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5 Rookie Catfishing Mistakes You Don’t Want To Make


#1 – Obsessing Over Catfish Gear

One of the critical errors I see people make that are new to catfishing or just getting started being serious with catfishing is they obsess over gear. There seems to be this major concern that they don’t have the right “stuff” or don’t have enough “stuff” and they start on this quest to get the latest and greatest catfish rods, catfish reels or tackle. They spend so much time focusing on the gear that they lose sight of what is really going to make the difference in fishing and catching and that’s time on the water and learning to pattern fish.

If you are just getting started, just getting serious, or just are not having a lot of luck catching fish there are a LOT of things you should be focusing your attention on, and obsessing over gear is nowhere on that list. If you have a fishing rod, and you have a reel, STOP worrying about these new shiny things, they are not likely to help you catch any more fish and are not likely to help you catch any bigger fish.

My email inbox is littered with questions from people about catfish rods and reels. I see message forums where people post almost every single day with questions about gear almost to the point of being obsessive. I have conversations with anglers all the time who spend hours on end scouring the internet looking at rods and reels trying to find that perfect one that is going to make the difference.

The best rods and reels that money can buy will do nothing to help you start catching fish.

Some of the best anglers I know use some real junk when it comes to fishing tackle, rods and reels. They don’t have any flashy, fancy stuff, they don’t have the latest and greatest reel, and they catch a heck of a lot of fish.

Now don’t get me wrong, having specific rods or reels with certain functions or features (like a bait clicker)  certainly helps in the long run with certain catfishing techniques but for the time being, just get that out of your head and quit worrying about it. if you get to a point where you are locating fish on a continuous basis and you have a good “feel” for the best tackle to suit your fishing still, it is OK to obsess a little. Until then, you need to focus your attention on other areas (keep reading and I will fill you in more).

The rods, reels and tackle don’t catch the catfish, putting the right bait in the right area in front of the fish catches them. Again, don’t get me wrong, ultimately having the right gear helps a lot but don’t lose sight of what is going to make you successful, so you start catching fish.

In all the years I have been fishing for catfish, and all the years I have been a catfish guide I have never lost a fish because I didn’t have the right rod or the right reel. When I say never I mean never.

Another reason behind waiting when you are just getting started or just get experienced is I find when most people are getting started (or getting serious) they rush out and buy gear and a short time later they realize they made a mistake. If they had only known three months ago what they know now, they would have done it completely different.

If you have a few rods and reels, just use what you have. Quit searching and quit obsessing.

When you get to a point that you are finding fish and locating them on a consistent basis, go buy some new gear. When you get to a point that you didn’t land that trophy class catfish because you stripped the gears from your reel or your rod broke, go buy some new gear.

Until you start consistently catching fish, those shiny new rods and reels hanging off the side of your boat are nothing more than fancy overpriced decorations.

If you don’t have any gear at all and need to get something to get started, then check out the articles, videos and podcasts I have posted at the bottom of this article.

#2. Using The Wrong Fishing Line

The Right Line and The Right Hooks Make ALL The Difference. Remember I said that I have NEVER lost a catfish because I didn’t have the right rod or the right reel, I haven’t.

I have however lost fish because I wasn’t using the right fishing line or didn’t have good fishing line and have missed fish because I wasn’t using the right hooks. Having the right fishing line and having it in good condition is the critical link in landing a fish, especially a bigger catfish. Having the right hooks will not only greatly increase the number of fish that you are catching but will make your time spent fishing much less frustrating as well.

Fishing line is critical when it comes to catfish. Not only do you need to make sure you are using the right line but you need to make sure it is in good condition. There is nothing worse than hooking that MONSTER catfish or losing any fish on the way into the boat because your line snapped. It’s a horrible feeling, especially when it is that “fish of a lifetime”.

I see so much stuff online and talk to see many people that are just all over the place when it comes to fishing line. They are either using line that is way too light, line that is way too heavy, or stuff that is otherwise just completely and totally wrong for what they are doing.

The right line will make or break your success.

I’m going to break this down into a couple of categories, channel catfish and everything else.

Before I do that though I want to say something about fishing line.


Anglers that target bass, crappie and many other species of fish spend a lot of time and money worrying about line visibility in the water. Tackle companies sell everything from red line that supposedly “vanishes” in the water to every different color and material. They all claim to be better than the rest when it comes to “not being seen” in the water so they can land more fish.

I have never missed a catfish because my fishing line was not the right color. Think about it for a minute, for years anglers have been landing catfish on trotlines and juglines using big heavy braided nylon twine. If catfish were line why would they hit a piece of bait hanging off a heavy string (or even rope) in the water? No, they wouldn’t.

Don’t get me wrong, catfish can see, and I actually think they can see better than most people give them credit for but they are not a species of fish where you need to worry about using a line that will not be seen in the water, so get that out of your head now!

Having good fishing line is a critical link to landing and catching fish. Most people choose line that is way too heavy or line that is way too light and it ends up hurting them more than it helps them.


Fishing Line For Channel Catfish

For channel catfish I like to use 12 lb test fishing line. The color doesn’t matter and I really don’t have a preference on brand either. Just go with a good quality brand like Ande, Stren, Trilene, Berkley, Team Catfish or the likes. Fishing line is a critical item and something you don’t want to pinch pennies on.

I like this 12 lb test line for channel catfish because it’s heavy enough to land any channel catfish but still light enough that it can be cast with very little weight and can be used for many of the “finesse” techniques I use for channel catfish and ultra sensitive and light weight catfish rigs like the secret channel catfish rig.


Fishing Line For “Everything Else”

For everything else (blue catfish and flathead catfish) I like 20 lb test monofilament fishing line. The Texas State Record blue catfish and former World Record Blue Catfish that weighed 121 lbs was caught on 20 lb test monofilament. I am of the opinion that you can land any catfish your likely to hook with this fishing line.

If your concerned about this being too light then you can certainly go a little heavier and use 30 lb test monofilament but when doing so you sacrifice castability. There is a noticable difference casting 20 lb test and 30 lb test so as long as you are OK with the sacrifice there then go for it.

There is absolutely no need to use anything heavier than 30 lb test though. The current World Record Blue Catfish that weighed 143 lbs was caught on 30 lb test line. If you have the drag set properly on your fishing reel then twenty to thirty lb test line will do all you need it to do.

Now let’s talk about color. I like hi visibility fishing line in colors like bright green and bright yellow. The bright yellow is my favorite. The reason these hi-vis fishing lines are so popular among catfish anglers is that often times being able to see your fishing line is critical.


Why You Need Hi-Vis Line

Fishing Tight Line: Fishing with a “tight line” is a common technique for catfishing. When fishing like this you want to be able to quickly and easily tell if your line is tight or if it has slack in it because many times keeping that line completely tight with no slack in it is critical. Having fishing line that stands out and is easy to see will really help with this.

Seeing Line Move: It’s not uncommon using different techniques or when fishing in shallow water for catfish to strike and not pull away from the rod. They will hit and swim towards the boat, they will swim sideways and everything else you could imagine. If you cannot see this and readily identify when it is taking place, you are going to miss fish. Some of the biggest catfish I have caught over the years have been fish that did nothing more initially than make the line go slack.

Multiple Lines: It’s common practice for catfish anglers to fish with multiple lines at one time. This is a great way to cover a lot of water when using a variety of techniques but you need to be able to tell where those lines are and keep them from getting crossed up and tangled. High visibility fishing line with help a lot with avoiding this.


What About Braid

Usually when I start talking about fishing line I start getting questions about braid. I am NOT a fan of braided fishing line but I do all my fishing in lakes and reservoirs. Braid is expensive, it is harder to cast with and it is really hard on your fishing gear because it does not have any stretch.

Braid is the most over utilized tackle item in catfishing, there is a time and place for it but it never ceases to amaze me how many people are out there fishing in open water for “box fish” using 80 lb braided fishing line.

If you are fishing in lakes and reservoirs there really is no reason to use braid unless you are fishing in heavy cover, monofilament line will do everything you need it to do and then some outside of heavy cover.

if you are going to be fishing in big rivers with heavy current then braid may be a good option for you. Many of the big river anglers that fish in heavy current prefer braid over monofilament because of the smaller diameter. I have talked a lot about this on the catfishing radio podcast and you can listen to some of the episodes available through the links below to find out more information on this topic.

#3 – Using Bad Fishing Line

Not only is choosing the right line important but keeping good line on your fishing reels is just as important. As line ages it gets brittle and develops memory. When this happens the first thing you notice is memory developing which means when there is slack in the line it will “coil up”. This memory in the fishing line makes it more difficult to cast and then ultimately the line will begin to get brittle and you will start losing fish because the line will break.

It amazes me how many people head out to fish with line that has been on the reel since they bought it 11 years ago. The first time they go to tie a knot the line snaps in their hand and they don’t understand why. That very same thing happens when they hook a fish also.

There is no magic timeframe for when to change your fishing reel but I like to change my line every six months or less. I change my line in the early Fall and then again in the early Spring and that usually works for me.

Of course there are some things you can do to make your line last longer.

The first is to never store your rods in direct sunlight when they are not in use.The UV rays are brutal on fishing line and will cause it to develop memory and break down faster. Just make sure when you are not using your fishing rods you keep them out of direct sunlight.

Another thing you can do is use a product on your line called Real Magic by TTI Blakemore. This product helps reduce memory in your line and helps make it super limp and castable. I like to give the line on my fishing reels a good health dose of Real Magic every 3-4 fishing trips at the least and it certainly helps.

# 4 – Using The Wrong Hooks

The right hooks are critical and this includes everything from the right size to the right style hooks and using GOOD QUALITY hooks that are sharp.

From using the wrong style hooks to using dull hooks to cussing circle hooks because they “don’t work” I have seen and heard it all.

You need to understand that catfish are MUCH different than crappie, bass, stripers and most other species of fish. Their mouths are very hard and their lips are thick. This makes having a hook that will penetrate much more critical than fishing for other species of fish (like bass and crappie) and having a hook with a wide gap that will clear the exterior of the fishes mouth even more critical.

I mentioned before not pinching pennies on line. Hooks are the other area that I suggest you not be cheap on and spend the money on good hooks that are good and sharp and stay sharp. You can make up for it and save money in other areas if you need to but when it comes to line and hooks, go all in.

Take a few bucks of all that money you would have spent on ten new rod and reel combinations you would have sitting in your garage and invest it hooks.

This (below) is all you need. I have been using the same hooks for as long as I can remember and no matter what I have tried over the years I have always gone back to the same old hooks. There is a reason these are the most popular hooks among catfish anglers all across the United States.

I’ll make this short, sweet and to the point:


Channel Catfish

Prepared Baits – Size 6 – 4x Strong Treble Hooks

Natural and Cut Baits – 3/0 Eagle Claw Kahle hook.


Blue Catfish and Flathead Catfish

These hooks are capable of handling anything you throw at them from box fish to trophy class fish. If you ultimately end up in a situation where you are catching  very large trophy class fish consistently then you may find a need for bigger hooks but these hooks are more than enough to get started.

The Daiichi Circle Chunk Light Size 7/0

Team Catfish Double Action Circle Hook Size 8/0

#5 – Obsessing Over Catfish Rigs

If I got a big group of people on the phone right now that were all catfish guides and tournament anglers and started talking about catfish rigs you would find one thing in common. About 95% of them would all use the same rigs or very similar rigs with maybe a few slight variations.

I continue to see and hear from people who are on some sort of hell bent quest to build a better mousetrap or learn nineteen different ways to rig for catfish.

Here’s a news flash, if you get your catfish bait in front of a hungry fish, chances are it is going to bite.

Sure, there are instances where a drop shot rig will make a difference in your fishing because of the technique but if you put a bait in front of a hungry fish at the right time, it’s going to bite. You can spend weeks on end trying to “build a better mousetrap” and trying to reverse engineer every single type of catfish rig there is out  there but there are plenty of proven ones out there that will work and work well.

Quit obsessing over the rigging, learn the basic catfish rigs like the santee rig, slip sinker rig, three way rig, modified three way rig and the slip bobber rig and move on. Spending 18 hours in your garage trying to figure out how to effectively attach a 35mm film case stuffed full of range cubes to your fishing line is going to do nothing more than make you an expert on rigging a film case on a fishing rig.

Here’s what I use:

Channel Catfish: The Secret Catfish Rig

Blue Catfish: Slip Sinker Rig, Santee Rig and every once and a while a modified three way rig or double hook rig.

Flathead Catfish: Slip Sinker Rig, Santee Rig and every once and a while a slip bobber rig or drop shot rig

99.9% of my fishing could be accomplished with a slip sinker rig, a santee rig and the secret catfish rig


Suggested Product Links

Daiichi Saltwater Circle Chunk Light In-Line Hooks – Model D81Z

Team Catfish DOUBLE ACTION Catfish Circle Hooks

Offshore Angler Tight Line – 1 2 lb. Spools

Ande Tournament Monofilament Line – 1 4 lb. Spools

Eagle Claw 4X Strong Treble Hooks

Eagle Claw Kahle Hooks


Articles, Videos and Podcasts Where You Can Learn More:

Like I said, I don’t want you to obsess over gear but if you are going to spend money I want you to make an informed decision and not waste your money on something that is not going to work. We’ve all spent money on stuff over the years that we regretted later because it wasn’t quality or ended up not being the right thing and it stinks.

There are a LOT of resources on the website that will help you in selecting the right gear so check them out through the links below:

Choosing A Catfish Rod – Catfishing Radio Podcast

Choosing A Catfish Reel – Catfishing Radio Podcast

Catfish Rods Section

Catfish Reels Section

Catfish Line, Braid and Monofilament on Catfishing Radio

Daryl and Jason Masingale on Catfishing Radio

Ohio River Catfish with Captain Paul Willett on Catfishing Radio

Missouri Catfish With Ryan Casey on Catfishing Radio


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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. Great info. I keep telling new guys to go fishing and quit worrying about the gear. The gear does not catch the catfish, understanding the catfish does.

  2. That’s me Chad and i need to stop and quit spending money like crazy. But I’m gonna take your advise and save Ca$h. Only been fishing for 3 months continually. It’s fun but expensive and makes you impatient to. Makes you go, “I want this I want that.” Thanks for the info and not ashamed to admit my mistakes.

  3. Thank you for the session Dr. Chad!!! Now I can sit back and relax on my spending spree……….

    Actually, I have bought quite a bit of stuff, BUT, the stuff I have bought is right on track with your list. And the stuff I have bought is everything I need to make the rigs you mentioned above (except for the secret rig…. still gotta get that one).

    Keep up the great work!!

  4. great simple and right to the point. keep it simple. another great one, thks chad

  5. For you guys trying to save money, I forget where I ran across it on here but Chad recommended buying your terminal tackle off ebay. I generally fish 4 times a week which usually costs about $50 in tackle every weekend. I got on ebay and amazon and was able to get enough gear to do probably a year for $100. Decide what tackle you are using the most and take a look on there, it saved me ALOT of cash! Thanks for all the great information you provide Chad!

  6. scott peeps says:

    ben thing on buying the bobber with a brain what is your thought on this kind of bobber

  7. Billy Sullivan says:

    very good article.enjoyed reading it.learned a couple things too.I am guilty of the buying too much stuff and trying to out think myself.

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