Answered: What Gear and Bait Do I Need to Catch Catfish?

People have caught catfish with the most minimal of materials. Heavy thread tied to a hook and milk jug.  A stick with fishing line tied to it and a hook with a live shad on it. Most crazily, noodlers crawl into the water and use their fingers to attract bites.

For those who do not wish to go old school, however, the choices can be dizzying. So many reels, rods, rigs, and baits are used to catch Mr. Whiskers. What to buy?

When you are just getting started, I believe in keeping it simple (not tricky gear or knots) while using effective (but not crazy pricey) equipment is the right approach.

Go with a spincast reel and mid-sized rod that will work from the shore or a boat (an 8-foot rod in a small boat is a hassle), and use a Santee rig to bottom fish while keeping the bait a little off the floor and hopefully out of snags.

So here is my list of the stuff you should buy:

1. Stringer: (so you can keep fish)
2. Small fishing bag: (nice for carrying your equipment)

1. Bag of bells: (so you can hear the bites when they come)
2. Needlenose plyers: (so you can get the hook from the fish’s mouth)
3. Clippers: (to cut line)
4. Heavy swivel-clips: (to clip your Santee rig to)
5. Circle hooks 4/0: (for 12″-18″ catfish) or Circle hooks 6/0: (for 19″-36″ catfish) Alternatively, this packet of varying sized circle hooks is a good deal:
6. 2-oz round, flat sinkers: (tied above the swivel via a Palomar knot)
7. 20-lb braided line: (braid is easier to tie than plasticky monofilament)
8. Rod, 6-foot and medium weight: (those chasing smaller catfish will better feel the hits and land them with a medium weight rod)
9. A wide-mouthed net: (For bringing the fish into the boat or onto the dock or shore. Don’t try to jerk them up by the line—they can snap your rigs off!)
10. Santee rigs (red; 3 boxes):

Oh, and a cheap, excellent bait is a stinky chicken bait. You can see my recipe for it below.

To Buy a Motorized Fishing Boat or Not?

Jon Boat DirectBoatscom

Jon Boat, Pelican Intruder 12, 2016 model. Source:

Recently, I have been stricken with a terrible affliction: I want a fishing boat.

No, I don’t want some big, bazillion dollar water-beast with a motor that can skip me over the water at 50 miles per hour. I want something more modest: a low-maintenance, easy-to-transport basic boat with rod holders and a small motor that can get me where I am going. I have no need for a craft with steering wheel, panel of instruments, or CB. A Jon boat, like the Intruder 12 pictured above, would do very nicely, even without the rotating seats.

Mostly, I could see using this boat to fish at Fletcher’s Cove, and to explore the Potomac River and the Anacostia River. Maybe I’d also take it to other spots in nearby Maryland and Virginia.

Indubitably, there are good reasons why getting one would benefit me (see below). But the truth is it is simply one of those things I want. Indeed, as I tally the associated costs (see below), it probably is unwise to get a boat.


  1. Access: Having you own boat means you have the ability to go fish any hour of the day rather than having to limit oneself from 7am to 7pm, which is when Fletcher’s Cove rents boats.
  2. Hassle: The rowboats at Fletcher’s Cove are not easy to row, especially when there is current.
  3. Disappointment: Having my own boat means never having to worry about all the boats at Fletcher’s being taken.
  4. Freedom (1): My own boat gives me the freedom to further explore the Potomac River…. and to explore other waterways [Freedom (2)].


  1. Cost (1): A boat will cost upfront money: $250-$300 (or more) for the motor and battery, and $500 or more for the boat. (Unless I get a steal on a used one.)
  2. Cost (2): A boat will need to be registered ($25) and will be taxed at 6% of its purchase price unless it is an inflatable one.
  3. Storage: Where to store the boat? It won’t fit in our apartment’s storage room, and purchasing an extra parking spot for it in the garage would run $75/month. Docking fees are even higher and there are no nearby slips.
  4. Transportation: if you need to buy a hitch, that is extra money and also will require an extra parking spot.

Other thoughts

  1. In addition to the Pelican Intruder above, I like this Jon boat—110 pounds with 4 rod holders and room for a motor (but I need to assess how strong a motor it can handle).
  2. A canoe might be workable: it could be lashed to the roof of the van. And some canoes can handle motors.
  3. To look for used boats, I can search
  4. A middle ground solution would be to buy a motor and battery to attach to Fletcher’s boats. This solves the Hassle and Freedom (1) issues, but it does not solve to Access, Hassle, or Freedom (2) issues.
  5. My fishing friend Brian offers this motor advice: “I have a Minn Kota 55 pound thrust motor. You can get them on Amazon for about $220. The 55 pound will get you up to Chain Bridge and back – perfect for Fletchers, and also will work for some of the other spots – Riverbend Park, the Occoquan River and Reservoir – where you can rent boats. You’ll also need a battery to go with it. (Size 24 or 27, deep cycle (not starting). Those will run you about $100 at the auto parts store.”
  6. Inflatable rafts have problems: how to anchor one? And if they deflate on the water you could be a dead man.

So, when I review the all of the above, the inescapable conclusion is: the costs of a boat —even a simple one— are high.

But I still want a boat.

July 15, 2016 update: The American Spectator published a revised version of this piece at