Putting a catfish in the boat or on the bank requires a good hook. Not just any one will do, however. You need the best catfish hooks for the bait and technique you’re using, as well as the size of the fish you’re targeting. If everything else is top-notch, you don’t want the hook to be the weak link. Veteran catfish anglers know that strong hooks with sharp, penetrating points get the job done.
Things to Consider Before Buying Catfish Hooks
Catfish can be caught throughout North America, from small bullheads in farm ponds to giant blue, flathead and channel cats that defy imagination. They can be caught around the world, except in Antarctica. Catfish diversity is most pronounced in the tropics of South America, Asia and Africa, with almost 3,000 species worldwide. They range in size from the giant Mekong and Wells catfish in Asia and Europe to the tiny, parasitic Candiru in the Amazon Basin. Sit down, take a deep breath and Google the latter before saying a prayer of thanks that they’re not found in the U.S.
Catfish are muscular and wary. Even with a great oily, bloody bait tantalizing their many taste receptors, catfish won’t pounce and gobble like a bass or pike. They may take a bite and then hit again if they think everything is copacetic. Then, the battle is on. They’re aggressive fighters once hooked, rolling and charging hard against your pressure. Smaller bullheads and pond cats caught on light tackle are great sport, rivaling in relative fight their bigger cousins in major rivers and legendary catfish haunts. Even the saltwater gafftopsail catfish, found from Panama to Cape Cod, puts up a fight. I’ve spent a few nights in the Gulf of Mexico on motherships drinking cold beer after supper and catching gafftopsails on shrimp head scraps. We needed good hooks for them, too, to get through their bony mouths. No matter which species or the location, your chances increase if you’re using the best catfish hook possible. Some things to consider:
Are you going after giant blue or flathead catfish in a big river? Bullheads in a farm pond? Do you have kids who need to catch fish and create memories? Are you in a tournament? Consider the size of the catfish you’re going after and plan accordingly. Most veteran catmen have a wide selection of hooks in a tackle box. If you’re a weekend or occasional angler, do the same. Select and separate hooks by size for small, medium or large fish, and for the right bait.
Know Your Hooks
Experienced anglers know that putting a yee-haw hookset on a fish with a circle hook almost always results in a miss. Novices probably don’t know that, and need advice. This was hammered home to me about 20 years ago while night fishing for tarpon in the Fort Lauderdale ICW with Capt. Carl Ball. He reminded me and my buddy to not set the hook, but instead let the circle hook do the work. Ball laughed and said, “You’re not Bill Dance!” after I missed the first bite. Circle hooks slide and grip. Kahle hooks are great with live bait or chunks. Treble hooks can handle a yank. Learn what the different hooks do, how they work, and how or whether to set the hook when you get a bite.
Consider the Bait
You want the best catfish hook for the catfish bait you’re planning on using, for two reasons. One is to keep the bait on the hook when casting, trolling or bumping bottom. If you’re using stinkbait or punchbait, a bare Kahle hook likely won’t work well. Trying to thread a gob of shad guts or fillet strip on a treble hook might be a tough chore. Consider the bait you’re going to use and plan accordingly.
Keeping Fish or Releasing?
A dinner of fried catfish, hushpuppies and hot fries is a tasty treat. If you’re planning to keep fish, you want the right size hooks to help ensure they make the trip to Deep Fryer Lake. When looking at sizes, think about the size of the fish. Smaller fish, smaller hooks. Medium and large fish, ditto. You may get lucky catch a big fish on a small hook, but you won’t catch medium or smaller fish on giant hooks.
North America has about 45 species of catfish. They’re defined not by the sensitive barbels — commonly known as whiskers — but instead by the shape of their head and scaleless body. The dorsal and pectoral fins have hard spines that can be locked into place if the fish is scared or in a defensive or aggressive mode. Venom can be secreted through the spines. Catfish prefer clean, flowing and oxygenated waters. That’s one reason they’re prolific below hydroelectric dams, such as on the Tennessee River or tidal rivers such as the Chesapeake. They’re also found in still-water lakes and slow-flowing rivers, too; adaptation is a hallmark of the species. Blue catfish can grow to more than 140 pounds, while flathead cats may hit up to 125 pounds and channel cats about 30 pounds. All catfish have tough skin, bony mouths and thick lips that are sensitive and covered with taste buds. Their lips and barbels are ultimate sensory mechanisms, providing information about possible food or danger.
Why it Made the Cut
Gamakatsu is trusted and proven among anglers for all species, from panfish to giant catfish and saltwater species.
- Forged steel wire construction
- Offset, precision-sharpened hook point
- Upturned eye for easy snelling
- Tough and reliable
- Sharp point easily penetrates tough catfish mouths
- Easy to snell
I’ve used Gamakatsu hooks for bass, panfish and catfish for years because they work. The Big Cat circle hook comes in nine sizes from 1/0 to 10/0 and is designed for catfish. The offset hook is sharpened for better penetration, which is great with circle hooks that slide, catch and rotate to hook themselves. All you have to do is let the line tighten on its own when the fish takes the bait, then lift the rod and begin reeling. The eye is designed for easy snelling, which can help with hook penetration.
Why it Made the Cut
The ample webbing on the hook holds thick pasty stinkbaits or punchbaits for ample scent coverage in still or moving water.
- Great size for average fish
- Sticky sharp hooks
- Easily holds stanky punchbaits
- Red hook is an attractant
- Three sizes are great for pond-size catfish
- Catfish are apt to swallow treble hooks
Punchbaits, also known as stinkbaits, are great for catching small to average-size fish, and some larger ones on occasion. Whether for drifting, jugging, trotlines or casting, using stinkbaits is a solid option and especially if you cannot find or catch live bait. Some punchbaits may be thick and pasty, lasting a long time in the water; others may be more apt to dissolve quicker, especially in warm summer temperatures. The good thing about the Boss Kat Sticky Web is it retains the scent even if the visible bait is gone. The webbing has enough nooks and crannies to hold some stank on it, no matter what. Remember to take an old towel to dry off the webbing before rebaiting so it will stay on longer. With size 2, 4 and 6 hooks you’ll be good to go for a nice range of fun, eating-size catfish.
Why it Made the Cut
The design of the Boss Kat circle hook helps anglers of all skill levels to have fun and ensures hookups to put fish in the boat or on the bank.
- Multiple sizes
- Red hook helps attract catfish
- Proven track record
- Great for veteran or novice anglers
- Sharp point secures consistent hookups
- Versatile for other species, too
The Boss Kat Super Boss comes in four sizes — 1/0, 3/0, 5/0, 8/0 — and is designed for optimal hookups with chunks or live bait. The point is curved to specifically dig into a catfish’s mouth as the hook slides along. All you have to do is sweep and lift the rod, and begin reeling. I’ve used circle hooks for years for different sized catfish and they’re great, as long as you remember to be patient and not yank on the rod.
Why it Made the Cut
Eagle Claw is a proven name in fishing with decades of success. The Kahle design is known to freshwater and saltwater anglers as a dependable, go-to hook.
- Exaggerated design helps hookups
- Strong enough to handle big catfish
- Sticky sharp hook point
- Available in 15 sizes and five finishes
- Sharp point drives deep into a catfish’s mouth
- Design helps keep the fish secure while reeling
- May be swallowed, resulting in deep hooking
If you’re looking for a legend, this is it. The Eagle Claw Lazer Sharp L141 Kahle hook has been tested and proven reliable for decades in freshwater and saltwater. It’s possibly the best live bait hook available, designed to allow frisky shad, croakers or other baits to swim freely before getting snarfed by a catfish, flounder or other species. The barbed, needle hook point drives hard into lips or cartilage and hangs on. If you’re using other bait, you can slide on chicken livers or hearts, shad chunks, guts, heads or nightcrawlers. It even works with stinkbait. Remember that it may be swallowed more deeply, so pay attention to your float for any bites.
Why it Made the Cut
This simple, classic hook that works in freshwater or saltwater easily holds bait and keeps fish secure on trotlines, yo-yo rigs and limb lines.
- Forged, tough wire hook
- Long shank holds small or large bait
- Ringed eye
- Handles presentation for any bait
- Mustad’s hook points are known for sharpness
- Three finishes and 17 sizes including Size 14 and 9/0
- Some popular sizes challenging to find
The first time I ever went catfishing with Billy Blakely on Reelfoot Lake, the veteran Blue Bank Resort guide said we were going to run his yo-yo rigs. I said, “Sounds cool!” and wondered what the heck a yo-yo rig was. We pulled up to a cypress on the legendary northwest Tennessee Lake and I saw a metal reel resembling a yo-yo affixed to a bobbing limb. Blakely netted a croaking catfish, removed it from the straight-shanked hook and rebaited it with a chunk of nightcrawler. After visiting several dozen rigs, we had a cooler of everything from 10-inch squealers to a couple of cats in the 5- to 6-pound range. The Mustad O’Shaughnessy hook is a classic and not overlooked by veteran anglers who know that it works.
How We Made Our Picks
I’ve fished for catfish for more than 40 years in ponds, creeks, lakes and on the mighty Mississippi and Tennessee rivers with top guides. Some were sponsored by companies; some were just good ol’ boy catmen. All of them had one thing in common: they didn’t skimp on hooks or good bait. I’ve put all those years of experience and good advice into my making my picks.
Q: What attracts catfish the most?
Catfish most often are attracted to baits that entice their myriad taste buds. These include blood such as from chicken livers or blood baits, the secretions of shad fillets, blood or guts, stinkbaits with blood, anise or other flavors, cured baits such as those made from soured cheese or corn, or something as simple as chunks of cheap hotdogs scented with garlic. Catfish may be attracted to an area with stinky cat food or chum such as ground shad or soured grain including corn, milo, soybeans or wheat.
Q: Are circle hooks better for catfish?
Yes, circle hooks slide along a fish’s mouth and hook in the corner of the jaw thanks to pressure from the fish swimming away with the bait. They are better for angler success, and better for catfish because they’re less apt to be swallowed.
Q: What kind of hooks can be used for catfish?
The most popular hooks for catfishing include Kahle, circle, O’Shaughnessy and treble hooks. The latter are used primarily with stinkbait or punchbait to hold the pasty bait on the hook. The other types are used with live bait or chunks.
Q: Do you set the hook when catfishing?
Whether or not you set the hook when catfishing is determined by the type of hook used. If you are using a Kahle, O’Shaughnessy, or treble hook then you need to set it. If you are using a circle hook, then it’s best to just let the hook work as its designed to. When you feel a bite, simply reel and the hook will work itself into the corner of the cat’s mouth.
Catfishing is a wonderful activity no matter how you’re going after Mr. Whiskers. Whether you’re trolling, casting, running jug lines or yo-yo rigs, cruising a trotline, at a pond with chicken livers and wide-eyed kids, or below a hydro dam seeking a giant, everything has to work together. Drag has to be set properly, the line has to be the correct size, knots must be secure, and the hook has to be the right one for the task.