Kayak Catfishing | Fishing for Big Channel Cats

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A few years ago we were looking for a fun and easy way to catch catfish. After watching a video on YouTube about a guy using a “stick bobber” with punch bait, we thought we would give it a try as well on our Nebraska waters. After our first trip, we were instantly hooked on Kayak Catfishing!

Targeting channel cats with a stick bobber and punch bait is one of the most exciting methods to catch a channel catfish. It doesn’t take long for the punch bait to permeate the water and attract a few of these hungry whiskered fish. Punch bait is a cheese based catfish bait that is similar to your dip baits.

The difference with punch bait is that it is made with cattails. The cotton like fiber is mixed with bait forms which forms sort of an adhesive with a treble hook. Unlike your dip baits, there is no need for a sponge. The punch bait will cling to the hook and can be used several times before re baiting it. You can also fish water with current and not worry about your bait falling off the hook. The best part, you don’t even have to touch it with your hands, hence the name “punch bait.”

Let’s go into more detail on this super fun kayak fishing technique.

catfishing from a kayak

Kayak Catfish Gear

You don’t need a ton of gear. A good sturdy kayak, rods and reels that can handle 30-50 pound braid and 20-30 pound fish, a little bit of terminal tackle, some good punch bait and a quality life jacket as these fish will pull you around in a kayak.

The kayak

A good stable fishing kayak should be used for catching catfish. A pontoon style hulled kayak with plenty of room to land these catfish is your best bet. Some great kayaks for this type of fishing include the Ascend 128X Sit-on-Top Kayak or The Wilderness Systems Recon 120 which is 38 inches wide. A great efficient paddle would be the Bending Branches “Angler Drift” is a great way to get to your favorite catfish spots.

Rods and Reels

A good spinning outfit is all you need to get started. A medium/heavy rod anywhere from 6 to 7 feet is suitable. Some anglers like a longer rod in the 9 to 10-foot range that is specially designed for the stick bobber. You can find CJ’s Cat Trigger Rod online for just under a hundred bucks. A shorter rod may be more useful when fishing in timber and brush from the kayak. A medium sized spinning reel with 30 to 50-pound braid is best. Your leader can be any type of line depending on where you are fishing. It should also be between 20-50 pound test for best results.

Terminal Tackle

Basically all you need for terminal tackle is a treble hook, barrel swivel, bead and bobber stopper to go with the stick bobber. Here’s my quick recommendations for terminal tackle for kayak catfishing.

The Best Bobber for Catfishing

The stick bobber makes this whole presentation work. When a catfish eats the bait, the stick bobber will make a quick dash under the water. It is the most exciting part of fishing this technique. You can purchase CJ’s stick bobbers online as well. A more streamlined slip cork can be found on CJ’s website.

CJ's Stick Bobber

Rigging the Catfish Bobber Rig

To make the rig, you start by placing a bobber stopper on your main line. Then thread a bead followed by the stick bobber of choice. Then add a barrel style 3/8 ounce sinker with a bead below it to protect your knot. Tie the main line to your barrel swivel with a Palomar knot. Then add your leader by tying it to the other end of the barrel swivel. The leader length can be anywhere from 12 inches to 36 inches depending on the depth you are fishing. Of course, you can also set the depth of your bait with the bobber stopper. Tie on a treble hook using a Palomar knot and you are set to catch a catfish!

Here you can find more productive catfish rigs.

The Best Bait for Catfish Punch Rigs

Punch bait is available in most big retailer stores or you can order it online. CJ’s Punch Bait comes in 5 different flavors, Shad, Monster, Crawdad, Minnow and Wild Hopper. You can purchase a small 14-ounce container all the way up to a 30-pound bucket full of this pre-made bait.

Baiting your hook

This is where a little skill is needed. Be sure your punch bait is thawed out but not too mushy from the heat. I like to refrigerate or even freeze my bait when not in use. Using a stick or prong push the treble hook into the bucket of punch bait. As you pull it out of the bait be sure to pull at an angle so that the bait catches on the barbs. You should have a nice little glob of bait as you pull the hook through.

You do not need to ball it up on the hook. The bait usually stays on the hook very well. It will permeate the immediate area in the water after casting. You don’t need to cast far as usually you are right up on your target area with the kayak. Be sure to set the depth of your bobber stopper for the depth of the water you are fishing.

catfish fishing safety

A Word on Safety

The kayak angler should always wear a Coast Guard approved kayak life jacket and carry a whistle for safety. Having a set of good quality needle nose pliers, and a good net will help with landing and removing the hook from the fish safely as well. Your hands can get roughed up pretty good so having a set of gloves will prevent you from getting a spine in your hand. If you are fishing at night it is a good idea to have a headlamp and a legal 360-degree white light. Here is also a list of the best kayak fishing accessories that might come in handy.

Locations for Kayak Catfish

Some of the best areas to catch channel catfish are shallow backwaters, laydowns, brush piles, and rip rap. Slow moving streams and rivers are also good spots to fish with your kayak. Although most anglers believe that night fishing is best, you can still catch catfish all day long with punch bait.

catfishing in a kayak at night

Best Punching Times for Catfish

Again, the feeding habits are usually best from sundown to midnight, but you can catch them just about any time of day. The weather can play a factor as well. Be sure to check for inclement weather before heading out for your trip. You want to set your bait so that it sits just off the bottom. The great thing about catfishing is that catfish bite really well all year long.

Anchoring Your Kayak Helps

Using an anchor can help with keeping your kayak in a stable position to catch catfish. A series of chains clamped together works really well if you want to slightly drag in a breeze. You can also create a “quick release” anchor with a float on the end of the rope when in rough water. An “anchor trolley” is easy to install and great to use to keep good position for fishing. A pair of fish grips with a leash can have you hooked up to a nearby branch while fishing. Another simple method is to use a plastic jar of small rocks and lay it along the shoreline extending your kayak out into the water from shore.

anchoring up for kayak catfishing

Preparing for the Hook Up and Fight

You want to be sure to have your drag set appropriately for the type of scenario you are fishing. If you are in timber, you don’t want the catfish to go on a big run or you will lose it to wrapping up on a submerged branch. Keep steady pressure on your fish and let it tire a bit before landing.

A hook-up can be really exciting! Landing a catfish in a kayak can be a bit cumbersome at times, especially if you don’t have a net with you. A net for sure works best to get your catfish on board if you can find a way to carry one in your kayak.

The best part of catfishing from a kayak is that you can be very creative in how you catch them. Using punch bait is one of the best ways we have found to have a lot of fun and enjoy our day on the water.

Lots of Fun catfishing in a kayak