I have had several questions from people recently wanting to know what cut bait is and how to fish with it for catfish. I am not going to copy and paste all of the questions here about cut bait because they are all generally the same question just worded slightly differently.
Cut bait is a term that literally means that you are using a cut piece of a fish as bait. Using cut bait for catfish is a very popular and widely considered to be one of the best catfish baits available, especially for blue catfish and even at times for channel catfish. Cutting up a piece of fish and putting it on your hook means that you are using cut bait. Cut bait is rarely used for flathead catfish as flatheads most often prefer live bait but flatheads will on occasion bite a piece of cut bait (see my video on winter trophy flathead catfish, this fish was caught on cut bait).
Many anglers will use fish that they have purchased at stores, but most experienced anglers and catfish guides will tell you that fresh caught fish is the best to use, even when cutting it up into pieces and fishing with it. For this reason most anglers opt to catch fresh fish on the lake or river they are fishing on with a cast net (see how to throw a cast net).
Common Fish To Use For Cut Bait For Catfish
Some of the most common fish to use for cut bait are:
- Freshwater drum (gaspergou)
- Threadfin Shad
- Gizzard Shad
- Skipjack Herring
In most instances the oilier the fish is the better bait it will be.
This is certainly not an inclusive list and before using any fish for bait you should check the legality of it in the area you are fishing.
How To Prepare Cut Bait For Catfish
The size of chunk you use really depends on what type of fish you are cutting up and what you size catfish you are targeting. For instance if you were targeting smaller 1-2 pound blue catfish or channel catfish you would want to use a smaller chunk, but if you were targeting larger fish like trophy class blues, you would likely want to use a larger piece of bait. That is not to imply that larger fish will not bite a small bait because they will but most anglers that target larger blue catfish prefer to use larger baits.
The size of the piece of cut bait also depends a lot on the type and size of the fish you are using. For instance if you were fishing with gizzard shad, you might cut a 6 inch gizzard shad into two or three pieces to target smaller catfish, but if you were going to use a large carp, buffalo or drum to cut up you might have to fillet the fish and then cut the fillets up into smaller chunks or strips.
The first step in preparing a fish for cut bait for most anglers is to remove the scales from the fish. For fish with smaller scales (like perch) knocking the scales off with a fillet knife is generally the best approach. if the fish you are using for bait has larger scales (like a carp) these can generally be removed by starting at the tail and running your thumb under the scales down the fish towards the head.
Next, especially on larger fish, the fins are cut off and removed/discarded. If fishing with baits like cut gizzard shad this may not be necessary but on larger fish with large hard fins (like carp or drum) cutting and removing the fins will prove beneficial.
Most often when cutting up fish for bait the skin, ribs and other pieces are left in tact as part of what goes on the hook, and you always want to leave the chunk or strip of it as it was removed from the fish. Don’t ever wash it or clean it, because the blood, oil and amino acids that the chunk of fish lets off is what spreads through the water and attracts the catfish.
There really is no “right or wrong” way to prepare cut bait as far as cutting goes but most anglers follow one of the two methods:
- Chunking – This is basically slicing the bait in chunks which are cut based on the overall size of the fish. On smaller fish they are generally cut in two to four pieces at an angle. The head is also one of the most prized pieces of cut bait because it is generally very tough and fish really like them.
- Filleting – Some anglers prefer to fillet the meat of the fish and fish with pieces of the fillets for bait. The only downside to doing this is depending on the kind of fish being used it may not stay on the hook quite as well.
My preferred method is definitely cutting the bait into chunks. There are some anglers who claim that at times filleting or chunking the bait will make a difference in catching fish but I have never truly found this to be the case. I think it really has more to do with size than it does whether the bait is chunked or filleted.
Fishing For Catfish With Cut Bait
You can use cut bait on any type of catfish rig and should choose the rig based on your application and catfishing technique. You can also use any kind of catfish hooks based on your personal preference. In recent years masses of anglers have switched to the use of circle hooks for catfish and these hooks work exceptionally well with cut bait.
When choosing a circle hook for fishing with cut bait choose carefully and make sure you use a hook that is large enough. One of the keys to circle hooks working correctly is to have a large enough gap in the hook so it can turn and hook while in the fishes mouth. We have covered this in depth in our Catfishing Radio podcast on catfishing with circle hooks. Some other key things to remember are to hook the bait in a manner so it leaves the gap of the hook open and so it does not double hook itself (covered here).
Hooking the piece of cut bait high on what would be the back of the fish and at an angle will help avoid filling the gap of the hook up and also prevent the hook from fouling. If you opt to use very large pieces of cut bait and have problems missing fish consider using a double hook rig as this will often times increase the hookset ratio with extra large pieces of cut bait.
Preferred hooks for fishing with cut bait are the 7/0 Daiichi Circle Chunk Light and the 8/0 Team Catfish DOUBLE ACTION Catfish Circle Hooks.
Threadfin shad and gizzard shad are one of the most popular and most effective baits to use for blue catfish.
If you would like to get on the “fast track” to catching shad and also learning to pattern catfish check out the Catching Shad program.
There is a free sneak peek available to help you get started with the right cast net and some basic tips on finding and catching shad.
Just click here and enter your name and email address at the bottom of the page to get started.
Catfishing Quick Tip Video – Cut Bait 101