Catfish have an interesting reputation in the world of freshwater fishing. Many regard them as bottom-feeding junk fish while others find them delicious end enjoy fishing for them.
Don’t let their bottom-feeding habits fool you. These fish, like all fish, will bite better during certain seasons and times of day. Even more confusing, catfish will change their habitat and position in the water column throughout the day and seasons.
This article will cover everything you need to know about fishing for catfish during certain seasons and times of day. Of course, nothing is guaranteed in fishing. And a lot of this information will vary based on your location.
However, this information will certainly improve your odds of catching catfish.
The Seasons – When to Catch Catfish
Seasons play a very important role in catfish feeding patterns. The good news is that different species of catfish can be caught during every season. The bad news is that it’s difficult to catch some catfish during certain seasons.
Anyway, this section will cover each season and species in-depth.
Summer is the best time of year to catch all species of catfish. The exact time does vary based on when the catfish start spawning, though.
Typically, you will have a difficult time catching blue and flathead catfish during their spawn. They just don’t bite all that often. Don’t worry, channel catfish bite more during their spawn.
Also, flathead catfish are usually fairly good right before their spawn. This feeding frenzy normally starts around early summer.
It’s actually quite useful that as one type of catfish stops biting another one will start biting. As you’ll see, this is a common trend with catfish.
My recommendation: Fish for flathead catfish in the early summer, and then fish for channel catfish when the flathead catfish start spawning (and stop biting). This is the best time of year to catch channel catfish.
Fall is generally the most difficult time of year for catfish. It’s especially difficult at the beginning of fall when the temperature begins to drop. This is because catfish follow the baitfish, and the baitfish move around searching for water that’s the right temperature.
With that in mind, early fall is generally awful for catfish. Sure, you will find some, but it’s definitely not an ideal time to fish for catfish.
Fortunately, the water temperature should stabilize sometime in November, which means all the baitfish stop moving around. Generally, blue catfish and channel catfish will start biting once the water temperature has stabilized.
Flathead catfish also bite during this time. For those that don’t know, flathead catfish go into hibernation during the winter, so they will be quite active during the later part of fall and maybe early winter.
My recommendation: You won’t have much luck when the water temperature is transitioning in the early fall. However, all three species of catfish will bite in the second half of fall. Fall is the last chance before winter of catching flathead catfish.
Winter is a surprisingly good time of year to catch catfish. Most of the baitfish have already been eaten in the fall, which means the fish not hibernating will have slim pickings until spring. In other words, they’re much more likely to take your bait.
This is somewhat reassuring because many fish become very inactive in the winter. It’s generally not a good time of year to fish.
Anyway, you probably won’t catch flathead catfish during winter since they become quite inactive. Don’t worry, they’re the only type of catfish that becomes inactive. Some experienced anglers do target them despite their inactivity. However, it’s difficult and not worth it in my opinion.
You will have a much better time catching large blue catfish in the winter. In fact, it’s actually the best time of year to catch large blue cats. The smaller catfish will be somewhat inactive, but the bigger ones still need to eat during the winter.
You can still catch channel catfish in the winter, but they won’t be trophy-sized. They’re still fun to catch and good to eat, though.
My recommendation: Fish for massive blue catfish in the winter. You may catch blue catfish or maybe a channel catfish. I wouldn’t bother with flathead catfish.
Spring is similar to fall in that catfish might not bite during one part of the season, and then go into a feeding frenzy for the other half.
Many anglers find the early part of spring extremely difficult due to the temperature change. As with fall, the baitfish scatter when the temperature changes, which means the catfish scatter.
They do still bite during this period. It’s just hard to locate them. Part of locating them just comes with experience. You really need to know where baitfish hang out when the temperature changes.
Catfish do start biting once the temperature stabilizes. Flathead catfish will finally emerge from their winter activity. They will be quite hungry, so it’s a good time to fish for them. Remember, they need to regain all that weight they lost during the winter.
Blue catfish go into a feeding frenzy, too. The second half of winter is the best time of year to catch a large amount of blue catfish. They won’t be trophy-sized like the winter, but the extra volume makes up for it.
Channel catfish are also good. It’s not the best time of year for them, but you will still catch plenty of them.
My recommendation: The first part of spring might be a little rough depending on the weather. However, once the water temperature has stabilized you will have an easy time catching blue catfish and flathead catfish.
Best Time of Day to Catch Catfish
Now that I have covered the best seasons for catfish, it’s time to cover the best time of day (or night) for catfish. One thing to note is that catfish will bite at almost any hour of the day, but there are definitely better times to go for catfish.
Most anglers have heard that fish like to bite in the morning, and it makes perfect sense. The water is cooler, which means the fish will hang out closer to the surface. It’s also much cooler on land at this time of day.
As for catfish, they do some feeding for the first hour or two after sunrise, but it begins to taper off as the water warms up and they retreat to their holes.
I’d rank it as the third-best time of day for catfish.
My recommendation: It’s an ok time of day for catfish. I personally avoid going for catfish in the morning if possible, but it’s generally better than the daytime.
Catfish still bite during the day, but it does require changing up your strategy. The water will get warm during the day, and the catfish hang out in deeper water, near structures, or in the shade. This is especially true in the hot summer months.
Personally, I find fishing for catfish during the daytime annoying for a few reasons. The main one being that the catfish just don’t bite as much during the day. Of course, you can still catch catfish during the day. It’s just much harder.
In addition to the less than stellar action during the day; It’s just too hot for fishing in the day during the summer. However, if you can handle the heat, then you should do fine going for catfish in the right locations.
My recommendation: You can still catch catfish during the day at the right location. However, you would be much better off going for them at night if possible.
The evening is one of the better times to fish for catfish. Many catfish begin emerging from their holes to hunt for baitfish in the evening, so you will often find them on the move. And they are usually quite hungry as they begin their nighttime feeding.
Also, the evening is generally defined as an hour before and after sunset. It’s the only time of day when the weather is actually tolerable during the summer.
My recommendation: You should begin fishing for catfish at this time. Expect to catch a decent amount, too. I usually start going for catfish about an hour before sunset and finish when it’s time for bed.
Many fish become inactive at night. As many of you already know, catfish are not of those fish. They actually do most of their feeding during the night.
However, catfish behave much differently at night than during the day.
One difference is that they actively hunt during the night. This means they will search for your bait, and that makes it so much easier to catch them. Just throw out a line and the nearby catfish should find it.
Also, catfish hang out at different places during the night. You will rarely find them in holes or in the shadows. Remember, they’re out and about searching for food. Most of them tend to swim a little higher in the water column (but still near the bottom) during the night.
My recommendation: If you can fish for catfish during the night, then do it. It is the best time of the day to fish for catfish.
Many anglers have different recommendations for fishing during storms. Some say that catfish are scared of thunder, others say to avoid fishing after a storm, and some say catfish always bite because they’re bottom-feeders.
Well, all those observations are somewhat correct.
In my experience, fish bite more when the barometric pressure changes. And the barometric pressure changes immediately before a storm and immediately after a storm. Not during the storm.
With that in mind, if you see storm clouds approaching, then the fishing should pick up. The same applies once the storm begins to pass. I’d avoid fishing in the middle of a storm, though. It’s dangerous and just bad fishing.
Well, that about covers it for when (and where) to catch catfish. Nighttime is better than daytime. And late spring, summer, and early fall are much better seasons than the dead of winter.
Despite that, it’s always a good time to go fishing. Sure, you might struggle more during the day or in the winter, but fishing is an entertaining activity. And you still might catch a catfish. That’s part of what makes fishing for them so fun – you may catch one any time of year.
You might even catch catfish while going for other fish.