Catfish can be caught a variety of ways, such as with a line and hook, bait traps, and cast nets. Baiting hooks with live fish is effective for catching larger catfish, as they feed primarily on other fish. Oily fish such as shad, herring and suckers are ideal.
Carp, chubs, goldeyes and sunfish can also be used as bait for larger catfish. When using hooks, leaving the barb of the hook exposed is the most effective way to catch biting fish as a catfish is not smart enough to recognize a hook. With the barb concealed, setting the hook requires it to pierce through the rest of the bait before it can catch a lip, making it less likely to penetrate the catfish's mouth. Piercing the back, lips or the narrow portion of the tail is ideal for baitfish. Using other baits, such as cut fish, crayfish or worms, pierce the surface once or twice, with the hook point exposed.
Catfish can be caught year round, as many varieties do not go inactive even during the winter. During periods of the summer, catfish start to spawn, and both males and females become inactive. They spend much of their time on the bottom of lakes and rivers, but are not exclusively bottom feeders. Bobbers can effectively allow baits to drift across active areas for catfish, such as near river dams, around junctions of two rivers, around fallen trees in deep pools or stump fields near the edge of a channel.
While it is commonplace to fish at night for catfish, the fish is not nocturnal and can be caught during any time of day. The period of time prior to a storm is a good time to catch catfish, as they become more active just before a change in weather, and can continue to be active until storms pass.