Since the beginning of Learn To Catch Catfish, I can’t begin to count how many questions I have had about catfishing with chicken liver. These questions have covered just about every single area that anyone could ever think of in regards to using chicken liver for catfish bait. When people call me about booking guide trips, this is also one of the questions that seems to come up about every other phone call, people usually first ask if we will be fishing at night and second if we will be catfishing with chicken liver. I guess catfishing just conjures up images of people sitting on the bank or in a boat, dangling a cane pole, next to an old Coleman lantern with chicken liver on the hook for bait.
Catfishing With Chicken Liver Basics
There was a point and time (probably fifteen years or so or more) that I too was one of these people that thought catching channel catfish involved picking up a bucket of chicken liver or some shrimp and thought that these were the best baits out there when it came to catching channel cats. I can honestly say that I haven’t baited a hook with chicken liver in at least ten years though, maybe even longer. I don’t know anybody now that uses chicken liver either. I am of the opinion that they are one of the most overrated, overhyped baits ever.
Now, before everyone starts getting all stirred up,….
Can you catch fish with them? Yes
Are they a catfish bait that I am going to suggest to people as a “go to” bait? No
Why? They are messy, difficult to keep on the hook, and I feel (as a general rule) there are for more effective baits available.
Most people that are using chicken liver are doing in the absence of having another bait available (i.e. they cannot catch shad or don’t have prepared baits available).
Don’t get me wrong. There are people that will swear by them and you will always hear of that one trip where Fred’s uncle Joe caught so many fish on livers that he lost count, I personally feel that this is the exception and not the rule and that as a general rule there are far better baits out there than liver as a “go to” bait. If you haven’t already done so, read my article on Catfish Bait Selection, Choosing Your Catfish Bait 101 before you go any further. You will find that livers don’t make the list, nor is there any mention of them.
I do know of some catfish guides and some tournament anglers that use chicken liver for catfishing for channel catfish (and even on occasion blue catfish) but these are usually third or fourth string baits for them if they deem the fish are not hitting anything else (or for some reason they don’t have or cannot catch threadfin shad or gizzard shad for fresh bait). This is more of a “last ditch effort” than anything.
Now, with all this in mind, there was a point and time where I had perfected the art of using chicken liver for catfishing.
Secrets Of Catfishing With Chicken Liver – How To Keep Them On The Hook
One of the great debates to using livers for bait is the best way to keep them on the hook, because this is the biggest challenge to fishing with them. They can be very difficult to keep on the hook, but not if you follow some very simple steps.
1. Make sure you always use them FRESH. By that I mean attempt to find containers that have never been frozen. Chances are when you find them in the grocery store they have already been frozen but some stores will often sell containers that have never been frozen. If you ask the people at the store, they will usually be able to tell you. I have found in the past if they have been frozen once, they will work OK. It is the process of thawing and refreezing that makes them “mushy” and prevents them from staying on the hook well. The fewer freezings (or refreezings) you have the more firm they will be, and the better they will stay on the hook.
2. Always keep them COLD. – When chicken livers heat up, or start getting warm. They start getting mushy (when left in the juices) and they become difficult to keep on the hook. Keeping them on ice in an ice chest will help to reduce this. There is one exception to keeping them cool, but I will cover that more later in this article.
3. Always use a GOOD SHARP KNIFE. The cutting process that most people use breaks down the liver and causes it to get mushy. Using a good sharp fillet knife and making the fewest cuts possible will reduce the membranes in them breaking down, helping to keep them firm.
4. Handle them as little as possible – The least amount of handling, smashing or otherwise breaking down of the membranes the better off you will be, and the tougher the bait will be.
5. Use Liver Hooks – Yes, that’s right, I said LIVER HOOKS (also often referred to as live bait hooks). What are liver hooks? Imagine a treble hook with one of the barbs removed (two barbs instead of three), a longer shank, and a metal clip that helps hold the chicken liver on the hook when you are catfishing (sort of like a safety pin on the hook). You can find out more here on liver hooks.
Other “Hacks” For Catfishing With Chicken Liver
Outside of following the suggestions I outlined above (which should be more than acceptable unless you want to use a straight shank hook) there are a number of other well known “hacks” for keeping these baits on the hook. If you follow the steps I outlined you shouldn’t need any of these additional actions to keep the chicken liver on the hook but I want this to be a comprehensive guide, so I will cover them all.
1. Wrapping In Thread Or Elastic Thread – The basic process is to bait the hook (most often a straight shank hook like a circle hook or kahle hook) and then once the hook is baited cut a length of thread (or elastic thread) and wrap it around the bait (and hook) several times and them tie the bait onto the hook.
2. Pantyhose – Some anglers prefer to encase the baits in pantyhose. Some are even so calculated that they will wrap the baits in hose and then tie them up into small “packages” to bait the hooks with, before even getting out the the lake or river.
3. Gauze – Gauze bandages are another common item that is used to wrap around the baits that some catfishermen prefer to use to assist with keeping them on the hook. The gauze soaks up blood and add structure, helping to keep the chicken livers on the hook when catfishing.
4. Leather Livers – Last but not least is what many anglers refer to as “leather livers”. There are a couple of different processes for this. The livers are spread out on a piece of screen wire, hardware cloth, a cookie sheet or even a piece of plywood and allowed to sit in the sun so they begin to dry. This drying process causes them to toughen up, making them easier to keep on the hook. An additional step is to add salt or garlic salt to help add in the drying process (some people swear by this). You can learn more about these in our homemade catfish bait recipes .
Adding Scent and Color
There is a large group of anglers that prefer to add additional scents and colors to their liver baits.
Color – It is fairly common practice to soak chicken livers in red food coloring to add additional color to them. I have heard claims over the years that this adds a level of effectiveness and that at times people found the fish would hit these baits with additional red coloring but not the unaltered ones. If you choose to add coloring, food coloring will stain anything it comes in contact with, including boat carpet.
Scents – In addition to adding coloring, adding additional scent is a fairly common practice. Garlic, anise, vanilla and even asafoetida are often added to buckets of fresh livers to add additional scent.
*Asafoetida is a spice used in many Indian dishes, it is also referred to as “devils dung”. If you open a bottle of it and smell it you will quickly know why.
Adding Chicken Livers To Other Baits
Outside of just adding livers to a hook and fishing with them, it is fairly common practice for those making their own homemade catfish bait to add livers to their recipes. Most of these recipes involve running the livers through a blender or a grinder and adding them to either a cheese based bait or even a dough bait.
It is not very common knowledge but anglers that are big fans of catfishing with chicken liver often times transition to other types of livers, most commonly turkey livers. Turkey livers (as a general rule) are tougher than those form a chicken and therefore will stay on the hook better. Turkey livers are not widely available but you can usually purchase them through a local butcher (they may have to special order them). These generally come in a case quantity in a large frozen block and have to be broken down into smaller quantities for long term storage. The purchase quantity often required will be too much for many anglers but this is yet another option to consider.
Are You Using These For Bait?
I am not knocking those that prefer catfishing with chicken livers but I think many anglers use them as bait because bad catfishing information has been passed along throughout the years from angler to angler. I don’t personally know anyone that heads into a trip with the intentions of using chicken livers as a primary bait. If your targeting blue catfish, fresh shad is hands down the preferred choice for most fishermen and in most instances when targeting channel catfish punch baits and dip baits will out produce (or produce as well) as liver in most cases and have proven time and time again to be much less hassle to bait the hook with as well as keep on the hook.
If your baiting up with some sort of liver, I would encourage you to ask yourself why, and really take a close look at whether or not they are truly effective for you. Chances are that a change of catfish bait can change your overall performance and increase your catch rates!