Do Catfish Dig Holes? And for What Reason?

Yes, catfish dig holes, like many other fish species. Not only are the holes used as nests, but having a hole gives a catfish a place to rest and relax. …

Yes, catfish dig holes, like many other fish species. Not only are the holes used as nests, but having a hole gives a catfish a place to rest and relax.

If you look at the water bottoms of many shallow rivers and lakes, you will see holes wallowed out in the mud or sand on the bottom. Different species of fish create these holes for various reasons.

To dig a hole, a catfish will scoop mud or sand from the bottom in its mouth and deposit it into a pile nearby. They will also dig into the underwater banks of rivers, keeping their holes below the water line. Some catfish have been discovered in their mudholes after the river level has gone down and no water is present. This is possible because catfish can breathe oxygen and survive as long as their skin stays moist.

Usually, catfish holes are long narrow, and long, giving the fish just enough room to back into the hole and leave his head poking out. Catfish will also move into holes leftover from other fish if they can find one that fits properly. In some instances, several catfish have been pulled from one large hole.

Reasons Why Catfish Dig Holes

There are several reasons why catfish dig holes. Not only is the cool mud comforting to them on a hot day, but the mud provides a sense of security and safety. It also makes great camoflauge.

It’s How They Reproduce

Like many other fish, catfish reproduce by laying eggs. Usually, a female will dig into the mud under the deep water of a lake or pond, or use her mouth to scoop out dirt to create a catfish hole in the banks of the river. She will then lay her eggs in the hole.

The male will visit the hole and fertilize the eggs, then remain in or near the hole to guard the eggs until the fry hatch. The male will move on when the baby catfish are about a week old. Some catfish return to the same nesting hole each year.

They Like The Habitat a Hole Provides

The deep hole not only provides a place to reproduce; it is also a safe haven for the catfish. It is not unusual to find catfish in holes long past spawning time. In some places, catfish remain in their holes year-round. The hole protects small catfish from being prey for bigger fish. It also provides a cool place to hang out when the sun is heating up the waters of a shallow pond or river. Catfish prefer deeper water because it is cooler. When the water evaporates and becomes shallow, catfish holes offer a cool place on the water bottoms.

It’s How They Find Food Sources

Catfish also dig holes to help them hide so they can ambush prey. The catfish digs holes where other fish tend to cluster, like near rocks, along the shore, or where shallow water drops off abruptly into the deepest water. As minnows, young bluegills or perch, or any other small fish species swims by, the catfish will race out with his mouth open, allowing him to feed on anything that gets too close.

Not only does the catfish use the hole to help him find food, it also helps him avoid becoming food for predators. A catfish hidden in the sand is hard to see, thus protecting him from becoming prey to big cats and other species.

Catfish Hole FAQs

How Can This Knowledge Help Me in Catching Catfish

Knowing where to find the fish makes catching them that much easier. You can concentrate on presenting the bait to the fish and reeling them in, rather than randomly casting and hoping to get your baits in front of fish.
Even if you find the holes, you want to attract the catfish to the bait. Catfish like things that smell bad. Try baiting your hook with stink baits, hot dogs soaked in chicken blood, cut bait like shad and other baitfish. You can also try chumming with hot dogs, bloody cut bait, or commercial catfish bait designed to attract catfish. Canned corn is another great bait for drawing fish out of holes.

How Do I Find Holes and Other Structure?

Most anglers will use a fish finder that shows a clear view of the bottom of the lake or river. In lakes and ponds, look for holes or low spots on the bottom. If there is a little pile of dirt to one side of the hole, a catfish likely dug the hole for a nest or a safe place to stay.
In a big lake, ask local anglers for tips about where to find catfish and what baits to use. Most other anglers will share information. They might not give up their honey hole, but they will be happy to help you catch some small catfish. Some large lakes will offer anglers-guided catfishing trips on a hire boat. This is a great way to learn more about a new lake, find out what kind of fishing works best to catch the big blue catfish, and get information about which creek or river feeds the lake. This can all be helpful, even if you don’t catch any catfish on your outing.
In large, deep lakes, you can try drift fishing from your boat. Use your sonar to find how deep the lake is and troll your bait about a foot off the bottom. Big catfish are going to go deeper pretty much year-round. Blue catfish thrive in deep water and dig deep holes on lake bottoms, close to trees, bridge pylons, and channel marker anchors. Fish all around these structures for catfish and other species.
On riverbanks, holes may appear in the land along the shoreline, below the water level. Check the outside river bends for steep ledges and drop-offs. Fish for channel cats in these little bends. Catfish live close to the shoreline in deep holes and will bite whatever gets close enough.
Catfish like to nest under downed trees, between rocks, and in submerged tree roots. In early summer, when other fish are spawning, catfish tend to stay in the shadows and hide during the day, then feed on fry and fish eggs when the nest is unattended. You can usually catch catfish just as the sun is setting using shad or stink baits.

What If I’m Fishing from Shore?

In ponds, small lakes or creeks, you might fish from land. Plenty of cats have been caught on the bank of the river. Look for bends in the river or points along the bank. Locate piles of rocks or fallen trees. Don’t be afraid to throw your hook along the edge of a brush pile. If your baits are meant for catfish, you will draw them out.
In a small creek, look for deep holes formed by water flow. Fish these pools in the creek. Bends in the creek, submerged brush piles, downed trees, or natural caves are all great places for catching cats. Rig your baits so they almost sit on the bottom and wait. Catfish are opportunistic predators and they will go after food that passes in front of their mouth.
Farm ponds are great places to find big catfish. Often the bottom is muddy and soft and the water is shallow. Catfish will dig down into that mud to nest and to feel safe from predators. Bump stink baits along the bottom. Catfishing in a shallow pond is fun year-round. Catfish live for years and it is fun to catch and release small catfish in ponds and watch them grow into large catfish. Some people even feed pond catfish commercial fish food to help them grow.
Channel catfish like muddy rivers and will dig holes around rock piles, concrete debris, fallen brush, and discarded trash. A submerged tire often becomes a catfish home. Anglers catching catfish often hook debris instead.

Is this why people noodle for catfish?

Noodling for catfish is a technique popular in the rivers of the southern United States. Anglers who are noodling locate catfish holes and drag the cats out by hand, with no line, hook. or bait. This method of catching catfish dates back to the first settlements and the native people. Today, noodling is a popular sport, and there are tournaments for catching fish without bait and tackle.
Anglers who try noodling are brave enough or crazy enough to dive under the water and reach blindly into a muddy hole in hopes of pulling a big cat out. This method of catfishing is popular in the south where water temperatures range from 65 to 80 degrees in the summer months.
The most common type of catfish caught this way is the flathead catfish. These massive species live over 20 years and can easily weigh over 100 pounds. While flathead catfish are fun to catch on a rod and reel, it is even more exciting when you are standing waist-deep in muddy water hoping you can pull catfish out of their holes when they bite your hand.
The prime season for catfish noodling is when the catfish are on the nest. In most locations, this is between the first of June and the end of August. After the female lays the eggs, the male catfish will enter the hole to guard the eggs and the newly hatched fry.

Is it dangerous to noodle in catfish holes?

Noddling for catfish can be dangerous, but if you take the proper precautions you will be fine. If you are fishing lakes, the cats will have holes along the shoreline or in deep water where there is debris. While you have little danger of being injured by the catfish, the trash and debris piles where cats like to hide can cause injury.
If you are lucky enough to be in a clear water creek, you can see any debris that might harm you. Rusty cans and barrels, downed trees, concrete debris, and strainers caused by tangled fishing lines holding branches and trash in place are all dangerous. These are also all the places flathead catfish like to hide. Fishing in deep water lakes can be tricky because the water is usually murky and objects are hidden below the surface. On lakes, your best bet is to use a depth finder or sonar mounted in a boat.
Look for debris piles, drop-offs and ledges, and low spots on the bottom. For safety reasons, if you plan to go noodling, you should have a safety person alongside you and stay in waist-deep or shallower water.
Once you find the hole, use a stick to gently prod around in the hole for signs of life. If you hit something hard, it is likely a snapping turtle. You don’t want to stick your hand in his mouth. Also, some venomous snakes like copperheads, cottonmouths, and water moccasins move into abandoned catfish holes.

Here is a list of equipment to have before you start hand fishing in holes.

  • sturdy leather gloves that are thick enough to protect against bites
  • first aid kit including clean water, antiseptic wipes, and bandages
  • fish stringer
  • at least one safety partner
  • camera to record your success

The technique of noodling is fairly simple. Once you locate holes, you start fishing by diving down under the water and sticking your hand in the hole to locate the fish. Wiggle your fingers and wait for the fish to latch onto your hand. No catfish baits for this technique. When your hand is inside the mouth of the cat, grab his bottom lip with one hand and his gills with the other. Pull him out of the hole and stand up to lift him out of the water. If it is a huge flathead or blue catfish, you might also need to wrap your legs around the body of the fish to keep it from escaping until your safety partner can help you.

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Teresa Taylor is a keen kayak fisher and lover of all types of fishing. She writes about a range of fish species for Tackle Village and reviews lures and gear.
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