Kayak Fishing For Catfish – Ultimate Guide

Kayak Fishing For Catfish – Ultimate Guide

Kayak catfishing is an incredibly fun angling activity, albeit a bit niche. There are a few types of kayak catfishing activities.

You can take the catfish home and eat them, or you can simply release them back into the waters they came from. Either way, kayak catfishing is becoming more popular all across the country, and you should consider trying it out too.

However, there aren’t enough resources on kayak catfishing on the internet, in my opinion. This comprehensive guide will explain all you need to know if you are a kayak fishing enthusiast and want to start catching catfish.

The short version: Look for channel, blue, and flathead catfish, especially in the summer or winter when they aren’t moving around. You can use stinkbait to catch them, but make sure you have the right gear and a good fishing kayak.

Read on for the full guide.

Understanding Catfish and Their Habitats

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Becoming an expert catfisher starts with a deeper understanding of catfish and their habitats. This section will go over different species of catfish and how to identify them.

We will also discuss some of the habitats catfish tend to frequent. There is no use trying to fish for catfish in places they are not to be found.

There are around a whopping 3,000 species of catfish on the planet, according to Encyclopedia Britannica. However, in the United States, there are three major classifications of catfish that you will come across while kayak catfishing, so let’s discuss them.

The three types of catfish you are most likely to come across are:

  • Blue catfish
  • Channel catfish
  • Flathead catfish

In fact, you can find at least one species belonging to one of these three classifications of catfish in most lakes and reservoirs in the United States. So, regardless of where you go kayaking, you have a good chance of catching catfish.

Blue catfish and channel catfish both have forked tails. However, flathead catfish do not have forked tails.

As you probably know, catfish can grow to quite large sizes, but that goes primarily for flathead and blue catfish (out of the three I just mentioned). Both can exceed 100 pounds, but channel catfish rarely grow to be heavier than 30 pounds.

Obviously, catching catfish, especially the larger ones, requires different skills than catching smaller fish. We will discuss more tips later in this article, though.

So, how can you identify them?

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The blue catfish is so named because of the slate blue color on its back, which fades to white once you get to the middle of the fish. While they can grow to be over 100 pounds, as I mentioned, most are around 20-40 pounds.

What about length? Most are under two feet, but the larger ones could even grow to beyond five feet.

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Meanwhile, channel catfish are smaller and easily identifiable, as unlike other catfish, they have a deeply forked tail.

It should be noted that blue catfish also have a deeply forked tail (as do some other types like sea and gafftop catfish), but the coloration is more olive brown to slate on the sides and back and gray on the belly.

Also, channel catfish have an upper jaw that protrudes beyond the lower jaw.

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On the other hand, flathead catfish have rounded tails – if the tail is forked, it is only slightly so. What makes flathead catfish easily identifiable, other than the flat head (which is where the name comes from), is the distinct brownish, olive, and yellow coloring it has.

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So, where can you find these types of catfish? As I said, you can typically find catfish all across the US – in fact, channel catfish is a common fish species in the country.

You can typically find blue catfish in river basins in:

  • Ohio
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Virginia
  • Texas (the larger rivers)

The exact locations where you will find the most blue catfish depends on the season. They may migrate downriver during the winter, as it gets colder up north, and then move back north in the summer.

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One of the benefits of targeting blue catfish is that they are very nutritious, not to mention delicious. The blue catfish is considered an invasive species in Chesapeake Bay, so don’t feel bad about catching them there.

Meanwhile, channel catfish are native and populous east of the Rockies from Canada to Mexico and in most of the area east of the Appalachians, except in the coastal plain above Florida.

However, they have been introduced elsewhere. Thus, you can find them in California.

Like the blue catfish, you can also find them in the Rio Grande basins in Texas, although they are likely not native to the area.

In general, channel catfish tend to prefer large streams with a low or moderate current.

They spawn during the summer, and unlike other catfish species, it is possible to catch them during the spawning season. In general, it’s best to catch catfish when the temperature is stable, though.

That is because as the temperature changes, catfish of different species may migrate to warmer climates. Therefore, finding them in abundant numbers can be tough – it’s not that they don’t exist, it’s just that you won’t always know where to find them, as they are often moving upstream or downstream, depending on the seasonal change.

Even the winter is an okay time to catch catfish if you know where they are, as they are not moving around too much during that time, as a general rule.

While you can find channel catfish east of the Appalachians, west of the Appalachians is where you will typically find flathead catfish. Basins in Missouri, Mississippi, and Ohio have plenty of them.

A good time to catch them is actually in the autumn, as they are feeding before the winter, so you will get some nice, plump, and juicy catfish.

In general, a lot of people prefer to go fishing for catfish at night. There’s an old saying that catfish bite better at night, but if you can only go during the day, that’s fine too.

Essential Gear and Equipment

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In this section, I will discuss what gear you need to have to go catfish fishing.

It all starts with a good kayak. Most fishing kayaks are suitable for catfish kayaking as well.

However, since catfish tend to be big and heavy, it’s important to focus on stability as a main factor. You will need to stay stable to avoid falling into the water while you reel in those monster catfish.

I’d start with checking out our guide to buying a fishing kayak, which discusses how to determine if a kayak is a fishing kayak and what to look for in a fishing kayak. We also have a list of the best fishing kayaks.

Another article that you might find useful is our guide on 15 different types of fishing kayaks. Fishing kayaks come in many shapes and sizes – you might prefer a sit-on-top kayak instead of a sit-in one or an inflatable kayak if you don’t have an easy way to transport your kayak.

Also, due to the size of catfish, you will also need to have enough storage space. So, choose a kayak with plenty of storage space.

In this guide, we discuss different ways to store fish on a kayak.

Next, you’ll need to buy appropriate fishing gear for catching large fish like catfish.

You will need a heavy power rod, as well as a durable reel with a bait-clicker and a lot of drag strength. If you have ever caught a catfish before, you know that they are very strong, and they will fight you to the death!

I recommend using a no-roll sinker; these are very popular among catfishers. As for hooks, treble hooks are great for channel catfish while circle hooks are good for blue and flathead catfish; kahle hooks are okay as well.

In general, catfish hooks must be strong and sharp. That is because catfish do not have soft mouths that are easy to penetrate; they are typically tougher and thicker, so a strong, sharp hook is critical.

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As for bait, nightcrawlers, earthworms, shrimp, and skipjack herring all work. Primarily, though, you will want to use stink bait, as catfish like stinky bait.

Stinkbait is bait that smells quite bad. You can use chicken liver, shad, rotting shrimp, Limburger cheese, and gutted fish.

You can also mix them together, let them marinade and start stinking, and then use them. It is easy to buy stinkbait at fishing shops; stinkbait is primarily used to catch catfish due to the way it attracts them.

While the smell of stinkbait might disgust and repel you, catfish find it absolutely hard to resist, for whatever reason.

To store all your tackle, get a good tackle box.

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Finally, you will need safety gear for fishing. A personal flotation device is an absolute must.

Even if it is not legally required in your area, you should still be using one for safety purposes. Remember, catfish fight the big fight, so you have a higher chance of getting pulled into the water while catfishing.

On that note, you should also get a dry suit or a wetsuit to keep yourself nice and comfy in case you fall in the water. Also, a dry bag for your important possessions wouldn’t hurt.

Don’t worry. A life jacket doesn’t have to restrict your movement – here are the most comfortable life jackets you can buy.

One more thing: Investing in an anchor is a must, even if you don’t usually use one for kayaking. An anchor will help you keep your kayak in one spot, so you can fish comfortably and securely.

Techniques and Strategies

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In this section, we will discuss some of the best fishing tips, techniques, and strategies for catching catfish from a kayak.

First, let’s discuss finding the catfish. Using a fish finder can be a big help – check out our guide to the best fish finders if you don’t yet own a fish finder.

A fish finder is simply an instrument that uses SONAR technology to detect where fish are underwater.

Catfish tend to be slow. Try moving the bait slowly along the bottom – also use live or freshly cut bait to reel in your catfish.

If you only have artificial bait, such as artificial shad bait, be extra careful to slowly drag it along the bottom and wait until a catfish pounces. Buy quality artificial bait, ideally those that look like live bait, with eyes and all, to fool and attract the catfish.

Patience is important when it comes to catfish. Over time, you will develop better techniques for reeling them in, so don’t worry if it takes some time at first to get the hang of it.

What I would recommend is to wait after the initial hit or bounce and until the catfish is securely hooked before trying to reel it in.

Catfish are excellent fighters, and if you try reeling one in too early just after the initial bite, it is likely that you will lose the fight, especially if you are not experienced enough.

In general, though, it’s helpful to know where catfish tend to hang out. You can usually find them in holes, although if you are aiming for larger catfish, you can often find them in deeper water channels.

One thing worth noting is that catfish tend to come to shallow waters at night. During the day, they don’t like being very active and typically just hide out in holes.

While bottom fishing is great for catching catfish, drift fishing is a pretty good way to catch them as well, especially when they are abundant and active.

Besides, you can easily cover more ground and catch plenty of catfish in a kayak by drifting. You can combine the two and drift along the bottom.

Anchor fishing isn’t my top choice for catfishing, as I prefer to be moving in my kayak. That is what kayaks are for, anyway.

Best Practices and Tips

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It’s important to be careful when reeling in catfish. Ensuring you have a stable fishing kayak and a good anchor will help keep you safe.

With practice, you will get better at keeping your balance. Try staying towards the center of the kayak, but if you must get on the edge, have a friend balance it out on the other side.

One other thing worth mentioning is to be careful when handling catfish. There are over 1,600 species of catfish that are venomous.

The spines on the dorsal and pectoral fins can contain venomous glands, although not in all catfish.

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Usually, at least in North America, the catfish that are venomous aren’t deadly. Still, getting a sting can be pretty painful, and it can cause some swelling and pain.

There are some species of catfish that are actually deadly. Fortunately, they are located in other parts of the world.

That doesn’t mean you are entirely safe. While the sting itself might not be venomous enough to kill you, the break in the skin could lead to bacterial or fungal infections, so it’s important to wash the wound, disinfect it, and treat it properly.

In addition, if part of the spine gets broken off and stuck under your skin, it could be dangerous as well, so visit an urgent care center to get it out.

That brings us to the topic of catching and releasing, which is best done without touching the catfish in case it’s venomous. You can use a dehooker, hook it into the hook at a 180-degree angle while rotating the fish away from you, and then fling it back into the water.

Make sure to keep the line taut while doing so.

Finally, it’s important to stay hydrated and comfortable. If you’re kayaking in warm or hot weather, the risk of dehydration is incredibly real.

You should make sure you are drinking enough water. If you can, bring a small cooler, so you can carry cold drinks.

Avoid dehydrating beverages, mainly beverages containing caffeine or alcohol. That includes coffee, energy drinks, and beer.

Taking some oral rehydration solutions, which usually come in dissolvable tablet or powder form, can help your body retain the nutrients and hydration you need.

Wearing a cap or hat can not only help you stay cool, but it will also protect you against sunburn.

Kayak Fishing Destinations for Catfish

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In general, any shallow or slow moving rivers, streams, and backwaters are good for catching catfish. Bottom channels and channel edges are good; in particular, rivers with deep holes and outside river bends are prime spots to find those big cats.

Here are some popular rivers for kayak catfishing:

  • The Potomac River
  • The Colorado River
  • The Red River
  • The Missouri River
  • The Gasconade River

Other areas include:

  • Huzzah Creek
  • Lake Kapowsin
  • Chesapeake Bay (catfishing is actually encouraged there because the species is invasive)
  • Lake Texoma

Make sure to purchase a fishing license from approved vendors in your state before you go fishing, as required by law. Depending on the state, you may even need a license just for catching and releasing, even if you don’t intend to keep the fish.

Buying a license isn’t usually difficult and can usually be done online or at convenience stores.

You can find more information about purchasing a fishing license by selecting your state on the US Fish and Wildlife Service website. Remember, the money is going towards conserving our waterways.

Note that depending on the state, it may not be required to have a license for teenagers under a certain age.

Success Stories and Angler Insights

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To wrap things up, we’ll be sharing a few insights from experienced kayak anglers who enjoy targeting catfish.

The “Louisiana Sportsman” has an interesting tip: to set the lines the night before your kayak trip, if at all possible. This allows you to get more fish during the night.

Another useful tip he has is to use the “match the hatch” method. In other words, when you successfully catch a cat, open it up and check its stomach.

What kind of food does it have? Choose your bait for your next trip based on what you see in its stomach; this will help you achieve greater success.

He also says not to discount artificial lure like spinnerbaits and spoons, as many kayak anglers have actually seen a good amount of success with them.

According to The Honest Angler, you are best off if you have at least one backup plan – several, if possible – in case you don’t find any cats. He likes starting at creek mouths and then moving on to the channel, current breaks, and deep holes, in that order.

Learn about the area and know which spots would be good to find catfish. Have a few options at your disposal, so your trip doesn’t turn into a waste.

There are many bloggers and YouTubers who detail their chronicles and journeys hunting for big cats. My favorite kayak catfishing YouTuber is Justin Johnston, aka Kayak Catfish.

If you’ve ever seen his channel, you’ll see the kinds of amazing catches he makes!

Kayak Catfish, YouTube

While he started fishing in his teenage years, he started getting into catfishing in his 20s, and it is now his primary fishing activity. He loves catching massive cats and has developed great techniques and strategies for catching them, which he shares on his channel.

As a beginner catfisher, it’s useful to learn the tried and tested techniques of experienced catfishers so you learn from their mistakes. Seeing how they manage to catch big fish will also give you motivation and encouragement.

Kayak Fishing for Catfish – Recap

So, let’s recap the key points we discussed in this article.

The three most common types of catfish you’ll find are flathead, blue, and channel cats. You can find them at any time of the year, but it’s best to look for them in holes during the summer or winter, especially at night.

The more catfishing you do, the better you will become. It might be challenging to get a lot of cats at the beginning, especially if they fight back, but you will get better!

So, don’t wait – get the necessary gear, make sure you are staying safe and following relevant safety regulations, and start your catfishing journey today!

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Peter Salisbury

Pete is the Owner of KayakHelp.com. Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, he grew up kayaking, fishing, sailing, and partaking in outdoor adventures around the Great Lakes. When he’s not out on the water, you can find him skiing in the mountains, reading his favorite books, and spending time with his family.

Welcome! I’m so glad you are here :-) I’m Pete. I am the owner of KayakHelp.com. I was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, I grew up kayaking, fishing, sailing, and partaking in outdoor adventures around the Great Lakes. When I am not out on the water, you can find me skiing in the mountains, reading my favorite books, and spending time with my family.