go but it will work in a pinch.

These bait fish are all native to the area I fish in so there may be other alternatives in your home waters but if you follow the rules I have outlined for the best flathead catfish bait you will without a doubt be making a good decision and will increase your odds of landing a big cat.

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About Chad

Chad Ferguson is a professional catfish guide and founder of Learn To Catch Catfish. Click here to subscribe for more exclusive catfish fishing tips by email and then follow on Twitter or Google


  1. 101butterbean says:

    Howdy Chad,
    The little blocks for Tweet, etc. are covering the content text of the article.. I do not need these.

  2. louis scott says:

    you have a great helper but you need to feed her better- i`m a old granpa and i bet i could spoil her all jokes aside she`s a beautiful kid enjoy her all you can they do grow up fast

  3. Chad, your daughter is a cutie. I don’t know how you kept from laughing when she brought the Cheetos out. Good focus and concentration!

  4. Bullheads, 3-5 circle or octopus hook, 80lb braided with 12″-18″ leader off a barrel swivel, 6oz no roll is our standard for pool 2 Mississippi

  5. What type of hooks would you use for live bluegill and where would you hook the bluegill

  6. flathead stryker says:

    Night crawlers are also great Flathead bait. We have found that black perch or also known as green sunfish are the best bait. They are eaten much easier because they lack the spiney fins of the blue gill and sunfish. Hook them in between the dorsil fin and the meat of the tail towards the top of the fish, that keeps them swiming upward off the bottom. Good luck Flatheaders.

  7. A few weeks ago I deep hooked a 10 or 12 lb flathead and unfortunately it died. So when I went to clean it I saw that some spines were sticking out the stomach so I cut it open and it was FILLED with crappie, There were about 9 small crappie. I just wish they were a legal bait species here

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