How to Catch Catfish from the Bank During Winter?

Catch catfish at lake bank in winter.

Earlier this year, I decided to try my hand at winter fishing for catfish for a change. So, I started researching catfish behavior during winter to do it right the first time. This research netted me some good ideas and strategies for catching catfish during winter. Thus, I applied them during my last winter fishing, and they proved themselves effective. Hence, if you were like me back then, wanting to engage in winter fishing for catfish for the first time, I suggest you read on.

Catfish naturally move to the main water body, looking for their wintering grounds when temperatures dip below 60°F. These wintering grounds are usually found underneath the lake or riverbeds, where the warmest water temperature is. These wintering grounds include holes, rocks, logs, and other underwater structures. For this reason, almost 95% of a lake or river would be without fish. So, catfishing during this season would usually boil down to figuring out where these wintering holes or structures are. 

What Should You Bring When Catching Catfish from the Bank?

If you intend to catch catfish from the bank during winter, you must bring the appropriate things and gear. Of course, you should get the correct catfishing tackle. Remember that fishing during winter means you’ll get exposed to so much cold. So, it will help to know the following essential things and gear to bring when catfishing from the bank during winter:

Surf Fishing Rod

It will be best to use a surf fishing rod for this type of fishing. You can also use a heavy baitcasting rod. However, the surf fishing rod provides you with enough flexibility when bank fishing. With this rod, you can cast your bait farther out onto the river or lake where some bigger catfish might be hiding. Besides, the added size of this rod would help you tackle a large catfish and draw it out from the depths. 

Fishing Rig

You can use a slip sinker rig, Santee drift rig, or Santee rig when fishing for catfish during winter. Remember that choosing the proper rig will depend on the target depth, the technique you will use, and the location of the fish. 

I would also recommend using a reliable fish finder rig with a catfish dough bait. Its pyramid weight will enable you to position your bait deep down in the waters where the catfish dwell during the winter season. Its thick leader will not let a large catfish break your line off.  

Fishing Bait

When choosing catfish bait for winter fishing, you should use fresh native bait. So, if you want to catch catfish during winter, it will be best to learn likewise to catch the best bait for the catfish. Remember that you can’t buy frozen catfish bait during winter. 

Besides, you can’t make the frozen or dead bait alluring and enticing to lethargic catfish. If shad is the native baitfish in the lake, try to catch shads as catfish bait. 

Fish Finder

Another gadget you should not forget when fishing for catfish during the winter is the fish finder. You can’t rely on your hunch or intuition to locate the wintering holes of the catfish. It will be best to have a good view of the underneath structures, where the catfish congregate. One such tool is the fish finder. You can also bring with you an ice flasher or a sonar device. 

Of course, you will feel exhilarated and exhausted if you try to catch catfish using only your hardline. So, you need to rely on innovative fishing technology to remove any guesswork. To steer clear of horrible and frustrating catfishing experiences, you should know and use the top fish finder to catch catfish. 

You can check, for example, Lowrance Hook 4. This fish finder will help you map the lake with its broader sonar coverage and phone-like menus. Another great option is the Hummingbird 410950-1 HELIX 7, which offers a seven-inch screen display and excellent underwater imaging.

Bait Types You Should Use

The good thing about catfish baits is that you will find different catfish bait types, and they are all known to work well with catfish. Below is a shortlist of these types of lures:

Dough Baits: The most popular bait type for catching catfish is dough bait. It is a homemade catfish bait that you can easily make, and it needs not to sit longer to become usable. You can use flour and water to make this bait and add extra ingredients like added scent. 

The good thing about these homemade baits is that they stay well on different hook types and are almost as gnarly as other bait types.

Punch Baits: Another excellent bait to use for catching catfish is the punch bait. It is referred to as punch bait because you will literally punch a treble hook onto it to load it onto the hook. This punch bait usually comprises meat, cheese, or a thickening agent. 

It will be best to prepare these baits beforehand and let them sit for a longer time to achieve the best consistency. These baits often exude a strong smell. 

Dip Baits: The dip bait is like the punch bait, save for its thinner inconsistency. You will more often need a rubber worm or sponge to coat the hook with this bait. It also gets dip bait because you need to dip the rubber bait or hook onto it to cover the hook or rubber bait. 

Useful Techniques on Bank Fishing for Catfish During Winter

A good understanding of the winter behavior of catfish can help you succeed in your fishing endeavor during winter. It will also help if you are cognizant of the following simple tips when fishing for catfish during winter:

Engage in Synchronized Fishing with Your Friends on Ledges

Wintertime is the best time for many animals to hibernate. Yet, humans seldom hibernate. They would instead go bank fishing for catfish during winter. Hence, if you want to go bank fishing during winter, you can team up with your friend, for example, to target catfish along the lake’s ledges. 

The lake surface might be frozen during this time of the year. So, if you bring with you some friends, you can hit the ice in synchrony and spread out your rods along the lake ledges where fish would usually swim by. 

You can begin at the deepest spot and drill holes to vary the bait’s depth for the various rods you will use. You will often find catfish at fifteen to thirty-five feet deep. So, it will be best if you use multiple rods to reach various depths near drop-offs and ledges.

Follow the Food Trail

During winter, catfish might be less aggressive in finding food. They might only congregate at their wintering holes to warm themselves up. Yet, some of them might venture out looking for food. So, you can follow their food trail to snare one or two catfish nearby. 

However, if you are bank fishing, you can use your fish finder to locate where the schools of baitfish are. Below the school of fish, you might find those predatory catfish waiting to feast on these baitfish. 

Sharp Bank Turns

If you’re uncertain where to drill your holes, you can look for a strategic spot along the riverbanks that make a sharp turn, or if you’re fishing in the lake, look for a protruding point onto the lake. You will likely find deep wintering holes there where catfish will likely congregate during winter. 

If you have a GPS, you can locate this tip or use a topographic map. This spot might remain hidden from plain sight underneath the icy water surface. So, once you’ve found these wintering holes, you can drill holes on the icy water surface on top of these wintering holes. A fish finder can also come in handy in locating schools of catfish. 

Utilize Cut Baits

You may find using a live bait effective in catching most catfish. Yet, it will be challenging to find a live bait during winter. So, you can settle for cut bait. Cut baits seem to work better for wide varieties of catfish. 

Winter might be the best time to use cut baits because they might become more enticing to catfish. Besides, catfish are a bit sluggish in catching active live fish during this period. So, they would be more content foraging on any available food presented to them.  

You can use smaller cut baits to catch flathead and channel catfish, while larger cut baits for blue catfish. Don’t waste your money buying those stink baits. 

Locate the Warmer Spots of the Lake Water

Catfish will likely dwell in hot spots underneath the lakes and rivers. Catfish are cold-blooded animals, and their bodies react quickly to any changes in the weather. If the water is too cold, their bodies will also become cold, unlike the warm-blooded bodies of humans. Hence, they would seek the warmer spots of the lake’s bottom to survive the winter cold. 

These warmer pockets will be at the very bottom of the lake along wintering holes. They could also be caused by underwater structures like fallen logs and runoff or water springs underneath. You should be able to locate these wintering spots to catch catfish. 

Use Long Lead Ropes for Casting Your Net

Wintering holes will not only attract catfish. They would also draw baitfish. Hence, you will often find schools of catfish along wintering holes, waiting to forage on schools of baitfish. If you want to have live baits, you can try to catch these baitfish. You can use a long lead rope for casting your net. Besides, it will help if you do not hesitate to cast your net deeper.

Fish Along the Edges of Melting Ice

Winter is usually unforgiving to baitfish, and many of them will die due to the cold weather. So, if you would fish in icy water, you can check for partially covered water surface, where the ice is melting. Focus on the edges of this melting ice to catch big fish. 

Frozen baitfish usually get locked up inside the icy chunk. But when the ice thaws, the dead fish gets freed from the frozen piece. Catfish typically wait for these dead bodies to get released from the ice. So, they would usually swim around this thawing ice in the late winter, hoping to find a dead baitfish.

Fishing During Daytime is Best

During summer, the best time to catch catfish is nighttime. But it is different during winter. However, the best time to fish during winter is during the daytime when the sun is at its zenith. The reason is that catfish are nearest to the water surface during the day because of the sun’s warmth. So, you will likely find catfish near the water surface during the daytime in the winter.


Winter, of course, is the most challenging time of the year to catch catfish. The good news is that if you want live bait, you can also catch shad during this year and have free lures to catch catfish. Shad’s behavior is also predictable, like the behavior of catfish. So, you will easily find and catch them. 

However, success in catching catfish during winter usually boils down to proper bait placement and the correct location. This means you need a rig and put it in the right spot until it gets a bite. For this reason, you also need to be familiar with the best catfish rigs for winter fishing to be successful.

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