The best time to catch channel catfish is at night. During daylight hours channel cats don’t move very much. They like hidey holes or thick brush to lay in. So when you fish for them during the daylight it is best to move your bait a lot. In fact the most successful catfishermen I know fish their bait almost like you would for bass. They move the bait every couple of minutes. Usually it is just a couple of turns on the handle. The reason behind the method is you have to bring the food to the cat. Nighttime is a different story.
When the sun sinks into the sea the cats begin their prowl. We call it grazing. They will cover an area the size of a football field looking for their food every night. So the cats come to you looking for food.
Catfish get their name from their whiskers. These whiskers are actually modified taste buds. Catfish can actually move their whiskers and taste your bait by touching it. A popular myth is that cats like old, smelly, rotting, dead flesh. They will eat stinky rotten meat or fish but our experience shows that fresh fish, chicken livers, and hot dogs tend to work better. The best bait available is probably frozen mackerel, frozen anchovies, fresh beef or chicken liver, or hot dogs.
We also like to use a scent. Ideally you want a scent that has both water and oil in it. This allows that scent to spread out over a larger area, making it easier for the catfish to find your bait. Any of the bass scents work, i.e. Smelly Jelly. So do saltwater scents like Pro-cure shrimp and Pautzke’s Krill (which also works for trout). One of our favorites is to use fresh mackerel fillets soaked overnight in the refrigerator in molasses. Use what you like. Any of the baits will get the cats to bite.
Our rig consists of 6-20 lb line tied straight to a #2 bronze bait hook with no weight added. The bait provides plenty of weight to sink the rig to the bottom. The exception is hot dogs, which float. If you are using hot dogs place a 1/2 oz egg sinker on the line ahead of a split-shot 2 feet above the hook to keep the weight away from the hook. Use the same #2 bronze bait hook.