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Kayak Fishing For Catfish (Top Tips for Catfish Angling From Your Yak)

Mark Armstrong
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Kayak fishing for catfish can sometimes require a little extra preparation, both in terms of fishing gear and safety. After all, kayaks are not big boats, and catfish are pretty strong fish.

But using a kayak to catch big catfish can be fun and exciting once you know how. We’ve put some information together to help you rig your kayak for some serious catfishing, with some tips on how to catch them.

Man holding a catfishPin

What Is The Best Setup And Gear For Kayak Catfishing?

Comfortable And Stable Kayak

It’ll probably come as no surprise that catfish are strong and powerful. So a stable kayak can be essential for catfishing.

Fishing kayaks do tend to be more stable than most standard recreational kayaks.  This is because they’re often designed with a standing platform and a wide, spacious deck to allow for easier casting and retrieving (although you might not want to be standing up on a kayak while you’re fighting a large catfish).

A pedal fishing kayak can also be an ideal choice of vessel. A pedal drive can give you the added power that you need to get to fishing holes fast, and can help you maintain a more consistent speed if you plan on trolling for catfish.

The seat that your kayak has can be another important thing to consider, as you’ll probably be sitting in it for a while. A seat that’s elevated off the deck and fully adjustable for added support can be more comfortable for casting and can improve your visibility.

Catfishing Tackle

The type of fishing tackle you’ll need will usually depend on the size of catfish you plan to target but you’ll usually need a strong fishing rod and fishing line. The length of your rod shouldn’t be too long since you’ll want it to be easy to cast from the seat of your kayak. Around 7 feet can be an ideal length of fishing rod.

Match your kayak fishing rod, line and hooks to the weight of the fish but it can be a good idea to opt for heavier line. For example, at least 20 pound monofilament if you’re targeting smaller channel catfish. For bigger blue catfish you may want to opt for 30 pound mono or more.  

You may want to fish with more than one fishing rod to increase your chances, so having two or three rod holders on your kayak can be useful. It can be a good idea to make sure your fishing rods are securely inside the rod holders if you plan to keep them there while on the move.

Fishing Accessories

A fish finder can be a great accessory for all types of fishing, but it can be even more useful for locating hiding catfish and any potential holes. Most fishing kayaks will usually have a mount or tracks where you can install your fish finder.

An anchor system can also be a good idea for kayak fishing for catfish. While you can use a kayak anchor trolley system, an alternative can be to use kayak stakeout poles, which can work well for catfishing in shallow water. Remember to think about the direction of the current or the wind, which will determine where you drop your anchor to position your kayak and bait in the best spot for catching fish.

If there is strong current, it’s not advisable to anchor your kayak as this can be dangerous. Even in slow current, it can be a good idea to have an easily detachable anchor system for safety. Adding a float to the rope can be useful for relocating the anchor if you have to detach from it.

You might find you want to bring along a folding net to help you land your catch. It can also be beneficial to attach paddle leashes to your various accessories, including your kayak fishing paddle, just in case anything falls overboard during the fight.


When it comes to catching catfish, it can be better to avoid artificial lures and use real bait. Catfish can often be caught using bait that smells – sometimes the stinkier the better. There are many homemade baits that can be great for catfishing. Dough balls can be particularly useful and pretty easy to make.

You can also use various food items such as raw chicken and chicken liver. Or you can get creative and experiment with some of the more unusual bait options, for example, dog food, French fries, chunks of hot dogs, or even soap.

Remember you’ll need somewhere to keep your bait while you paddle out to the best spot. A cooler or other bait storage can be useful, and you can make use of the hatches and cargo decks on your kayak for your additional equipment.


Adding a trolling motor to your fishing kayak can be beneficial for all types of fishing. For one thing, it can give you the added power to get to where you want to go.

The other benefit of a trolling motor (and what it’s designed for) is that it can help you while trolling, letting you maintain a consistent speed. It also frees up your hands so you can spend more time fishing instead of paddling. 

However, you can also troll for catfish without a trolling motor, either paddling or pedaling. Planer boards can be useful tools for catfish trolling, especially from a kayak, as it can let you cover a larger area and keep your bait near the bottom to lure catfish.

Planer boards can help you with trolling for catfish in larger areas of water but you might find this technique is not necessary if you’re fishing in smaller rivers.

Video: Kayak Catfishing Using Planer Boards


Whenever you’re doing any type of kayaking, it can be important for personal safety to wear a PFD (Personal Flotation Device). But when you’re kayak catfishing it can be even more important, as a powerful catfish could potentially tip your kayak or pull you overboard.

Having a whistle attached to your PFD or somewhere on your person can also be a useful tip in case you need to alert another angler or boater in an emergency.

How To Catch Catfish From A Kayak (Safely)

Safety is important any time you head out on the water. But when catfish are your target species, it can be even more important to think about safety and remember to tell someone where you’re headed (or bring someone along with you).

Locate The Catfish

While it’s probably pretty obvious to find the catfish before you drop your bait, it’s knowing where to look that’s key. Catfish tend to hide out in holes, particularly if there’s a lot of structure to keep them hidden. Bigger catfish can often be found near deeper water ledges, such as the edge of channels.

Fish finders can be great for hunting catfish, letting you see the lay of the land underwater, showing you depths and contours as well as locating fish.

You can find catfish in lakes and rivers in many areas around the US. They can often be found in muddy waters and tend to be pretty inactive during the day, hiding in holes, waiting for food to pass by. This is why it can be a good idea to get your bait as close as you can to the fish to encourage a bite. At night, you might find they’re more active as they tend to head to the shallows to feed.

Hook That Catfish

Circle hooks can be better for catching catfish from a kayak because you don’t need to be holding onto the fishing rod to set the hook, as the hooks set themselves when the catfish strikes. This can be beneficial if your fishing rods are secured in your rod holders.

Video: What Hook, Sinker, Tackle And Leader To Use To Catch Catfish

Sometimes it can be a waiting game, so patience can be vital, which is why a comfortable kayak seat with lumbar support is a good idea. But when that catfish strikes, remember to give it a minute to make sure the hook is set before you try to reel him in, or you may lose him.

When you’re fighting the catfish, try to keep centered on your kayak to avoid leaning over too far which could make you lose balance, or worse, flip your boat. These fish are heavy, strong fish and some of the bigger ones could easily tip your kayak if you’re not careful. This is where a fishing net could help you land your prize more easily.

Santee Catfish Trolling Rig

Trolling for catfish can sometimes be a lucrative way to catch some trophy cats and can be great if you’re fishing for blue catfish, as it can let you cover a larger area.

The Santee Rig is an adjusted Carolina Rig with the addition of a peg bobber or float. Santee rigs can work well in slow moving rivers where catfish may be on the move.

Video: How To Set-Up A Santee Cooper Rig

This rig can work best when the bait is moved slowly along the bottom, which can mean a trolling motor or pedal drive could help you out here and let you keep your hands free. You can drag the weight and swivel along the bottom while the float helps keep your cut bait a little off the ground to entice catfish to bite.

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