How to Chum for Catfish
Increase your catch by learning the strategies and techniques behind chumming for catfish
By: Peter Egan
Note: The instructional videos are at the bottom of the article. If you’re only here to watch the videos and learn to chum, scroll down until you see the videos.
Ever since I became an adult and started living on my own (with the exception of when I was enrolled full-time in college), there has been one constant — I’ve lived on or near the water. After Hurricane Katrina shut down Tulane’s campus, destroyed my uptown New Orleans home and forced me to take a semester off from school, I’ve resided one or near a large body of water.
From 2005-2011, I lived in a home located on a bayou just off the Tchefuncte River. From 2011-2012 I lived in a beachfront condo along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. From 2012-2014 (October of 2014 to be exact) I lived in a house three blocks from the beach about two miles from the Condo I had lived in previously.
In October of 2014, I returned to Covington and now find myself in the same house on the bayou and 150 feet from the Tchefuncte River.
The reason I have always sought out places of residence near large bodies of water is simple: I love to fish. Freshwater fishing (like the Tchefuncte, the bayou on which my home resides or the pond at my parents’ house growing up), inshore saltwater, beach fishing, marsh / brackish water, offshore — it’s all fishing to me and I enjoy it all.
Of course every form of fishing and even every species of fish when you get right down to it has its own unique challenges which require different approaches in order to achieve results. Living on the Tchefuncte River, I occasionally fish for bass, but the river has become so over-fished post-Katrina when the area’s population more than tripled that bass are pretty hard to come by. You really need a bass boat with a trolling motor and an assortment of various tackle to even have a chance at catching >more than one or two small bass on a given day in the Tchefuncte. A good day bass fishing in the Tchefuncte and all the connected bayous and lagoons would consist of maybe 3-5 bass total, perhaps one weighing over 1.5 pounds. It’s really not a good river in which to fish for bass – especially when you stop to consider the near-constant boat traffic and the fact that on some weekends, 20-25 different boats all troll down the bayou upon which I reside. Most are probably clueless to the fact that there’s already been a dozen other fishermen who’ve thrown every lure at every angle imaginable by the time they make their way down my bayou. Maybe they’re not and they just don’t care. I don’t know and don’t much care myself.
My preferred species of fish to target in this river at least are catfish.
There are several reasons for this: For one thing, catfish are far more abundant than are bass or crappie, the other two primary game fish targeted by fishermen (the river is nearly extinct of Alligator Gar, a species that thrived in the river pre-Katrina, due to over-fishing). Catfish don’t require a boat, trolling motor or tackle box full of expensive artificial lures of every texture, shape, color and size. In terms of food, catfish are delicious, and the taste of fried or broiled catfish rivals that of the other freshwater fish species commonly eaten. That said, catfish are the only freshwater fish on the menu of literally every seafood (and many non-seafood) restaurant – at least in the southeast United States.
A day of bass fishing might yield 3-5 fish on a good day. Panfish (sunfish, bream, perch, bluegill – many species with countless names but all basically the same fish) are easy to catch and taste good. However, they’re small fish and even the larger ones are only a few ounces. Crappie (aka: sac-a-lait) are the exception, as they can grow to be several pounds, but unlike other panfish, crappie can require elaborate tackle and techniques to catch. For the most part panfish are easy to catch and taste good, they’re just a lot of work to clean and there’s not a lot of meat per fish.
A day of fishing of catfish on the other hand can yield dozens of fish, hundreds if you care to catch that many. The fish can range in size from a few ounces to 50-60 pounds on the large end of the spectrum.
The maximum size of the fish varies depending upon the species. Channel Catfish, which are the most common species in the Tchefuncte (and in the southeastern United States in general), can reach a size of approximately 40 pounds, however this is extremely rare. A large channel cat is anything over 5 pounds. I’ve caught a handful in the Tchefuncte over 10-12 pounds, but just a handful out of hundreds of fish. Most will range between 1-4 pounds. They’re not huge, but are delicious and widely considered to be the tastiest of the three main species of catfish found in the Tchefuncte.
According to Wikipedia:
Channel catfish (Ictalurus punctatus) is North America’s most numerous catfish species. It is the official fish of Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, and Tennessee, and is informally referred to as a “channel cat”. In the United States, they are the most fished catfish species with approximately 8 million anglers targeting them per year. The popularity of channel catfish for food has contributed to the rapid expansion of aquaculture of this species in the United States.
A member of the Ictalurus genus of American catfishes, channel catfish have a top-end size of about 40–50 pounds (18–23 kg). The world record channel catfish weighed 58 pounds, and was taken from the Santee-Cooper Reservoir in South Carolina, on July 7, 1964. Realistically, a channel catfish over 20 lb (9 kg) is a spectacular specimen, and most catfish anglers view a 10-lb (4.5-kg) fish as a very admirable catch. Furthermore, the average size channel catfish an angler could expect to find in most waterways would be between two and four pounds.
Channel catfish will often coexist in the same waterways with its close relative, the blue catfish, which is somewhat less common, but tends to grow much larger (with several specimens confirmed to weigh above 100 lb).
In addition to Channel Catfish are Blue Catfish. Blue Catfish are not quite as common as Channel Catfish in the Tchefuncte, but they’re plentiful nonetheless and based on my anecdotal evidence would appear to be the second-most commonly found species in the Tchefuncte.
Blue Catfish differ from Channel Catfish in appearance and in size. Blue Catfish have a blueish tint, don’t have the spots commonly found on channel catfish, have a dorsal hump and over 30 rays on the anal fin (compared to the channel catfish, which generally has between 25-29).
More importantly, Blue Catfish can grow to over 14o pounds, with several documented cases of anglers catching blue catfish in excess of 130 pounds, and a handful over 140. Generally speaking, throughout my history of fishing the Tchefuncte, the Blue Catfish I’ve caught have been larger on average than the Channel Catfish, and most of the fish weighing over ten pounds that I’ve caught have been either Blue or Flathead Catfish, which we’ll discuss next.
Blue catfish, like their close relative the Channel Catfish, make for great table fare. They’re slightly below the Channel Cat in terms of their taste.
Blue Catfish will eat almost anything, dead or alive, that they can fit into their mouths.
According to Wikipedia:
Blue catfish are opportunistic predators and eat any species of fish they can catch, along with crawfish, freshwater mussels, frogs, and other readily available aquatic food sources. Catching their prey becomes all the more easy if it is already wounded or dead, and blue catfish are noted for feeding beneath marauding schools of striped bass in open water in reservoirs or feeding on wounded baitfish that have been washed through dam spillways or power-generation turbines.
More information on Blue Catfish: Wikipedia
Flathead Catfish are the third primary species of catfish found in the Tchefuncte River. They can grow very large, and have an approximate maximum size that is comparable to the Blue Cat. Commonly referred to as “Tabby Cats” among south Louisiana anglers, Flathead Catfish have one distinct difference from Channel and Blue Catfish: their feeding patterns.
Flathead Catfish prefer life prey. Whereas Channel and Blue Catfish will eat almost anything they can smell, feel or catch (and fit into their mouths), Flathead Catfish are somewhat more carnivorous and prefer to eat smaller fish, crawfish, insects and worms.
Flathead Catfish are good to eat, but their taste is not quite as delicious as Channel and Blue Cats. Flathead Cats certainly taste good enough that were you to catch a nice-sized one, it would go in the Yeti (ice chest) as opposed to being released.
Additional Information about Flathead Catfish: Wikipedia
Generally when I fish for catfish in the Tchefuncte or Bogafalaya Rivers, I’ll catch all three species, Typically using live worms, nightcrawlers, occasionally liver and sometimes Magic Bait or another brand of “Stink Bait” for bait. I also chum constantly, so I don’t have to travel beyond my back porch to catch as many catfish as I so choose.
This brings us to the reason for this article. Chumming for catfish can greatly enhance your catch and make fishing trips infinitely more fun if it’s done properly. Luckily for my readers, I’ve assembled a series of videos I filed outlining the chumming techniques and strategies I personally use.
Full disclosure, I use Magic Bait’s pre-made, commercial chum as one of the main ingredients in my most common chum mixtures. I recommend buying it online, as you can get it a lot cheaper at Amazon than at Bass Pro Shops. If you click the image or the link it will take you to a page where you can buy the product. I endorse this product because it works. I use it. I pay for at least a bag a week, every single week. Sure, I mix it with various other ingredients to concoct my proprietary chum blends, but it is my genuine belief that the Dinner Bell Fish Chum from Magic Bait is an excellent starting point and a perfect base around which to build your chum.
I also explain different chumming techniques and strategies depending upon your goal. Specifically, I outline two separate strategic approaches for both short-term fishing goals (meaning a one-time fishing trip to a spot you may or may not have fished before but don’t have access to regularly enough to continuously chum the area). The other strategic approaches involve long-term chumming. This is for anglers who either live on or near a body of water, or who have easy access to the water sufficient to maintain a permanent chum bucket and change it out every week or so. Since I live on the water, I obviously prefer the latter approach, but I recognize that few people have this luxury, so I’ve included instructions for those who cannot for logistical reasons maintain a constant chum spot.
In the effort of full disclosure, the four videos combined make up more than half an hour of video recordings. However, I can promise you that if you devote the time to watching all four videos, you will not regret one moment of it, and you’ll emerge a better fisherman. Every line of dialog contained within these four videos was included for a specific reason. If you miss one line you could very well miss something very important.
In other words, pay close attention and watch the videos in order, one-through-four, from beginning to end; at least if you wish to become a better fisherman and know when and how to chum most effectively depending upon your specific goals for that particular fishing trip.
The videos are below.
Chumming for Catfish
Four-part video series featuring expert fisherman Peter Egan of PeterEgan.net.
Chumming for Catfish – Part 1 (Introduction)
How to Chum for Catfish – Part 2
How to Chum for Catfish – Part 3
How to Chum for Catfish – Part 4
Hopefully you’ve watched the above videos and learned when to chum for catfish, how to chum for catfish and which tactics to use depending upon long-and-short-term-goals.
As you can see, the techniques work. My line wasn’t in the water a minute before I caught the first fish.
I’ve been chumming consistently in the time since these videos were filmed. I’m planning on fishing the spot with a friend the weekend of May 05-07, 2017, and I will update this post with photos of our (sure to be solid haul of catfish).