Saltwater Catfish: The Worst Fish Ever OR Amazing Tarpon And Cobia Bait?
By: Joseph Simonds on August 12, 2015
Who else hates Saltwater Catfish besides me?
Here is just a short list of why I hate catching saltwater catfish (or more like why I hate it when they bite my line while I am fishing for an inshore fish like a snook, redfish, or big sea trout):
- They are slimy and nasty
- They slime up my leader and lure
- They always find a way to take my best live bait
- They make annoying grunting sounds and poop everywhere
- They have razor sharp dorsal and pectoral fins that hurt like crazy if they stick in your skin
- They always seem to take forever to get off your hook as they rarely stop wiggling, which of course cost you even more time away from pursuing the saltwater fish you were probably going after in the first place
But did you know that these notorious fish we all know as “Saltwater Catfish” can make for some of the best bait for big tarpon and cobia?
However, before I get into the steps on how you can use these catfish for bait, let’s go over the quick difference between saltwater catfish and freshwater catfish (as there was clearly some confusion when we first came out with our now popular “No Cats On Board” shirts – see those here).
When we first took this “No Catfish On Board” shirt live way back in January, it caused a very interesting debate…
In fact, we heard either one of the following three things about this Catfish shirt design after it went live:
- “Love the shirt! Spot on. I hate catching saltwater catfish”
- “Why would you ever hate catfish. They are delicious to eat and fun to catch for the whole family”
- “Why do you hate cats?”
I think we can all agree that we’ll just eliminate the person that made the 3rd comment from this article. I can only assume it was an old lady that has never been saltwater fishing, and simply thought we were talking about her precious felines.
But what about the second comment that we received “Multiple” times? Are there that many anglers that don’t know the difference between a freshwater catfish and a saltwater catfish? Or are there just that many people that enjoy catching (and eating) saltwater catfish?
Well, after responding to most of the comments, the replies we received back proved that there is a lack of information and education on freshwater catfish vs saltwater catfish. So let’s do a quick recap on the two different types of catfish so we are all on the same page first.
Freshwater Catfish vs Saltwater Catfish
Now keep in mind that there are many different types of catfish depending on where in the world you are reading this. But for simplicity sake, I am going to compare the most common freshwater catfish vs the most common saltwater catfish found in the state of Florida and the Gulf Coast.
Fun Fact: A catfish has over 27,000 taste buds, which is more than any other animal.
Let’s go over some bullet points on the freshwater catfish first:
- First of all, you can’t get “STUNG” by a catfish. In reality, you get “finned” by their sharp dorsal fin and pectoral fins that have “barb-like” spines on them
- Secondly, Freshwater Catfish are not the same as Saltwater Catfish
- The catfish whiskers can’t hurt you at all
- Freshwater catfish are incredible to eat (try fried catfish at any local freshwater fish restaurant = good stuff)
- The most common freshwater catfish is the “Channel Cat”. It has scattered black spots closer to its tail, and the males can get quite dark during spawning season
- They are bottom feeders just like their saltwater brethren
The Slimy Saltwater Catfish “The Hardhead” Cat
- Saltwater catfish usually fall into one of three main types of catfish
- Hardhead catfish
- Gafftopsail Catfish
- Of the three catfish, only the sailcat and gafftop are the ones you hear about people eating, but even then, most anglers seem to dismiss catfish for their reputation of being slimy, having sharp fins (thus a pain to handle and clean), and because they are the ultimate bottom feeder
- They can NOT sting you either. But the smaller catfish do have razor sharp fins (dorsal and two pectoral fins) that can pierce your skin and cause some serious pain (although it’s not officially considered “poisonous”).
- These saltwater catfish also have “whiskers” known as Barbels, which the catfish uses to help it find food in grass flats and in other parts of the ocean floor
- The fins can be incredibly sharp on some of these small to medium sized saltwater catfish. I have personally seen a catfish dorsal fin go right through the thick sole of a tennis shoe without any problem (so don’t ever kick them or try standing on them to take the hook out)
How To Properly Hold A Catfish Without Getting Finned
The crew at CatfishEdge.com does an amazing job on everything catfish. Check out their short video below on how to properly hold a catfish.
This can apply to either a freshwater catfish or saltwater catfish.
Saltwater Catfish For Tarpon & Cobia Bait
Now that we got all of that out of the way, let’s talk about how you could be putting these slimy catfish to good use… for catching some big tarpon and cobia!
To begin, if you don’t know where to catch saltwater catfish, the easiest thing to do is throw a shrimp on a jig-head and toss it near any fish cleaning table in a canal, or near any dock with a cleaning table in the Florida Intercoastal. These bottom feeding catfish can also usually be found near docks that are close to grass flats as well.
Once you have caught a few catfish, here is what you need to know in order to catch a nice cobia or tarpon with it:
- Gloves to handle the catfish
- Needlenose pliers can work great for getting the hook out of the catfish when you are catching them, and they can be used to break the spines off the fins
- However, wire cutters or very strong “fish grippers” to cut the spines off the catfish fins (you do this before throwing it back into the water as “bait”)
- Filet knife if you want to cut the catfish head off. Some anglers prefer to just fish with the catfish tail (minus spines), while others fish with the full live catfish
- You will need a heavy duty circle hook to get through these bulky catfish (all the way up to 14/0 for the real big catfish)
- Normal 60-80 lb mono leader (or whatever you would normally use for big tarpon and cobia)
- 20-30 lb braid on 7-8 ft medium heavy spinning outfits is recommended
How to hook and fish these Saltwater Catfish
There are a few different ways to fish these saltwater catfish for tarpon and cobia. Let’s cover each one briefly.
- If you end up cutting the head off and fishing just the tail, you will hook the catfish through the smaller diameter part of the tail (right near the tapered end of the tail)
- If you are fishing the full catfish (dead or alive), you can either hook it through the lips (both top and bottom), or just behind their bony head plates on top.
- If you are anchored up, some anglers like to use large bobbers or popping corks
- And if you are drifting, it is usually best to free line and let the catfish stick around the bottom
- Remember to always use your gloves when handling these slimy fish, and always cut the spines off the fins first
- Finally, get ready for some line to scream out of your reel, because it usually won’t be a small fish hitting these large catfish
Next time you see your rod tip bumping from an annoying catfish while fishing the flats, don’t get angry, get your live well going…
There are many of old-time fisherman that let their kids and grandkids have fun catching the slimy catfish in the morning, while they go out later and use the catfish to catch monster tarpon and cobia in the afternoon and evening (while the kids are napping from all of the fun).
It’s the ultimate win-win.
Let us know if we missed anything in regards to using saltwater catfish for bait, and don’t hesitate to leave a comment with any questions or personal fishing tips on using saltwater catfish as bait.
And if anyone has a great recipe for saltwater catfish, let us know as well.
P.S. – If you think your angler friends would like this article, please Tag them or Share it with them. You Rock! Pa-POW!
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