Catfish Fall Fishing: Everything You Need to Know for a Big Catch

underwater catfish
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When autumn arrives, it’s prime time to start targeting hungry catfish. As these whiskered fish feed heavily in preparation for winter, fall offers the perfect conditions to land trophy-sized catfish. From essential gear to techniques for attracting bites, this complete guide will equip you with pro tips for fall catfish success.

Where and When to Find Catfish in the Fall

Catfish occupy many types of waters across North America including rivers, lakes, ponds and reservoirs. In the fall, catchable-size catfish congregate in the following productive spots:

  • Deep holes and channels – Deeper pools away from shoreline provide cooler water and ample forage. Fish congregate in these areas.
  • Sunken structure – Downed trees, stumps, rocks and submerged vegetation attract baitfish that catfish feed on.
  • Weed bed edges – Scan the edges of lily pads, hydrilla and milfoil beds. Catfish cruise these ambush spots looking for a meal.

The ideal times to fish are early morning, late evening and night when catfish are most active. Locate them in fall by looking for areas 10-30 feet deep with access to shallow feeding zones.

Gear for Landing Fall Catfish

Tackling hard-fighting catfish requires medium-heavy fishing poles in 7-8 foot lengths paired with higher-capacity baitcasting or spinning reels. Spool up with 20-30 lb. test monofilament or braided line. Tailor your terminal tackle to local catfish size – think big for trophy fish:

  • Hooks – 5/0 – 8/0 circle hooks to effectively hook catfish corner-mouths
  • Sinkers – Heavy pyramid, egg or bell sinkers from 2-8 oz. to keep bait on bottom
  • Swivels – Ball bearing swivels prevent line twist when drifting or using sinkers
  • Leaders – 15 – 30 lb. test leaders prevent line breaks

Don’t skimp on having hands-on tools like long needle nose pliers and side cutters to handle catfish effectively. A net with an extended reach helps land your catch.

Top Catfish Baits for Fall Success

While catfish eat almost anything, these baits trigger instinctive fall feeding responses:

Natural cut bait – Fresh cut shad, bluegill, perch, chicken liver

Live bait – Nightcrawlers, minnows, small sunfish and shad

Prepared catfish bait – Plastic worms, dough bait, dip bait, blood bait

Scent-enhanced bait – Cheese, garlic, shad, and liver spray scents

When in doubt, go with locally popular baits fished near the bottom. Consider using a bait threader to weave bait onto hooks. Tip off hooks with a small piece of cut bait to add more scent dispersion.

Techniques for Catching Catfish in Fall

Bottom Fishing

The classic way to catch catfish is bottom fishing. Use enough weight to hold bait near bottom structure. Keep line moderately taut to detect light bites. Engage reel drag and pull rods up to set the hook on bites.

Drift Fishing

For covering more water, drift fishing with the wind or current presents baits to inactive fish. Use just enough weight to contact bottom while drifting. Control drift speed and direction using your trolling motor.


Trolling reaches catfish in late fall when water cools significantly. Use heavy in-line weights and vary lure depth to locate biters. Crankbaits, rigged cut bait, and swimbait trailers all produce when trolled slowly.

Target Transitions

As fall progresses, catfish transition between deep and shallow areas following baitfish. Target drop-offs, submerged creek channels, and sloping shoreline points during these feeding periods.

Be Ready for Hard Fall Strikes

The surge in fall feeding makes for aggressive catfish strikes. Use circle hooks to catch corner-mouthed strikes and prevent gut-hooking fish. Keep drag tension low and use pliers and nets to control feisty catfish boatside.

For trophy catfish, upgrade to extra heavy saltwater poles and 50 lb. braided line. These beasts make long powerful runs when hooked. Don’t be afraid to apply maximum pressure to turn their heads.

Plan the Perfect Fall Catfishing Mission

As autumn’s arrival sparks catfish feeding activity, make sure you’re on the water during the fall catfishing prime time. Follow these complete tips to find trophy catfish and entice them to bite.

With the right baits, technique and mindset, your next catfish is waiting below this fall!

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