The Wels catfish is a very successful predatory fish. However it is not an out and out predator and it spends much of its time scavenging. It will pretty much eat anything that it can fit into its mouth and its natural diet consists of fish, both live and dead, worms, gastropods, mussels, crayfish, amphibians and as it grows, small mammals such as rats and water fowl. As a rule any meaty or fishy bait will work better than say a vegetable one. When looking at the issue of baits it is helpful to understand how the Wels catfish actually finds its food.
The sense of smell of the Wels catfish is second only to that of the eel amongst freshwater fish in Britain. Therefore any bait that leaves a good scent trail would be advantageous. The catfish has two sets of nostrils on its head that it uses to full advantage to analyse the water around it for any food signals. This keen sense of smell is used to scavenge it the low light conditions in which it mostly feeds. Baits such as luncheon meat and liver have been used successfully for years due to the scent trail and chemical signals they give off. A note of caution: If using flavour enhancers and additives to make a bait smell or taste better, be careful not to overdo it. Because the Wels sense of smell is so highly developed it may pick up these artificial signals and they may be overpowering to it. What may smell very good to you or I, may not smell so good to the catfish. By the same token, I have used squid in Spain before that we have purposely left wrapped up in a plastic bag in the sun all day until it stinks. It smells vile but the catfish out there love it.
Taste, which in fish is linked very closely to smell, is also used by the catfish to find its food. The catfish has taste buds on its barbules as well as in and around its mouth. This means that a catfish can taste its food without even having to put it into its mouth. Therefore if it doesn’t like the taste of it, it can reject the bait without the hook being anywhere near its mouth, leaving no chance of hooking it.
The Wels catfish uses vibrations in the water to actively hunt its prey. Particle displacement of the molecules in the water are sensed using its very highly developed lateral line. Inside the pores of the lateral line are tiny hairs that sense this movement in the water and minute changes in pressure. If an injured fish was sending out distress to one side off the catfish, then the hairs on that side of its body will pick up the vibrations more strongly than the hairs on the opposite side of the body. Therefore the catfish will know to move towards that side. As the catfish nears its prey it will also start to detect the movements in receptors in its barbules. At close range the 2 large whiskers act almost as a divining rod to pinpoint the exact location of its intended prey. They will point straight forwards and when the catfish gets within range it will suddenly open its large mouth and literally suck the prey in to be gripped by the pads of teeth behind its lips.
The Colour Yellow
The colour yellow deserves a mention as it represents something of an anomaly. The Wels catfish is credited with having very poor eyesight and, when you see its tiny eyes and consider the low light levels that it usually feed in, this is not surprising. However catfish seem to be attracted by the colour yellow. As catfish are stocked into more and more lakes, which are often predominantly carp lakes, there seems to be an ever increasing amount of catfish accidentally caught on such baits as pineapple pop-ups and even fake corn. The frequency with which this happens certainly seems to go beyond mere co-incidence. Therefore it is well worth experimenting with baits such as yellow dyed dead baits, yellow boilies or baits such as luncheon meat popped up with yellow rig foam. These are baits that I will certainly be using.
The Bait Box
The Wels catfish therefore finds food by using its very developed sense of smell and by detecting movement and distress signals in the water. Baits should therefore be something that smells nice (at least to a catfish!) or something that will trigger its predatory instinct. Triggering the predatory instinct would usually mean fishing with a livebait, worms or leeches. These also obviously trigger the scent receptors as well as they will all give off chemical signals, particularly worms. Good livebaits are small carp, tench and perch. They are good because they remain active for a long time. Roach are also quite effective. Skimmer bream catch plenty of Wels but they die on the hook very easily and so I use them as a last resort.
Baits that will trigger the sense of smell specifically are baits such as luncheon meat, Mattersons sausage, liver, kidney, halibut pellets, boilies, squid and deadbaits. Wels catfish do not seem overly fussy about whether they take coarse or sea deadbaits and, bream, roach, mackerel and sardine are all taken readily. Lamprey is another bait that can be very good as it leaves a fantastic scent trail in the water, especially if it is pricked a few times to let the blood ooze out. Eels can also make good deadbaits although I personally would not advocate their use as the eel is becoming an increasingly endangered species.
Leeches are a bait that is as close as can be to being exclusively taken by catfish. Occasionally the odd pike and even the odd carp will take leeches but by and large they are left alone by other species. Leeches account foe a great many catfish in the UK and are a fantastic bait to use on waters where you are not allowed to livebait.
This list is obviously not an exhaustive list of baits that will catch Wels catfish, it is merely a guide to baits that have been proven over time to work. If you think that a certain bait may work then give it a try. The key to catfishing baits is t ‘think big’. Wels catfish have very large mouths therefore you can use big baits for them. Not only will this make the bait easier to find as it will give off more smell. or, in the case of livebaits, more movement, it also means you can more easily target only the wels and avoid other fish such as carp or bream. Obviously this is not always the case but having a very large bait certainly helps. For rigs and tips on how to fish these baits see the tackle and rigs section of this site.