Night Catfishing: A Comprehensive Guide for the Avid Angler

Night catfishing is an exciting and rewarding activity for fishing enthusiasts, offering a unique experience and the opportunity to catch some impressive fish. The peaceful atmosphere of the night waiting for the first catfish bite, combined with the thrill of hooking a big cat, makes night fishing an unforgettable adventure. In this comprehensive guide, we will discuss the best techniques, gear, and locations for night catfishing, as well as tips for catching the three most popular catfish species: channel catfish, blue catfish, and flathead catfish. So grab your gear and let’s dive into the world of night catfishing!

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Preparing for a Night Catfishing Trip

Before you embark on your night catfishing adventure, it’s important to plan and prepare. Make sure you have all the necessary gear, bait, and clothing to ensure a comfortable and successful trip. Check the weather forecast to avoid any surprise storms or unfavorable conditions.

The Importance of Safety While Night Fishing

Safety should always be a top priority when night fishing. Be aware of your surroundings, and let someone know where you’ll be fishing and when you plan to return. Bring along safety gear such as life jackets, a first aid kit, a whistle, and a fully charged cell phone. Additionally, always use caution when handling hooks and other sharp objects in the dark.

Best Times of Year for Night Cat fishing

Although catfish can be caught at night throughout the year, the warmer months from late spring to early fall are generally considered the best times catching catfish at night. During these months, catfish are more active and feeding aggressively, making them easier to catch.

Essential Gear for Night Catfish Anglers

To ensure a successful and enjoyable night fishing  experience, having the right gear is crucial. Here are some essential items to bring along on your nighttime catfishing adventures:


Catfish are known for their keen sense of smell and taste, which they use to find food in the dark. Some of the most effective baits include chicken livers, cut bait fish (such as shad, herring, or other oily fish), and stink baits, which are designed to emit a strong odor that catfish find irresistible. Homemade baits, such as dough balls or cheese, can also be effective. It’s essential to experiment with different baits to see what works best in your specific fishing location. Additionally, don’t be afraid to change up your bait throughout the night, as this can help you attract different types of catfish and increase your chances of success.

Rods and Reels

Choose a sturdy rod and reel combo designed for catfishing, with a medium to heavy power rating and enough line capacity to handle big catfish.

Terminal Tackle

Stock up on hooks, swivels, sinkers, and leaders specifically designed for catfishing. Circle hooks are a popular choice for catfish, as they promote a higher hookup ratio and are more easily removed from the fish.

Headlamps and Lanterns

A headlamp is essential for hands-free lighting when tying knots, baiting hooks, and handling fish. Bring along a lantern or portable LED light for illuminating your fishing area.

Line Clippers and Pliers

These tools are necessary for cutting line and removing hooks. Invest in a quality pair of pliers designed for fishing, as they will be more durable and efficient.

Light-up Bite Indicator or Bell Indicator

These devices attach to the tip of your rod and help you detect bites in the dark, making it easier to react and catch fish.

Spare Tackle

Always bring extra tackle, including hooks, sinkers, and leaders, to be prepared for any situation or the inevitable lost gear.


A sturdy net is essential for landing big catfish, ensuring you don’t lose your catch right at the water’s edge.

Bug Spray

Protect yourself from mosquitoes and other insects by bringing bug spray to keep those pesky critters at bay.


A comfortable chair can make a world of difference during a long night of bank fishing, ensuring you can relax and enjoy the experience.

Full Cooler

Bring a cooler stocked with your favorite beverages and snacks to keep you refreshed and energized throughout the night.

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Tips for Fishing from a Boat vs. Shore

When fishing from a boat, try drifting or anchoring in areas where catfish are likely to congregate, such as near underwater structures, drop-offs and deep holes, or river channels. When shore fishing, look for spots with access to deeper water, such as points, inlets, or steep banks.

Understanding Catfish Behavior and Habitat

Catfish are prevalent in most lakes, channels, and rivers, so finding them shouldn’t be too difficult. I usually try to find a channel or alcove set off from the main part of the lake. If an area like this is not available, I will keep about 4 feet from the shoreline. When fishing for catfish on the great lakes, I try to stick close to the break wall where pockets of sediment will form. This is a prime feeding ground for catfish, thus a prime area to catch them in.

Catching Channel Catfish

Channel cats are the most abundant and widely distributed catfish species in North America. They prefer slow-moving water and can be found in rivers, lakes, and reservoirs. For the best success in catching channel catfish at night, use a 

strong-smelling bait, such as chicken liver, cut bait, or stink bait. Look for areas with cover, like downed trees, large rocks, or underwater vegetation, as these are prime spots where channel catfish like to hide and feed.

Catching Blue Catfish

Blue catfish are the largest catfish species in North America and can be found in large rivers and reservoirs. They prefer deeper water with strong currents and are known for their aggressive feeding habits. When targeting blue catfish at night, use large, fresh cut bait, such as shad or herring. Focus on areas with significant depth changes, like ledges or drop-offs, and be prepared to handle some large and powerful fish.

Catching Flathead Catfish

Flathead catfish are also large, but they prefer slower-moving water and can be found in rivers, lakes, and reservoirs with abundant cover. Unlike other catfish species, flatheads prefer live bait, such as small fish like bluegill or shad. When targeting flathead catfish at night, focus on areas with a lot of structure, like submerged logs, rock piles, or undercut banks. Be patient, as flathead catfish are more solitary and may take longer to locate and entice to bite.

Common Catfishing Mistakes to Avoid

To maximize your chances of success when night catfish fishing, avoid common mistakes like using the wrong bait, not being patient enough, or not paying attention to the conditions. It’s also essential to avoid overfishing an area, as catfish can become wary of baits and less likely to bite if they’ve been caught and released multiple times.

The Benefits of Catch and Release

Practicing catch and release helps maintain healthy catfish populations and ensures that future generations of anglers can enjoy the thrill of night catfishing. When releasing a catfish, handle it gently, minimize the time it spends out of the water, and use a proper release technique to ensure its survival.


Night catfishing offers a unique and exciting fishing experience that all anglers should try at least once. Not only is it a great way to spend time with friends and family, but it also provides the opportunity to catch some trophy-sized catfish under the cover of darkness.

Next time you are itching to fish after the sun goes down, remember that there is a big cat just waiting out there for you.

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Why limit yourself to public land when there are millions of acres of private land to explore.


What are the best baits for night cat fishing?

The best baits include chicken livers, cut bait fish, and stink baits. These baits emit strong smells that attract catfish to your fishing spot. Experiment with different baits to find what works best for the type of catfish you are targeting in your area.

Is it a good night for catfishing?

A good night for catfishing is typically characterized by warm temperatures, overcast skies, and low wind. Catfish tend to be more active and feed during these conditions. Check the weather forecast and moon phase before planning your night fishing trip, as these factors can impact the behavior of catfish.

What time of night is best for catfish?

The best time of night for catfishing is usually during the first few hours after sunset and the last few hours before sunrise. During these periods, catfish are more likely to be active and feeding in shallow waters, making it easier for anglers to catch them. However, catfish can be caught throughout the night, so don’t be discouraged, a good night fishing trip can be any time of night!

Can I use fly fishing techniques to catch catfish at night?

Yes, although not as common, fly fishing can be an effective technique for catching catfish at night. Experiment with large, dark-colored flies that mimic the natural prey of catfish, and use a slow retrieve to entice them to bite.

Are game fish suitable as bait for catfish?

Yes, game fish can be used as cut bait, particularly when targeting blue catfish. Fresh, oily fish like shad or herring are very effective for attracting these large predators. Always ensure you are following local regulations regarding the use of game fish as bait.

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