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Getting Stinky: The Best Lures for Catfish

Let’s be upfront about it: the most effective offerings for catfish are cut and live bait or the gooey mess of punch baits and other disgusting concoctions.

Catfish of all species are typically found in murky, warm water, and they primarily hunt with their incredible sense of smell, using their sensitive lateral lines as a backup. It’s pretty obvious, then, that smell is a critical component of any choice for catching cats.

That’s why you’ll see so much stink on the end of the line!

The trouble for most lures is that they’re odorless, and for a scent-dominant hunter, generally uninteresting.

Does that mean no lure will work?

I wouldn’t go that far.

If you want to know more about the best lures for catfish, keep reading!

Related: Best Fishing Line For Catfish, Best Hooks For Catfish

The Best Lures for Catfish

Scent is critical

Given that the skin of catfish is covered in what amount to taste buds, you should never underestimate the attraction a good scent creates. Any reasonable catfish lure will need to incorporate some element of scent, whether that’s a built-in smell in a soft plastic or something you add on to create a scented lure. 

Don’t take my word for it, though. As Keith Sutton, writing for Game & Fish, makes clear, “The best lures are impregnated with scent products.”

Jigs and soft plastics

With the need for smell established, if I throw a lure to cats, I want it to look and act like live bait. 

A good wacky jig head and an appropriate soft plastic will do just that, and it’ll cast like a dream and let me work a lot of water quickly if need be.

A 5-inch Gulp! Alive! Jerk Shad on a ⅛ ounce Reaction Tackle Tungsten Wacky Jig Head can be very effective, especially when you’re working heavy cover and thick vegetation for a cat waiting in ambush.

These soft plastics hold a ton of stink, and especially in warmer water, that smell will spread and attract hungry fish. They also sport a wriggling tail that moves like mad on a wacky head, creating a potent combination of scent and vibration that can attract a big cat.

gulp alive for catfish

Products like this incorporate scent, which is critical for catfishing.

I run a Palomar knot on strong mono to connect the jig head and use my rod tip to lift this combo off the bottom and let it settle again, picking up the slack on the bottom. Varying this cadence to include two or three quick pops before the settle can also trigger a strike.

You can also try just popping the jig off the bottom for a foot or so, working it across the bottom in short hops and pauses.

Reaction Tackle Tungsten Wacky Weedless Jig Head

These weedless wacky heads are ideal for catfish.

Both techniques should attract hunting cats like blues and flatheads.


Another unconventional option is the chatterbait.

Often misunderstood, the chatterbait is designed to create maximal vibration with an angular blade that thumps like mad. And when combined with a stinky trailer, it’s precisely the kind of lure you want for cats.

I’m partial to the Z-man Original, and I’d probably use a 1/2 -ounce model for cats.

z man original Greenback shad

“Greenback shad” is a good choice for catfish.

As you’d expect, your choice of a soft plastic trailer will be everything with a chatterbait.

The 5-inch Gulp! Alive! Jerk Shad I mentioned above are a solid choice and work well with the Z-man. 

But another option to consider is a Strike King Rage Swimmer. Normally, I’d talk about the action of the tail and the color choices, but in this case, it’s serving merely as a vehicle for stink!

Strike King Rage Swimmerpunch bait for catfish

This potent combination really gets the stink spreading.

The idea is simple: the ridges on the Rage Swimmer will hold punch baits pretty well, and the idea is to use the Z-man and trailer as a vehicle for the disgusting bait.

Punch the soft plastic and get it well and truly coated, and then cast the chatterbait and trailer. You don’t want to punch the chatterbait, as you need that blade to move rather than be frozen by bait.

Work it in long, drifting pops, refilling with stink as needed.


A final option to consider is a good crankbait.

For the murky, dark water catfish prefer, my choice would be the ½-ounce Rat-L-Trap in a color like “Chrome Shad.”

They vibrate like crazy, making tight wiggles that alert a hunting blue or flathead’s lateral line. 

½-ounce Rat-L-Trap for catfish

Now, a swimming Rat-L-Trap alone isn’t going to ring the dinner bell for catfish, so you’ll need to add some all-important smell to mix.

I like to take a small chunk of Berkley PowerBait Catfish Bait in a scent like “Chicken Liver” and mold it onto the trebles of my lure. As I run it, that’ll create the smell that leads to a strike.

You’ll want to sweeten your crankbait with some stinky bait.

Final Thoughts

If you choose to throw lures for catfish, keep in mind that you can’t ignore scent. No matter how effective the action on your soft plastic or crankbait, and irrespective of the awesome color choice and technique, no smell typically means no cat.

We hope this article has helped you select the best option for you, and as always, we’d love to hear from you!

Please leave a comment below.

About The Author
Pete Danylewycz
Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Pete grew up fishing on the Great Lakes. Whether he's casting a line in a quiet freshwater stream or battling a monster bass, fishing is his true passion.