Keys to Catching Trophy Catfish

Keys to Catching Trophy Catfish

Everyone loves to catch or at least have a shot at catching a trophy catfish.  It has been no secret that the popularity of targeting giant catfish has exploded over the past decade.  The beauty of fishing is that not everyone catches that trophy every day.  They have to work for it and that is what makes fishing great, the challenge.

Of course catching huge fish all the time is fun but true sportsmen and women are always trying to up the ante at every turn.  There are many factors that play into catching trophy catfish.  Some are of our control and some are not.  Keep in mind also that one person’s trophy may not be another’s that is another beauty of fishing, a trophy is in the eye of the beholder.  As a guide I see this all the time, as we shoot to make that personal best a little bit bigger.

Fish Where the Fish Are

To borrow a line from my friend, retired outdoor writer, Larry Myhre; “Fish where the fish are.”  Think about that for a second.  Not all bodies of water are created equal.  Some bodies of water just do not have very many trophy catfish while others are packed with them.

Many factors can play into this from tight regulations to protect trophy catfish, fishing pressure, over populations, food source, selective harvest and the list goes on and on.   The bottom line is you have to do a little research and make sure you are fishing the right waters to up your odds of catching that trophy.

Time of Year

The most answered question I get by prospective guiding clients is, “when is the absolute best time to be there for big fish?”  Well, the answer to that is I can’t answer it because I have had the best time of the year in every one of the months of the season.  Two years are never the same.  What I can tell you is your odds tend to be better during the pre spawn, post spawn and early fall.  Those three times of the year are migration times where the fish are aggressively feeding.

There can be many monkey wrenches thrown into those plans such as weather patterns, rapidly rising or falling water temperatures and flows.  While time of year can be important, you must understand how to adjust to the conditions you are being dealt by Mother Nature to be more successful at catching trophy catfish.

Water Temperature

Everything a catfish does throughout the year is directly related to water temperature.  The cats start to feed as the water temperature reaches 50 degrees.  The spawn begins at 70 degrees and if the water temp stays warm is fairly short lived.  Should the water temperature fall back into the mid-sixties the spawn will be held up and basically stall until it warms back up.  The post spawn, summer and fall bites are also triggered by water temperature.

Trophy catfish are so tuned into water temperature that they can move to feed or not feed in a degree or two change.  Pay very close attention to water temperature every time you go out.


There is nothing easy about bait for catfishing it seems but it is a very important piece of the puzzle.  Contrary to mainstream belief, catfish do not eat just any stinky thing out there.  NO NO they don’t, especially trophy catfish.  What bait you throw and when you throw it is hugely important.

Once catfish reach trophy status they are ferocious hunters.  They are looking for MEAT.  They are in search of meals and a little glop of stink bait isn’t going to cut it.  When you are talking about trophy catfish they want the meat.

This is where many catfish anglers start to differ. Some anglers like small pieces of cut bait while others like huge fillets or even large live baits.  It all depends on whether you are chasing trophy channel cats of flatheads.  It also depends on what bodies of water you are on to determine what size of baits you should use that is best for the situation.

Bait preferences can change throughout the season or even throughout the day.  Pay close attention to what baits are the primary baits for the season where you live.  If you understand the bait you understand how your catfish feed.

Here on the Red River where I live there are three primary baits and time of year determines which tends to be the best ones.  Sucker are a cold water fish so spring and fall they tend to be the best. (I love them almost all the time.)  Goldeyes spawn in June and the young grow fast so if there is a good goldeye spawn they can be the king bait in mid-summer.  Frogs are a late summer to early fall bait if there is a wet year.  Dry years when there is not many frogs around they are not a critical bait.

With that the feeding times can change. I have seen it where you had to have goldeye during the day but frogs migrate at night so right at dusk the fish will key into frogs and abandon the goldeyes till morning.

Another thing to pay attention to is how your bait is prepared.  Most insist that fresh is best when it comes to bait.  Most of the time this is correct, however I have found little things to pay attention to with bait like do the fish prefer frozen bait or 12-24 hour dead bait.  I have run into this over the years and it can make a difference.  The point is keep an open mind on your bait and pay attention to it when looking for trophy catfish.

Location Location Location

Kind of going back to the beginning and the theory of you have to fish where the fish are.  When searching for trophy catfish you have to do exactly that.  These big cats are the top of the food chain and they don’t have to move to find your bait, your bait has to find them first.

When checking spots for big catfish if you stumble into numbers of small cats the chances are you are in the wrong spot.  Those smaller catfish know that they are not safe when in the general area of trophy catfish.  The theory of eat or be eaten is in play here.

Basic food chain theory says the big fish will take over one area and the others will fall into place around the edges.  To find these spots, most of the time you can go back to the very basics of catfishing and look for the best snags, runs and holes.  Another thing to keep in mind, especially in the spring and fall, don’t be afraid to fish shallow.

A few years back I found an area that is off the beaten path and full of giant catfish.  The area sort of goes against everything we have learned about catfish habitat but after some study I was able to figure out what the fish were doing and break it down to the most basic level.  What this area taught me is that catfish can very subtle. They will sit in holes that are literally inches deep, they will find a channel in the channel that is inches deep and they will make large runs throughout the day to feed.

A little Luck

Like big bucks, big catfish get big for a reason and catching a giant is not a given but rather a challenge.  Anglers tend to enjoy challenges and there is no better challenge than a big catfish.  Knowing all you can know is a big deal in trophy catfishing but a little luck never hurts either.  Some of us are luckier than others.  In my case I am lucky to live on such a wonderful river that has more trophy fish than most.  Even with a good body of water and knowing how to fish it a little luck must play in to complete a great day.

Catfishing is one thing but trophy catfishing is another animal.  You must be at the top of your game and know where to fish, when to fish and have luck on your side.  If you get the stars to align on these factors and you will catch the memory that will last forever.

Captain Brad Durick is a nationally recognized catfish guide on the Red River of the North, seminar speaker, and author of the books Cracking the Channel Catfish Code and Advanced Catfishing Made Easy.  For more information go to


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