Crawdads (crawfish) are one of the primary food sources for catfish in Clear Lake. At times live crawdads are an excellent bait but more often the meat from the tail is the top producer. Just remove the shell from the tail of the crawdad and place the white meat on the hook. Crawdad tails are best used still fishing with or without a bobber since they don't stay on the hook very well. They produce the best results from spring to late fall when they are readily available to the catfish. You can purchase crawdads at several bait and tackle shops around the lake or you can catch your own with a crawdad trap.
Shrimp or prawns as they are called in the fish markets are a perfect substitute for crawdads. Although I have never been able to get a catfish to admit it, I believe they taste just like a crawdad to them. Depending on the size of the shrimp and the desired size of the bait you can use them whole or cut them in half. You can use them with the shell on but most anglers remove the shell. Unlike the crawdads you can use shrimp in heavy current or for long vigorous casting or even drift fishing without fear of losing your bait. They can be purchased in most seafood sections of supermarkets either frozen or fresh. I sometimes soak them in crawdad scent oil but I can't really prove that it helps. They work best from spring to late fall just as the crawdads do.
The word cut bait covers a wide variety of fish baits. The most common ones that are used at Clear Lake are: shad, anchovy, sardines, mackerel and silverside minnows. Cut bluegill are rumored to be a deadly cut bait but since it is illegal to use them in Clear Lake I have no idea as to the validity of the rumor. Cut bait can be a fillet or a chunk, it depends on your preference. I use them primarily for drift fishing in deeper water since the cats are usually feeding on shad or silverside minnows when they go deep.
Freshwater clams are another excellent bait for catfish at Clear Lake and can be productive year round. Fresh clams are more productive than the frozen or processed ones but if the fish are on the bite any kind will catch fish. They can be especially productive for pan sized catfish when fishing at night in the summertime.
This category includes nightcrawlers, minicrawlers and garden worms. Most locals prefer a gob of garden worms or if not available then minicrawlers. They are highly productive in winter and early spring when the creeks and drainage ditches are pouring muddy water into the lake. The catfish lay in waiting for worms and other food to be washed into the lake with the muddy water. It is best to use just enough weight to drift along the bottom in the current to provide a natural presentation. Nightcrawlers and minicrawlers are available at all bait shops around the lake but garden worms must be dug up by the angler.
Live or Dead Minnows
Live minnows, especially large or extra large are a good bait all year round. The only drawback (or maybe not) is that you will catch as many bass, or maybe more, as catfish. Most serious catmen kill their minnows just before they put them on the hook for this reason. They can be used under a bobber in shallow water in spring and summer as well as drift fishing in semi deep to deep water all year long. Minnows are available at only a few baitshops in the area so check my list of bait and tackle shops and call them to see if they're available.
I truly believe that a catfish (especially a channel cat) will eat almost anything that is animal, vegetable or mineral. Here is a partial list of stuff that I have caught them on; bread dough, salmon eggs, smoked salmon, corn, hot dogs, bologna, german bologna, salami, green peas, Berkely Power Bait Trout Paste, plastic worms and grubs, and even crank baits. Hot dogs are a very good bait for catfish at Clear Lake. Many fish in excess of 15 pounds have been taken with hot dogs. Another good catfish bait that deserves a mention here is cheese, just about any kind of cheese will catch catfish but orange cheeses like cheddar or american work particularly well. As I already mentioned, I have caught a lot of cats with plain bread dough so I'm sure a prepared doughbait will do well. If you use your imagination I'm sure you can come up with a few new ones.....Good Luck.....Catfish Ed.