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Expert Tips for Landing Catfish

Catfish are a rowdy bunch. Although they’re relatively easy to catch, landing them is an entirely different matter. With their lives quite literally on the line, they won’t hesitate to jump, bite, and sting with their dorsal and pectoral fins. 

Moreover, some catfish are huge, growing up to eight feet long and weighing up to 220 pounds. This makes them even harder to land.

Landing a catfish is an exciting experience. Despite the challenge it poses, it isn’t as scary as you might initially believe. In this article, I’ll guide you on how to land a catfish efficiently and safely. Let’s dive right in! 

How to Land a Catfish: A Step-by-Step Guide

Once you’ve caught and secured the catfish on your line, follow these steps: 

Step 1: Reel It In

Catfish are deceivingly strong and astonishingly fast. If you pull the catfish into your boat without exhausting its energy reserves, it’ll likely jump off and attempt an escape. You definitely don’t want that. 

When you’ve hooked the catfish, maintain the pressure on the line and let it struggle in the water. Please don’t increase the pressure on the hook, as it may break the line. Also, don’t forcefully pull the catfish in your direction. If you do this, the fish will swim with all its might in the opposite direction and, again, break your line. 

Author Note: As soon as the fish stops fighting, or at least doesn’t fight as much, reel the fish smoothly and steadily towards the side of your boat. Only land the fish once you’re absolutely sure it’s tired.

Step 2: Extend the Line

catfish jumped

Once you’ve got the catfish by your side, extend the line until it’s about the same length as your rod. Then, place the rod on the other side of the fish and raise your arm up. 

If the catfish decides to fight—and it will fight, trust me—the extended line won’t snap, and the hook won’t rip through the fish. 

Step 3: Land the Catfish

Depending on how large the cat is, there are several ways to land it on your boat. 

Small to Medium Catfish 

If you’re catching the fish in a small boat or kayak, you can either slide a dip net underneath the cat and bring it to the boat or grab it by the lip and drag it in.

Using a net is by far the easiest and safest method to land a catfish. As long as the cat enters the net head first, you’re good to go. Fish can’t swim backward, so once you’ve correctly secured the cat in your net, there’s a low chance it’ll escape.

The other method is lifting the fish into the boat by its lips. This will only work with small to medium-sized catfish. Catfish that are over five feet are extremely difficult to land with the lipping method.

To lip a catfish, slide your thumb into its mouth and pinch down. The cat’s jaw should be in between your thumb and fist. Once you’ve secured the fish, raise it vertically out of the water to temporarily immobilize it. And that’s it! You’ve successfully landed the catfish.

Catfish naturally extend their spines when removed from the water, so make sure to keep the catfish you’ve caught away from your legs and nearby passengers. 

Large Catfish 

If you’re catching fish on a large boat or catching a giant catfish, land the fish by gaffing it.

Although gaffing a fish is relatively simple, it takes a bit of precision to execute. Also, you can’t reel a catfish and gaff it all by yourself; gaffing is a two-person job. One holds the reel, and the other gaffs the fish.

Author Note: To gaff a catfish, position the gaff hook right behind its gills, just under the dorsal fin. Then, pull it up with one quick motion. The hook will penetrate into the cat, firmly securing it to the line. Grab the front grip of the pole with your free hand and drag the cat into your boat.

If you’re planning to release the cat, don’t use the gaffing method as it will injure the fish. Instead, use a net or the lipping way. You can also use a mechanical fish grip.

How to Handle a Catfish

Man holding catfish

Despite popular belief, catfish whiskers aren’t actually venomous. They’re soft and pliable; they don’t hurt a bit. They’re literally just fleshy whiskers. 

However, catfish have sharp dorsal and pectoral fins that hurt a lot when they puncture the skin. To avoid the painful experience of getting finned, keep these tips in mind:

Small Catfish

Always handle catfish from above. Place your hand behind the dorsal and pectoral spines to keep yourself safe. Your forefinger and thumb should be resting behind the dorsal spine. Then, hold the cat firmly and slowly but surely remove the hook from its lip. 

You can also use a piece of cloth to pin the cat or grip its tail while removing the hook. 

Medium Catfish

The larger the cat, the harder it’ll be to handle. Catfish that weigh under eight pounds should be handled like the method above. 

If the catfish is over eight pounds, use the lip grip technique. You can also use a mechanical fish grip like the Chompers Team Catfish Fish Grip or the Entsport Fish Lip Gripper.

Large Catfish

Large catfish aren’t as rowdy as small or medium catfish. In fact, getting finned by a giant catfish is extremely rare. 

The best way to handle large catfish is to use lip grips or simply scoop them up with a dip net. 

Once you’ve landed the cat, use its spines to pin it to the ground while working on it. Remember: a catfish’s spines don’t rotate backward, so you don’t have to worry about the fish finning you unexpectedly. 

Stung By a Catfish? Here’s What You Should Do 

Giant catfish

As established in the previous section, no one really gets “stung” by a catfish. If anything, you get finned. 

Catfish aren’t usually aggressive, so the chances of you getting finned are relatively low. However, it does happen. The edges of a catfish’s pectoral and dorsal fins are sharp and bony. Since this is where venom glands are located, getting finned can be extremely painful.

Individuals who get finned by a catfish may experience mild to severe pain and inflammation in the site of the sting. Usually, the pain will last from anywhere between four to six hours.

Author Note: If you or anyone you know gets finned by a catfish, visit the nearest ER. The doctor will clean the infected area with antiseptic and cover the wound to avoid infection. The doctor will also prescribe over-the-counter (OTC) drugs to numb the pain.  

If you can’t go to the ER straight away, you can temporarily treat the sting yourself, just until you can visit the hospital.

  1. Gently remove the spines with tweezers.
  2. Clean the wound with fresh water.
  3. Don’t sew or tape the wound shut.
  4. To relieve the pain, immerse the affected area in warm water, then slowly increase the heat to the maximum temperature you can tolerate.
  5. If the sting becomes infected, take oral antibiotics and pain relievers.

You’ve probably heard of the catfish slime treatment, where affected individuals rub the wound on the catfish’s belly. This is the “old school” method of treating catfish stings, and while some anglers swear by it, I personally don’t recommend this technique. 

For one, it might increase the possibility of infection. Catfish slime contains a ton of bacteria, with the worst being Vibrio parahaemolyticus. So, if you get stung by a catfish, just clean it with the proper anti-disinfectant and go to the doctor. 


What bait should I use when fishing for catfish?

You don’t need “special” bait to catch a catfish. Instead, you can use chicken liver, live shad, spoiled shrimp, and even French fries. Live bait works too—some swear by green apple bubble gum, ivory soap, and canned dog food. Weird, but it works!

Are catfish edible?

Yes, catfish are edible. They’re actually quite good. You can bake them, fry them, and even turn them into stew. However, they’re a bit of a pain to clean and prepare

First, you have to thoroughly wash them to remove the slime. Then, you’ll need to carefully cut around the body, remove the innards, pull off the skin and tail, and fillet it. As long as you have the patience, they’re definitely worth the timely preparation.

What’s the best time to catch a catfish?

Catfish are available year-round. During winter, you can catch them from late morning until 30 minutes before sunset. During spring and summer, you can catch them two hours after the sun rises and an hour before the sun falls beyond the horizon. 

Wrapping Up

There are multiple ways to land a catfish, from using a net to using a fish-gripping device. 

Since they’re quite the challenge to catch and land, don’t be discouraged when it somehow gets away. As long as you follow the above tips, paired with enough practice and dedication, you’ll be able to perfectly land a catfish without any issues.

Happy Hunting!


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