Taylor’s nostrils flared the second she caught wind of the smelly concoction, but it was the look on her face when I started poking around in the mushy slop with a screwdriver that I’ll never forget.
“That’s disgusting,” she quipped as I yanked the treble hook out of the tub with a nasty-looking glob of the bait in tow.
Amused, I cracked a grin and lofted the bait towards a shallow point and reeled the line semi-taunt once the egg weight settled to bottom.
“Watch this,” I said.
Moments later, the rod tip went bump-bump and I set the hook into the first of several solid channel cat that sniffed out the bait on that sultry summer morning at Lake Nacogdoches.
Taylor is grown and married now, and she hasn’t been catfishing with me since. But she became a firm believer in how deadly punch bait can be on channel cat that day.
Chad Ferguson is a punch bait junkie from way back. Ferguson is a D/FW area angler whose guide service runs hundreds of catfishing trips on lakes Eagle Mountain, Worth, Ray Roberts, Lewisville and Grapevine every year. According to Ferguson, punch bait is huge part of his program, especially when channel cat are on the menu.
“I primarily fish punch bait in the late spring and summer,” he said. “I do use it during other times of the year, such as when targeting blue cats around cormorant roosts, but it is not as extensive as late spring and summer when I focus primarily on channel catfish.”
I recently caught up with Ferguson and asked him to share some punch bait fishing tips that just about any angler learn from. Follow them and you will catch more and bigger catfish:
Not to be confused with dough, dip or stink bait, punch bait is a prepared bait. It’s made from a variety of ingredients aimed at producing a poignant bait that is denser and thicker with more texture than other prepared baits.
It gets its name from the manner in which anglers bait or load their hook. This typically involves using a flathead screwdriver, wooden spoon or stick to poke a treble hook into the bait at a downward angle. When the hook is removed, the bait packs or balls up around the hook.
Not surprisingly, Ferguson is super-particular about the type of punch bait he uses. That’s because none of them are created equal.
“There’s a lot of great punch baits on the market that will catch fish,” Ferguson said, “but many of them have issues with texture and consistency or cannot tolerate the extreme summer heat.”
“Because punch baits are cheese based, Ferguson said, “they thin when they get hot. There are many good baits that just turn into a soupy mess when they get hot―they won’t load on the hooks easily and won’t stay on the hooks when you cast. If bait isn’t right, it is difficult to bait the hook, and it won’t stay on the hook. That means you will be spending a lot of time fighting with the bait and not catching fish.”
Ferguson has experimented with a number of prepared punch baits. His favorite is Uncle Josh Little Stinker Punch Bait. It comes in three scents — crawfish, minnow and rotten shad. When it is hot outside, he recommends keeping punch baits covered and in a cool spot to help it maintain optimum consistency.
Catfish, especially channel cats, have a tendency to bite punch bait so light at times that it can be difficult for many anglers to detect the strike until it is too late. Ferguson’s favorite summertime remedy for what he sometimes calls “mealy mouthing” is a slip-cork rig centered around a two-inch, Slip-Stick float from Comal Tackle. The purposes of the cork are two-fold―to suspend the punch bait off bottom and alert the angler when fish eats it.
“A lot of people make the mistake of using a big, bulky bobber when they fish for catfish, but I can tell you from experience that it is going to cost you a bunch of fish,” Ferguson said. “Channel cats are really bad about mouthing the bait, sometimes so lightly that you probably won’t even know they are there. The Slip-Stick cork is so light, sensitive and streamlined that it allows me to tell when a catfish comes anywhere near the bait.”
Ferguson recommends using the float combination with a bobber stop, No. 6 4X treble and split shot sinker, just heavy enough to make the float stand erect in the water. Ferguson likes to build his rig light as possible to reduce resistance and optimize sensitivity. He doesn’t recommend using any swivels or leader.
The guide says using 4X treble hooks is super important when fishing with punch bait. The hooks are significantly stronger than 2X hooks, which reduces breakage.
“I recommend using plain hooks, too―no springs or sponges,” Ferguson said. “Punch bait is made to stick to a plain hook. Using sponges or dip tubes actually makes punch bait more difficult to fish with.”
Another key ingredient to Ferguson’s catfish rigs is Stren Catfish Monofilament line. The line is bright orange in color, which makes it easy to see. “It’s also very tough, so it holds up well around heavy cover.”
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Packing a Punch
Punch bait is all about convenience and longevity.
You can “punch out” a ball of this stuff and it will stay on the hook longer than many other kinds of prepared baits. It is effective for any kind of catfish action but excellent in areas with current of some kind.
The Little Stinker Punch comes in minnow, crawfish and rotten shad varieties, giving anglers options that match the primary forage species in any Texas water body.
Punch Bait is super popular in East Texas, particularly the northeast quadrant but it will catch catfish anywhere from the Panhandle to Rio Grande and everywhere in between
Ferguson approaches channel catfishing similar to bass fishing. He stays on the move.
“Get out of the mindset that you need to throw a big glob of bait out and wait for a catfish,” he said. “Be active, cover a lot of water, move fast and move often and you’ll catch more fish. If you don’t catch a fish in 15 minutes, move to a different spot.”
Punch bait is soft straight out of the tub, and it begins losing its consistency when immersed in water. For that reason Ferguson recommends reloading the hook with fresh bait before every cast.
“People often think they should be able to bait the hook and cast multiple times, but it doesn’t work like that,” Ferguson said. “Bait the hook every single time you cast; put a good wad of it on the hook. Some of the bait will fall off when it hits the water, and some will fall off while it’s sitting in the water. That gets the scent in the water and draws channel catfish in, sort of like chumming. If you don’t have a bite in five minutes, pull the bait in, rebait and cast again.”
From May through September, Ferguson recommends concentrating on depths of five feet or less. He almost always fishes areas with some sort of cover or structure.
“Get out of the mindset that you need to fish deep water for catfish, and don’t be afraid to fish cover,” Ferguson said. “Channel catfish love a variety of cover―everything from timber, rip-raff, boat docks and lily pads. Get tight against the cover and experiment.”
Ferguson says making slight adjustments in the depth of the bait can at times make a huge difference in the number of bites you’ll get on punch bait.
“Let the fish tell you what they want,” he said. “Sometimes having a bait 18 inches below a float instead of 12 inches makes the difference between fishing and catching. It can be different every day, and different throughout the day.”
School’s out and summer is here. The time is ripe to gather up the family and head out to your favorite catfish for some serious fun in the sun.
If you forget everything else, be sure you don’t forget the punch bait.
– Story by Matt Williams