Let’s get the truth out there up front: commercial catfish baits are easy to come by, surprisingly economical, and very, very effective on channel cats.
There’s just no question about that.
And until you’ve actually processed a disgusting mash of rotten minnows, spoiled cheese, and chicken livers in a plastic bucket, let that concoction ripen further, and then mixed in some flour and oil, you have no idea how nasty making your own catfish bait can be!
But while all this may be undeniably true, plenty of anglers still like to make their own and swear by their secret sauce, skipping the store-bought stuff entirely.
If you’re one of these die-hards, or you’ve been considering making your own bait at home, we’re here for you. We’ve done our homework on homemade catfish baits so you won’t need to!
And as you’ll see, we’ve collected the recipes for the best homemade catfish baits, and we’ll reveal their secrets so that you can tailor your baits to find what works best for you.
Table of Contents (clickable)
- 1 The Three-Ingredient Secret to Homemade Catfish Bait
- 2 Be Prepared to Tinker on Fishing Day
- 3 The Best Catfish Bait Recipes
- 4 Final Thoughts
If you're looking to just buy some bait check out our guide on the Best Catfish Bait
The Three-Ingredient Secret to Homemade Catfish Bait
Catfish bait recipes can be closely guarded secrets, but after sampling dozens and dozens, we’ve found that the best include some common elements that make them all variations of a few simple themes.
- The first common element is a stinky protein, whether that’s sun-ripened minnows, over-ripe cheese, or just livers that have been left out to turn.
Even simple hotdogs can serve as a protein for homemade catfish baits.
A quick glance at most catfish bait recipes reveals that cheese and liver are among the most popular choices for a protein, and both make a pungent bait when processed correctly. But don’t forget the easy-to-add alternatives like dog and cat food or sardines.
- The second is a thickening agent. In some cases, this is flour or bread, but in others, it can be as simple as adding additional salt to desiccate the protein and firm it up.
For dough baits, flour is the best choice, but be prepared for 10 to 15 minutes of kneading to produce the sticky glutens that define this texture.
For punch baits, nothing beats simply cattail fluff. When added to your bait, it will quickly thicken it into a sticky, solid mass.
For punch baits, nothing makes a better thickening agent than cattail fluff.
I recommend skipping thickening agents like cornflakes and oats as they’re more likely to attract carp.
- The final element is an additional flavor or scent. Garlic is a common choice, but blood, sardine oil, anise extract, and any of several dozen other possibilities can make their way into these recipes.
The strong scent and flavor of garlic drives catfish wild!
Molasses, Kool-Aid, and fruit-flavored Jell-O are common. I’m not sold on sugar, unless it’s there to fuel fermentation. There are folks who swear by lime gelatin, but I’m just not keen on using anything that doesn’t impart strong, penetrating flavor.
As this should make clear to you, as long as you include one of each element and adjust the ratio to get the consistency you’re looking for, you can make an effective homemade catfish bait.
Be Prepared to Tinker on Fishing Day
Keep in mind that homemade catfish baits, like commercial offerings, usually come in two general styles: punch baits and dip baits.
Punch baits are thicker concoctions that use more of the second element--the thickener-- to increase their viscosity. Dip or sponge baits are runnier messes that need help to stay put, thus the sponge or ridged worm.
A good punch bait should be at least as thick as peanut butter.
Whichever way you go, some experimentation is usually necessary here, as higher temperatures can quickly thin a bait that was thick when the weather was cool. The opposite is also true: a runny bait will thicken in colder weather, so always be ready to thin or thicken your concoction as needed.
Dip baits can be pretty runny, especially if you use them with a sponge.
Other styles are popular as well, including dough baits and “chunk” baits like livers, blood, or hotdogs that have been adulterated by salting and/or the addition of other flavors.
The Best Catfish Bait Recipes
Super Punch/Dough Bait
1 lb. cheese, preferably stinky
½ lb. chicken livers, left out for a few hours to ripen
3 tbs. garlic salt
the oil from 1 can of sardines
Flour and/or cattail fluff
Grate or grind the cheese to break it up into fine pieces. Thick chunks should be avoided. It’s also possible to melt the cheese in a microwave to soften it to a workable consistency.
Chop the ripened chicken livers, preferably outside, on a cutting board you’ll use only for this.
Combine these ingredients in a bucket, add the garlic salt and sardine oil, and begin slowly adding flour as you stir this mixture with a stick or long-handled spoon. Once it has reached your desired consistency, stop adding flour.
For more thickening, add cattail fluff until you have a thick punch bait.
This bait should be pretty thick and is ideal as punch bait. More flour can be added to create a dough bait, in which case you must knead this concoction like bread for 10 to 15 minutes to activate the gluten in the flour.
Then, balls of dough bait can be formed, boiled briefly (outside!) to toughen, and stored in Ziploc bags. Just don’t freeze them, as this will break down the blood in the livers.
Store this bait in a sealed container in your garage, and for the love of all that’s holy, don’t open it inside!
Magic Minnow Dip Bait
A few dozen minnows or a few small shad
1 container of chicken livers with blood
½ cup of flour or cornmeal
1 tbsp. garlic powder
1 tbsp. sugar
In a blender, puree the minnows or shad and chicken livers, slowly adding the dry ingredients.
You should end up with something that has the consistency of oatmeal - but it will thicken as it ripens.
Pour this mixture into a sealed mason jar or similar container, and let it ferment for up to a month. Shaking this bait once or twice a day will help the consistency and fermentation process, and it will be ready to use in a week.
Be prepared for some retch-inducing odor when you do unscrew the lid!
Hotdog Chunk Bait
A dozen hotdogs
2 tbsp. minced garlic
2 tbsp. garlic salt
the oil from one can of sardines
Optional: strawberry Kool-Aid powder
Slice the hotdogs into one-inch pieces, and add all the ingredients to a sealed jar. If you’re adding the red drink mix, include enough water to get it liquidy. Color, rather than flavor, is the goal with the Kool-Aid, and you want a vibrant red.
Shake, and store in a cool, dark place for a day or two.
This one’s not so bad on the nose, but the garlic and oil definitely create a scent trail in moving water.
Catfish Dinner Bell Punch Bait
1 lb. Velveeta
2 cans of wet dog food
4 tbsp. garlic salt
¼ cup used cooking oil, bacon grease, or similar
Microwave the Velveeta to soften it to a runny consistency, like nacho cheese. In a bucket, stir the Velveeta together with the other ingredients, slowly adding the thickening agent until the desired consistency is reached.
This bait can be used fresh, but it typically gets much better with some careful aging.
The Stink Bait
2 cans of tuna in oil
2 cans of sardines in mustard
½ lb. chicken livers with blood
1 tbs. garlic salt
2 boxes of stuffing mix
A loaf of dry bread
Puree the wet ingredients with the garlic salt in a blender, and pour this mixture into a sealed container. Leave this concoction to ripen in the shade for a week or so.
When ready, stir in the stuffing mix, adding dried bread to achieve a thick, dough-like consistency. Alternatively, this can be left thinner for use as a punch or dip bait.
CBMIGP (chicken breast marinated in garlic powder) Chunk Bait
1 lb. chicken breast (you can ask your grocery store for chicken that’s past its date)
Cut the spoiled chicken breast into roughly 1-inch cubes and season liberally with garlic powder. Let them marinate overnight in a sealed container.
This simple bait is a tried-and-true winner, and plenty of catfish anglers choose this as their go-to option.
Aged Cheese and Liver Bait
2 lbs. cheddar or similar cheese
2 lbs. chicken liver in a container with blood
4 tbsp. minced garlic or 1 bottle of anise extract or vanilla extract
sardine or cod liver oil
Cut the cheese into 1-inch cubes. In a plastic container, cover the cheese cubes with hot water and mash them into a paste. In a blender, grind the livers and blood and add this to the cheese paste. Add the garlic or extract and stir well to combine.
Cover the container and store in a refrigerator for at least several weeks. Be warned: this bait will ferment and release gases that may break the seal on the container.
That’s a disaster waiting to happen!
After the maturing process is completed, stir in the flour and oil to achieve your desired consistency.
Each of these catfish recipes is tried and tested, and we can guarantee that they work! Their divorce-inducing stench and mess are not to be believed, so please take care where and when you make these concoctions, store them carefully, and avoid opening a ripened bait near other people.
As always, we’d love to hear from you. Do you have a favorite recipe or tip we didn’t cover?
Please let us know in the comments below.