Catfish hooks form the critical link between you and your catch. Whether you’re after a few creek cats for a fish fry or a battle with a 100-pound blue catfish, the right hook means success. A nice hunk of shad and a cheap hook won’t get it done with a big catfish. The right hook does more than stick your fish—it presents your bait in an appealing manner that allows you to get the point in the fish and hold them through some of the toughest fights you’ll ever have with a fish. So having the best catfish hooks you can find puts the odds in your favor.
If that sounds like it should be easy, take a look at Eagle Claw’s 200-page catalog, 90 percent of which details hooks and other tackle accessories. It’s a helpful guide with life-size images that show the shape and size of each product. That company offers an array of high-quality hooks for all species, as do other major hook makers like VMC, Mustad, Gamakatsu, and Owner, as well as catfish specialty companies like B’n’M, Whisker Seeker, Rippin’ Lips, Catfish Sumo and Team Catfish. We’re going to run through a bunch of these in the following guide. Share some of our favorites as well as other very popular models so you can find good catfish hooks wherever you fish.
Wired2fish’s Quick List of Best Catfish Hooks
Here are several of what we think are the best catfish hooks right now. And we’ll talk about a lot of others that have been classics and staples for many years as well as newer popular hooks throughout the piece below.
- Best Catfish Circle Hook: Gamakatsu Big Cat Circle Hook
- Best Catfish J-Hook: Mustad Big Gun Catfish
- Best Budget Kahle Hook: Eagle Claw Lazer Sharp Kahle L141G
- Best Octopus Bait Hook: VMC Octopus Live Bait Hook
- Best Catfish Wide Gap Hook: CatMaxx Wide Gap Hook
- Best Big Inline Circle Hook: Catfish Sumo Hangry Hook
- Best Catfish Hook Assortment: Gamakatsu Catfish Hook Assortment
Best Circle Hook: Gamakatsu Big Cat Circle Hook
If you think you might tangle with a really big catfish, you need a stout but easily penetrating hook like The Gamakatsu Big Cat Circle Hook. This hook is specifically designed to quickly penetrate the meaty thick part of a big catfish’s mouth. The hook is forged from 2X strong steel wire, with an offset, precision-sharpened inward hook point. The opposite upturned eye makes snelling a lot easier. This is just a smooth pull hookset hook. But it really sticks and holds very well on big cats.
Best J-Hook: Mustad Big Gun Catfish
Mustad’s Ultra Point Big Gun Catfish Hooks are stout J Hooks for guys that like to really lay the wood to the catfish on the bite. The hooks offer a ton of power and ease of hooking with their needle sharp points that resist dulling even after repeated hooksets into grizzled big mouths of giant catfish. The wide bend on the Big Gun holds your bait firmly, and the Opti-Angle sharpening process delivers a sharp and incredibly strong hook point for piercing the hardest parts of a catfish’s mouth. These hooks are strong and can handle the fight of a big cat on big gear without bending out.
Best Budget Kahle Hook: Eagle Claw Lazer Sharp Kahle L141G
The Eagle Claw Lazer Sharp L141 has an extra-wide gap with a point that is inline with the eyelet. This is a great simple catfish hook that is perfect for rigging live bait or cut bait alike. Plain shank with a flat-eye, offset design, Lazer Sharp needlepoint and bronze finish round out this hook’s features. It’s affordable and it works.
Best Octopus Bait Hook: VMC Octopus Live Bait Hook
The Octopus Live Bait features an offset hook with a turned up eye. The hook is forged with High Carbon Steel and is a super easy hook to snell. The needle point on the hook point is sharp and stays sharp through a lot of fish. The hooks don’t flex or bend on big cats and it’s a small bite sized hook to ensure you’re always in the mouth when you set.
Best Wide Gap Hook: CatMaxx Wide Gap Hook
The Bass Pro Shops CatMaxx Wide Gap Hook features a wide gap and strong 2X wire with a flat eye and offset needlepoint hook point. It makes it perfect for rigging live bait for big cats. The extra-wide bend positions the hook perfectly for solid hooksets and pull sets.
Best Big Inline Circle Hook: Catfish Sumo Hangry Hook
Hangry Hooks are made with a wide gap to easily pass over the jawbones of trophy catfish and help prevent your cut bait from spinning around and covering your hook point. The razor sharp point penetrates easily with a pullset on hard running big catfish. The hook is maded to be snelled through the inside of the eye. They are sold in 25-packs to give you the most bargain for your dollars. The feature a Closed Eye to protect your line and your knot from both the fish and the snags. The design ensures the hook sets in a fish’s mouth or lip to prevent gut-hooking a big catfish.
Best Catfish Hook Assortment: Gamakatsu Catfish Hook Assortment
This 20 pack assortment featuring 5 each of the best all around Gamakatsu catfish hooks. This pack includes 8/0 and 6/0 Octopus Circle Hooks, 4/0 Shiner Hooks, and 1/0 NS Black Baitholder hooks. So you can fish a variety of baits for a variety of sizes of catfish on various different rigs and rods. All of the hooks are sharp, high strength and tie easily. A great assortment for a small investment in your catfishing.
Catfish Hook Basics
With such an array of hooks, choosing the right one for a particular situation can be intimidating. When selecting, remember that catfish aren’t spooked by hooks so there’s no reason to choose a small one to bury the point in a bait the way we Texas-rig a soft bait for bass. Instead, go bigger since your chances of getting a good hookset improve, especially when using cut bait. And since catfish have very tough mouths and are strong battlers, choose stout models with a sharp point.
J Hooks for Catfishing
It’s true that no single hook design works for any situation, but several versatile choices exist. Two classic designs, Eagle Claw’s 84 and Mustad’s 92671, both called “J Hooks,” work in many situations. Other companies offer similar models since they’re also popular in some saltwater fishing situations. J hooks have a moderately long shank with a generous gap, which is essential to hold bait and allow space between the bait and the point for the hook to set easily.
They’re forged for extra strength and have a rather long and beaked point, which helps to grab into a catfish’s mouth once it’s bitten a bait. J hooks work well with pieces of cut bait, such as sucker, shad, or bream when fished in creeks. Sizes 1/0 to 3/0 cover the bases for channel cats from one to 10 pounds or so. This style also works for fishing live baits for flatheads, upping the hook size to 7/0 to 10/0 for big live baits like bullheads, suckers, and bream.
Wide-Gap Catfish Hooks
Hooks with extra-wide gaps work well with bulky baits, such as cut carp, skipjack, and gizzard shad. The Kahle hook, a style trademarked by Eagle Claw, is a popular one for fishing big wild shiners for bass, and some are called “shiner hooks.” Indeed, they work well with large live baits for flatheads, since baits like bullheads and bream remain upright in a lifelike manner on a Kahle hook. Mustad, Eagle Claw, and VMC offer similar ones, easily identified by the long distance between hook point and eye.
A range of sizes match any bait, from a grasshopper to a skipjack herring, and Gamakatsu offers them in sizes from #10 to 6/0. They’re also popular for fishing big chunks of punch bait for reservoir blue cats, due to their large gap. Set the hook as soon as you feel a bite and you’ve got ‘em! A downside of Kahle-style hooks for cut bait in current is that they spin if your bait is off-center, causing bad line twist. They work well under a float, however, in flat water or slow current.
Octopus Hooks for Catfish
Another important category of catfish hooks are called octopus hooks for their ability to hold onto fish and not let them go, much like our 8-armed friends. They’ve come onto the scene more lately as catfish specialists, as well as marine anglers, look for lighter hooks that hold baits with minimal tearing, including delicate live baits, chicken livers, blood baits, and small chunks of cut fish used in cold water during the spring season. Octopus hooks offer a wider gap and shorter shank than classic J hooks, and the point turns toward the shank in good hook-setting position. The eye is bent back somewhat, intended for snelling, which is very popular in saltwater fishing. It works well with a standard knots, however, since the hook point aligns with the hook eye when setting it.
Catfish Circle Hooks
In recent years, we’ve seen a growing contingent of catfish anglers who focus on catching monster cats, especially blues and flatheads. These anglers have made their preferences known to fishery management agencies, and we now see a growing number of regulations designed to increase the number of really big cats. They typically require release of fish that have traditionally been kept and eaten. Because some of the traditional hook styles are known to gut-hook some fish, catfish anglers have taken a page from big-game saltwater anglers and are increasingly using circle hooks. The term circle hook covers a large array of styles, however, some more circular in shape than others. But what they all have in common is that the point orients toward the shank, whereas the point of a J Hook is almost parallel to the hook shank, like the letter “J.”
A key difference is that circle hooks work best on passive presentations, such as casting stink bait out and letting it sit on bottom or drifting a float with cut bait in a river. When a fish bites, it pulls the bait and hook, slowly bending the rod. Catfish aren’t intimidated by this resistance, but instead become more determined to get their food. Under pressure, a circle hook turns and catches on the jaw, so it almost sets itself.
The hardest part about using circle hooks is unlearning our long-running habit of setting the hook when we feel a bite. Do that and you miss fish.
Instead, take your time, apply slow pressure, and a firm pull sets the hook. And once a circle hook is set, it’s very hard for a fish to escape. Circle hooks work very well for large-mouthed species like catfish, stripers, largemouth bass, and many marine fish.
Studies done by fishery researchers generally show that hooking mortality is substantially reduced with circle hooks, compared to J hooks. Gut-hooking is unusual and most hooks are typically lodged in the jaw instead of the tongue, esophagus, or gills, making a safe release easier. Even anglers who want to keep their fish have switched to circle hooks, since getting the hook out is more efficient and faster. Their circular shape also holds chunks of cut bait well. One interesting finding of the studies is that hooks with non-offset points further reduce mortality. Offset refers to the amount a hook point bends out from a flat plane. Points that jut out more apparently tend to catch deeper in a fish’s mouth.
Other Catfish Hook Considerations
Common favorites for big blue catfish include Daichi’s 7/0 Circle Wide or 8/0 and 9/0 Lazer Sharp L141 Kahle models for fishing skipjack in deep channels of southeastern reservoirs on the Tennessee River and other big rivers. For big river flatheads, some experts favor circle hooks for fishing around log jams and snags since they snag much less than J hooks and wide-gap models. Lazer Sharp’s Octopus Circle is a modified circle hook that work well in those situations, too.
A modified circle provides a little more forgiveness with moderate hooksets, as you sometimes can’t afford to wait for the hook to turn when a lunker is heading into a brush pile. They have characteristics of an octopus and circle hook. In more open areas, the 9/0 Lazer Sharp kahle-style TK6 often gets the call for its strength and sharp point.
Anglers should be aware that sizing of hooks varies among manufacturers, but the differences among circle hooks are more dramatic. Examining a hook in a tackle store is valuable, since it’s harder to evaluate actual sizes and differences in wire gauge in an on-line website. Advice from a veteran cat man is valuable as well, though anglers sometimes develop preferences and fail to examine new products. A few companies list the wire diameter of different models and sizes, which is helpful in gauging their strength. That can be valuable when you are rigging up to haul a giant flathead out from under a stump.
Hook manufacturers have been offering more models designed with catfish in mind. Try ones designed and sized for the way you fish, including different brands, models, and sizes until it all lines up and gives you full confidence in catching fish. We’re fortunate to have a wide array of hooks for flatheads, blues, and channel cats. Set up a catfish bag or box that carries all the essentials for a trip. A good selection of hooks ensures successful outing!