Bar soap has kind of fallen out of popular favor. You might still see a worn-down green blob of Irish Spring at fish or duck camp, but the average home shower is now loaded with gels and scrubs, or organic body washes that are pushed by bearded pseudo-lumberjacks on social media. Many of your grandpas would roll over in their pine boxes if they knew how much you spend to scrub your ass. Some of your grandpas would also tell you that $20 bar you just ordered—you know, the one infused with bamboo fibers and birch oil—likely won’t catch any channel catfish. That old-school blue Zest would, though. Shave off a slice with a dirty pocketknife, pin it on a hook, send it out into the river, and hang on.
I’m not condoning the use of soap as catfish bait. My grandpa didn’t use it, but he did love to hose his chicken livers and worms down with WD-40 before firing them out into the lake. The old-timey use of bar soap and lubricant don’t jive with the modern environmentally friendly mindset, but they do speak to the simplicity of fooling channel catfish. It didn’t matter that neither the soap nor the lube presented natural odors; all that mattered is that they produced strong odors and created a scent trail for catfish to follow. Those that pursue blue cats and flatheads take fresh bait very seriously, and while there’s no denying that a fresh chunk of shad will also work for channel cats, it’s probably overkill. Channel catfish are arguably the least picky species of the group. That’s why come mid-summer when my frozen American shad stock has been depleted, I switch my program over to hotdogs for catching channel catfish.
Catching Catfish on Hotdogs
This all started because of my kids. Going catfishing was often a spur-of-moment decision, which meant I had no time to wrangle up fresh gizzard shad or bluegills for bait. Finding chicken livers in the local grocery store was hit or miss, and frankly, I always found them to be a pain unless you made the effort to wrap them in stocking material. Shrimp are tops for summer channels, but for the price I’d rather throw them on the grill than soak them in the rock pile. Wieners, on the other hand, are always available, relatively cheap, and they provide some of the same characteristics of the soap and WD-40 without angering the environmental agencies, especially when you doctor them up.
Channel catfish rely on scent to feed, and they have a nose for salty, sweet, and pungent aromas. If you’re a health-conscious person, you may already be aware that hotdogs are ranked as one of the worst foods you can eat. Why’s that? Because they’re packed with delicious artery-hardening nitrates. Generally speaking, the cheaper the dog, the more nitrates you get with every bite, which is why—similarly to that organic bar soap—you’d be crazy to grab a pack of high-end gourmet dogs. The less processed the dog, the lower the nitrates. It’s the smell of those nitrates leeching out into the water that the catfish home in on. In fact, don’t even waste your money on Nathan’s or Ball Park. Just leave the grocery store all together and do what I do—head to your friendly neighborhood mega-dollar store and buy their hotdogs, which I believe are 99% nitrates and are probably unfit for human consumption.
Hotdog Tips and Tactics
When you get your Dollar General dogs home, pop them out of the package and cut them into 2-inch chunks. Try not to think about what they could be made of or how much you’d have to get paid to do a shot of the liquid left in the bag. Put the chunks in a one-gallon zip-seal bag. Add enough water to barely cover them. Now shake in one full packet of powered cherry Kool-Aid (or the dollar store equivalent) and finish with two tablespoons of garlic powder. Marinating overnight is good, but not necessary. I’ve whipped up batches of cherry-garlic dogs while flying out the door with the kids, and by the time we get to the river those chunks are bright red and capable of scaring off a vampire. You end up with the perfect mix of salty, sweet, and pungent—it’s one of the best channel cat baits I’ve ever used. There is, however, one final disclaimer.
Hot dogs—cheap ones especially—are soft. If you just pin a chunk on a hook and send out a bomb cast, there’s a good chance the bait will fly off. What I’ve found works best is hooking them like you would a single salmon egg when trout fishing. Thread the hook shallow through one end of the dog chunk. Now rotate the hook and push the barb straight up into the middle of the chunk. This secures the bait much better, but you still may not want to put every ounce of arm strength into your cast. It’s also worth noting that your fingertips will be dyed red by the end of the day, but that’s nothing a good bar of Dial can’t fix. I’m sure you can find that at the dollar store, too.