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Fly Fishing for Catfish: All You Need to Know

Fly rods and catfish may seem far removed from each other but it is possible to catch catfish using a fly rod. It is challenging, particularly because of the presence of many myths around the subject. It is doable and popular despite being challenging. We are here to break down all aspects of fly fishing for catfish for you!

What Makes Fly Fishing for Catfish Popular?

Several factors explain the popularity of fly fishing for catfish. These include their fighting abilities that make the activity fun for anglers and novices alike. They are also widely distributed which explains why people like to catch them.

Their size plays a big role and so do their table-fare qualities. Additionally, catching catfish is also relatively easier for both beginners and professionals.

Which Are the Most Popular Catfish Species among Anglers?

Flathead, channel and blue and white catfish happen to be the most popular species among anglers. Bullheads are also sought after. However, you cannot fly fish all these species with the same technique.

What Are the Best Places to Find Catfish?

Catfish love calm waters. Hence, you are likely to find them near water bodies such as dams. You would also need to be vigilant and extremely familiar with how it looks because you should not miss it once you spot it, thinking it’s another fish.

What Is the Best Time to Catch Catfish?

Big catfish in river jumping out of water
Big catfish in river jumping out of water 3d render

This depends on the species and the location you are trying to catch catfish in.

Author Note: Some species, such as the flathead catfish, are nocturnal and you will have a better chance of catching them during the night. Blue catfish, on the other hand, are more active during the day, especially in waters with high currents.

Both day and night times have their own pros and cons and you must go fly fishing for catfish when you are best prepared.

Are Stinky Baits Necessary for Fly Fishing for Catfish?

While stinky baits may work, they aren’t necessary for successful fly fishing for catfish. These fish love to feed on a number of foods. Some species, such as the channel catfish relish stinky baits but this is not common to all species of catfish. Flatheads, for instance, are known to be not fond of stinky baits.

The bottom line is you need to go for baits depending on the species you are targeting. A one-size-fits-all approach is going to be counterproductive. We recommend tying your own flies with curved fly tying scissors.

Fly Fishing for Catfish: How to Do It?

If you have basic trout-fishing skills and the appetite to try something novel, you can surely give catching catfish on a fly rod a try. Remember, you won’t know how easy or difficult it is unless you actually give it a try. Let us break it for you step by step.

Gather Knowledge about the Stream You Are Going to Fish In

Like any type of fish catching, you really ought to have an idea of where catfish are biting. There is no point in targeting an area where there are no or few catfish. In such a scenario, your probability of success in fly fishing for catfish will go down inadvertently.

Prepare Yourself

The lack of preparedness can be counterproductive if you want to do fly fishing for catfish. Hence, collect all the required equipment. These include a fly rod of 5-7 weight so that it is able to catch an average weighing catfish.

You will also need a reel, barbless hooks and a line setup.

Try as Many Baits as Possible

catfish Fishing

Sometimes beginners and even more mature anglers make the mistake of sticking to one type of bait while fly fishing for catfish. It is not true that catfish only feed on decaying matter and stinky baits.

Author Note: Catfish are fond of variety and would feed on things that catch their fancy. You can try bluegill, chicken livers and a variety of insects. It may be the case that you have to try multiple baits before you sight any catfish.

Set the Hook

This can make or break your fishing experience and must involve a combination of technique and timing. The more the number of hooks in the water, the higher your chances of catching the catfish. The same applies to lines and you may want to diversify your spread by taking multiple lines.

Take Position

You cannot land catfish if you are not in the right fishing position. There is something called a ‘ready position’ that is considered ideal when fly fishing for catfish.

This involves taking the slack outside the line after spreading the cast while placing your index finger on the rod.

You need to raise the rod upwards so that the hook of the light wire directly reaches for the mouth of the fish.

How Do You Lead the Catfish While Fly Fishing?

The direction of the pull needs to keep changing to lure the fish towards you. The consistent change in the direction will make the fish surrender sooner as it would get tired of fighting the fight.

You also need to be stable with the holding of the rod and do not shiver or jerk. The more confident and disciplined you are, the higher your chances of fooling the fish.

Buck up for the Fight

No catfish will ever relinquish its life without fighting for it. Once you get your way and the fish is hooked to your rod, expect the catfish to fight back vigorously.

It may snap the line or dismantle the hook, leaving you flabbergasted.

Author Note: Hence, be prepared at all times. One mistake and the catfish will have the upper hand.

Prepare for the Landing

Once the fish is stuck to the rod, you may think that you have won. But that is far from the truth. Till the time you do not collect your prize, the battle is only half won. Taking the fish to the bank will close the deal. You may use a net if you feel you would be able to handle that better.

Additional Tips for Fly Fishing for Catfish

Fisherman with rod

Here are a few things about catfish that you must know as these will be beneficial to your experience of fly fishing for catfish.

  • The two seasons when catfish are the most active include spring and late fall. If you go fly fishing for catfish during these periods, you will have a better success rate.
  • It is a myth that catfish are bottom dwellers. There are plenty to be found on the surface of streams and rivers.
  • A good ploy would be to try your luck on a spot for 5-10 minutes and if you don’t get any success, move on to the next probable spot. This would save you time and also increase your chances of finding catfish.
  • Patience is your best friend when it comes to fly fishing for catfish. The catfish is supremely intelligent and it won’t be easy to catch them no matter how well you prepare. Getting annoyed and frustrated is going to make it harder for you.


Here are some of the most commonly asked questions on fly fishing for catfish that you must be aware of, in case you are giving this activity a thought.

Can You Fly Fish for Catfish at Night?

Yes, you can fly fish for catfish during the night. It is probably more relaxing for the angler because of the lack of the scorching sun. Moreover, the baits and the techniques remain the same. So, whatever you do during the day is exactly what you need to do during the night.

You may, however, need to arrange some headlamps for better visibility during the night which is the biggest difference between day and night.

What Is the Ideal Fly Rod Weight for Catching Catfish?

A fly rod of 5-7 weight is ideal to catch the average-sized catfish. This is because it is neither too light that it snaps with the weight of the fish and nor is it so heavy that it becomes difficult to lift the rod with the fish.

What Are the Best Flies for Catfish?

Catfish love their meals and they love to feed on flies. Some types of flies that catfish really love include wooly buggers, leeches, sculpins and crayfish.

Can You Go Fly Fishing for Catfish during Cold Weather?

You may do this, but remember, it is going to be more difficult than the usual weather. This is because catfish get lazy and slow down during cold weather so they may not respond as swiftly to your bait at this time of the year as they would normally.

Parting Words

We hope you enjoyed the above article on fly fishing for catfish. We have tried to give you an in-depth article on the various facets to fly fishing for catfish. Even if you aren’t a seasoned angler, you can try catching catfish on a fly rod.

It is not as difficult as it looks and some understanding and lots of patience will see you through the finish line.

Happy Hunting!


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