Many anglers are familiar with the thrill of catching fish all day long on an outing. Especially if you’re catching fish that put up a fight – like those big old catfish. Most of them in rivers are especially feisty too. When it’s catfish season it’s best to buckle up and have fun cause these puppies are fun to catch.

If you’re a beginner it’s a great way to test your skills out as a fisherman. If you’re a seasoned pro – there’s not many fish that fight quite like a catfish. Here’s what you need to know to get started.

Choose Your Gear Wisely

Usually when it comes to fishing, your gear won’t matter all that much, but for catfish, it can be a different story. There are definitely some minimal equipment you’ll want to have with you on a catfishing trip. Any rod n reel will do but the best is a medium-heavy or a heavy-action rod for catfish. It’ll give you the best chance of success when you snag one.

For hooks and line you’ll want to have a braided line of at least 30 pounds if not more. Some of those suckers can get big. The bigger they are – the bigger they feel and the harder they fight. Normal hooks can work as well but a circle hook will give you your best chance of catching one. You can even use a treble hook to give you a bit of extra help for getting one on the hook.

Bait or Lures

Traditional bait for catfish includes live bait like shad or perch (which do work and work well!) or other even more old fashioned ones like worms and minnows. There’s also stink baits or dough baits which do work off and on in my experience.

Then there are some real creative things that I’ve had work (test these to see for yourself) you can test if you’re feeling desperate or adventurous. Hot dogs, chicken livers, canned corn, honey ham, and meatloaf I’ve all had work in my experience. I don’t recommend these on your first try but if you’re looking for a challenge consider these!

Know When and Where to Fish

Once you’re all geared up – it’s important to plan your trip wisely and take into account both the time of year and location when fishing for catfish in rivers. In spring and early summer they are usually in shallow water but as it warms up they’ll go deeper in the water (especially in warmer places like Texas).

Line Fishing

In my experience, just good old fashioned rod and reel line fishing is the most fun way of catching a catfish. If you’re a beginner you should stick to old fashioned ways – it’ll give you the most enjoyment. If you’re a seasoned vet – I can get wanting to mix things up a bit.

Drift Fishing

This is best done in the warmer months when catfish are still active in the shallow waters and rivers. You’ll need to bait up your hook/lure and use a jig that’ll float. You’re going to be drifting it downstream so you don’t want anything that will sink. Simply bait up your hook and send it downstream and wait to get the hook set on a catfish.


If it’s gotten warm already or you’re fishing in a pond/lake you may have to search deeper for the cats. In this case you’ll need to add weights to your hook or pick a jig that’ll sink in order to find them hiding out deeper in the water. Your bites may be less common so you’ll want to keep a tight line and pay attention. They can hit you hard and fast.

Catching Your Cat

Once you tussle with your first cat or hundredth catfish, I bet you’ll still have a blast doing it. There’s nothing quite like catching a hard-fighting one that you’ve waited for an hour to hit on. The only last few things are – if you’re fishing in the water or in a steep riverbank, be sure to be aware of your surroundings, wear proper gear, and stay safe. The running waters and unstableness of a river can cause for some harm if you’re too focused on your fish on the line.

Don’t forget your hats, bug spray, sunglasses, and bring a buddy if you’re going fishing at night.

Frequently Asked Questions About Catching Catfish in Rivers

What is the best bait for catfish in a river?

Some might say worms or stink bait since they’re traditional (and they do work). Other things that work well are shad, perch, minnows, and other forms of live bait. You might also try unusual things like hotdogs, chicken liver, and other types of food with a pungent smell since catfish in rivers like those the most.

What time of day is best to catch catfish in rivers?

Usually at night is when catfish are most active but very early morning or early in the day during spring and early summer are good times too.

Where do you cast in a river for catfish?

Catfish like to stay in areas near obstructions small or large like logs, rocks, and dams. You can look for slow moving water near these things in rivers or lakes and they will usually be nearby in the right season.