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Winter Catfishing from the Bank: The Ultimate Guide

As the weather gets colder, some species of fish hunker down and hibernate. This makes catching them, and fishing in general, quite difficult. But catfish are different – they tend to stay active year-round. Which makes them a great option during the winter months. So what’s the best strategy for winter catfishing from the bank?

Glad you asked! In this article, we’ll go over the best techniques for winter catfishing from the bank, as well as the best time of day to go catfishing in the winter. We’ll also go over basic catfishing techniques as well as our favorite catfish dough baits. We’ll even include a few recipes to make your own catfish dough bait!

Let’s get started!

Winter Catfishing from the Bank: Basic Technique

As you may have read in our best time of day to catch catfish article, winter is the slowest season for catfish. But that doesn’t mean you can’t catch them, and compared to other species they are still quite active.

Like most fish, catfish are very sensitive to water temperature. The warmer the water is, the more active they become throughout the day. This is why we recommended winter catfishing from the bank in the middle of the day or late in the day during the winter. This is because the sun will have had the most amount of time to warm the water up.

The Best Tackle for Winter Catfishing

Fly-Fishing in Winter

Depending on the type of catfish you’re fishing for, you’ll need fairly heavy equipment the catch them. Even in the winter, catfish grow to large sizes and will put up a tough fight against under-equipped anglers. Since channel catfish are the most common type of catfish, we’ll cover the types of fishing tackle that work best for them. If you’re fishing for smaller catfish, you can get away with using typical trout or salmon gear.

Author Note: For catfish fishing rods, we recommend using a surf fishing rod or a heavy baitcasting rod. Surf fishing rods will give you more flexibility when fishing from the bank and allow you to cast your catfish bait far out into the lake or river where bigger catfish like to hide.

The extra size of the rod will also help you battle a large catfish up from the depths.

As we mentioned earlier, even though it’s the off-season for catfish you could still hook into a very large fish. The larger fish tend to be more aggressive than the smaller ones in the winter due to the lack of natural predators around them.

As far as reels go, we also recommend using either a surfcasting reel, catfish spinning reel, or a heavier bottom fishing reel for winter catfishing from the bank. Both options will work well with thick monofilament or braided fishing line. 20-40 lb test fishing line works great and should be enough to handle even the larger catfish.

For the best catfish rig, we recommend using a standard fish finder rig equipped with catfish dough bait. The pyramid weight will help get your bait down to where the catfish like to hang out, and the thick leader will prevent a large catfish from breaking you off.

How to Land a Catfish from the Bank

Another question we get all the time is the proper way to land a catfish while fishing from the bank. While catfish might not be the most athletic fish out there, they do put up a solid fight and can prove difficult to land from the shore if you don’t know what you’re doing.

Once you’ve hooked a catfish, whatever you do – don’t try and yank it out of the water or rush the fight. The one thing catfish have on their side is their weight and patience. Catfish will be happy to sit on the bottom and wait for you to make the first mistake – which will result in you losing them.

Apply firm pressure to the fish and take your time reeling in line. If the catfish tries to swim towards underwater cover (like a log or shallow area with weeds), apply pressure in the opposite direction and prevent them from finding the cover. 

If the catfish manages to tangle your line on a log or underwater rock, you’ll probably lose the fish. Be patient and guide the fish towards open water. 

Actually Landing the Catfish

A fisherman is fishing with a winter

Once you get the catfish close to shore, it’s time to get out your net. If you don’t have a net, don’t worry – catfish are one of the easier fish to land without a net. With one hand pull the rod away from the fish and get ready to grab its mouth. Since catfish don’t have teeth, you can grab the fish by the lip and drag it out of the water.

Author Note: A few notes – if you have a friend with you, landing the catfish will be much easier. Focus on bullying the fish towards shore by keeping your rod tip up. Let your friend focus on using the net or grabbing the fish once it’s in shallow water.

If you don’t have a net, you might also want to consider getting fishing gloves. While catfish don’t have sharp teeth, the hook in their mouth is extremely sharp. We can’t count the number of times we’ve accidentally hooked ourselves while trying to land a fish or remove the hook. Fishing gloves will help protect you from this.

Once the catfish is exhausted and either netted or in your control, try and let it go relatively quickly. We’ve always preferred taking a photo with the fish in the water, then letting it go for another fisherman to catch.

If you do decide to keep the catfish, try and kill it quickly and humanely. After killing it, cut the gills and let it bleed out before cleaning it. This will help preserve the freshness of the fish and prevent the flavor from degrading before eating it.

What Else do I Need for Winter Catfishing from the Bank?

Besides having the proper catfishing tackle, it’s important to bring the right soft good for yourself. Since you’re fishing in the winter, chances are the weather isn’t super warm. We recommend bringing the following to ensure you’re comfortable during your winter catfishing from shore session.

Having the right gear when catfishing during the winter can be the difference between a great time and a bad time. It can even be unsafe to fish from the bank during the winter if you go out with the wrong gear. Let’s go over the essentials.

Winter Grade Clothing

Having warm clothes may seem like a no-brainer, but we’re always surprised at how cold we get when sitting still out on the bank of a cold body of water. We recommend over layering that way you can take stuff off if you get too hot. We start with a solid base layer – get insulated moisture-wicking underwear. This will help you stay warm in your core, and allow you to layer up from there.

If it’s really cold (like below 40), we like to wear an ice fishing suit or insulated overalls with a thick jacket. Match that with an equally warm parka, wool socks, and a warm hat for full coverage. As we mentioned above, gloves can also be a great idea. We like to use fingerless gloves for the dexterity needed for fishing. 

The finger-less gloves allow us to still be agile when tying knots or adjusting lures but keep our hands warm from the cold. For your feet, we recommend using tall rubber boots with a warm lining, or waders.

Author Note: Waders without boots can be a great choice, especially if you don’t have a net or want to stand in the water for extra range and have your own boots.

What Type of Bait Should I Use?

Winter Fishing

Great question! Lucky for you there are many different types of catfish baits that all work well. Let’s go over the basic types that you can all make from home.

  • Dough baits. Dough baits are the most popular style of homemade catfish baits because they are easiest to make and don’t have to sit for a long period before using them. Most dough baits are made using flour and water with additional ingredients added for scent. They also stay on many types of hooks and aren’t nearly as gnarly as the other types of baits.
  • Dip baits. Dip baits are similar to punch baits except that they’re thinner inconsistency. Often you’ll need to use a sponge or rubber worm to help coat the hook with the bait. It’s called ‘dip bait’ because you dip the hook or rubber bait into it to coat them.
  • Punch baits. Called punch baits because you ‘punch’ a bare treble hook into them to load the bait, they’re often made with cheese, meat, and a thickening agent. These baits are usually prepared ahead of time and need to sit for an extended period for them to get the right consistency. They often have very strong smells

If you’re interested in making any of these baits from home, we recommend checking out our dedicated catfish dough baits article. We include several of our favorite recipes that have worked well for us over the years.

Parting Thoughts

Winter catfishing from the bank can prove difficult if you don’t know what you’re doing. But compared to trying the fish for other species in the winter, you’re much more likely to actually catch a catfish. We love keeping our fishing hobby alive in the winter by catfishing, and if you have the right equipment all you need to do is find an open spot on the bank.

We hope you found this article informative and useful. If you have other techniques for catfishing from the bank, please share them with us in the comments below.

Happy Hunting!


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