A variety of baits catch catfish, from natural offerings such as 'crawlers, cutbait and catalpa worms to home-brewed stinkbaits packing stench of epic proportions. But one of the easiest and most effective means of catching more catfish remains commercially prepared bait in the form of dips, doughs and chunks.
"Manufactured baits are convenient, easy to use and consistently catch catfish," says lifelong catman Ken Freeman. Raised in Pocahontas, Tennessee, a short cast from the cat-rich Hatchie, Mississippi and Tennessee rivers, Freeman tagged along with his father, a commercial fisherman, as soon as he was old enough to tend bait and set lines.
At age 12, Freeman became hooked on competitive fishing after winning a national catfish derby with his farther. He went on to participate in tournaments from coast to coast, and today organizes his own national catfish competitions. Throughout his catfish career, he tested and fine-tuned a deadly tactical arsenal, and to this day, prepared baits remain a linchpin of his strategies.
Prepared baits take all species of catfish, but Freeman most frequently focuses them on channel cats and, to a lesser extent, magnum blues. One of his favorite channel catfish patterns is a simple yet deadly technique that hinges on a lethal new dip and delivery system from Berkley.
"PowerBait PowerDip is extremely effective, and the DipWorm is designed with ribs and suction cups, so the dipbait hangs onto it better than other tubes and worms," he explains. "Plus, the pre-rigged 20-pound Berkley Big Game leader lets you handle everything from smaller, eating-size channel catfish and flatheads to big blues, and is easier to get out of snags than lighter line."
When targeting small- to mid-sized channel catfish, Freeman gears up with a medium-weight baitcasting combo spooled with 20-pound Berkley Trilene Braid mainline. For bigger fish, he upgrades to a heavier outfit spooled with 40- to 50-pound-test Trilene Braid mainline.
With either setup, he slides an egg sinker on the line, followed by a small bead. "Depth and current dictate sinker size," he notes. "Typical weights range from ½ to 2 ounces." At the end of the mainline he ties on a Berkley Cross-Lok snap-swivel, to which he clips the loop on the PowerBait DipWorm rigging.
Next step is baiting up. PowerDip is available in cheese and blood formulations, and Freeman invariably keeps both varieties close at hand.
"Amino acids from the breakdown of blood are some of the most powerful scents in all of catfish fishing," he says. "Blood baits tend to work a little better when fish are in a feeding mood. When they're busting shad, minnows or other prey, it's a natural fit to throw blood bait into the mix."
Lactic acids from cheese proteins are equally deadly. "Cheese produces catfish when nothing else can," says Freeman. "Which is why commercial fisherman put cheese in their nets. My suggestion is to have both PowerBait Cheese and Blood ready to go, because catfish preferences can change from day to day."
Freeman freely applies PowerDip to the worm. "Stir the bait with a stick or paddle first," he notes. "Then push the DipWorm into the dip and move it around until it's completely covered."
Satisfied the bait is saturated, Freeman's fires a cast into the target area, which includes a variety of fish-holding areas including flats, eddies, holes and downed timber. "Catfish are smelling machines, so I give myself an advantage when setting up in an area," he says. "On my first cast, I pitch the bait out and rip it back as if I was fishing a topwater bass lure. This produces a scent trail that attracts catfish to the area, greatly increasing their chances of my bait."
Freeman recharges the DipWorm and casts again, this time letting the bait sink to bottom and rest until a hungry catfish picks it up. "Most of the time you'll see the rodtip jumping as a catfish runs with it," he says. "Set the hook immediately and start reeling."
In extremely tough-bite conditions, Freeman removes the sinker and fishes DipWorms weightless. "When catfish get finicky, a free-floating dip is hard to beat," he says, noting that suspended baits also shine once darkness falls. "At night, I use a glow-in-the-dark float to hold the bait two to three feet under the surface." It's worth noting that for hands-free fishing after sunset, a small light like Berkley's new Angler's Head Lamp makes bankside chores such as knot tying, baiting up and unhooking catfish infinitely easier.
While PowerBait PowerDip excels on a DipWorm, Freeman also uses it to boost the sensory appeal of natural baits, such as when drifting skipjack for giant blue catfish. "Filling the bait's mouth with PowerBait Cheese gives you an extra-long scent trail and a dose of lactic acid to boot," he grins.
Indeed, the power of Berkley PowerBait PowerDip extends to applications throughout the catfish scene, and is limited only by the angler's imagination.