Rod and Reel
You don't need a fancy rod or reel for catching catfish. Sturdy equipment is best. Rods like Ugly Sticks are tough and hold up well. If you are fishing for eating size cats a medium action rod with a light tip works well. For bragging size cats use heavy equipment. Although you can catch a big cat on light tackle, light saltwater tackle is best for monster cats.
Reels for smaller cats can vary from spin casting reels like the Zebco 33, a reel that has caught millions of cats. Spinning or bait casting reels work fine, too. Use a reel that allows you to cast the bait you want to use. For big cats heavy spinning or bait casting reels are best. A light saltwater spinning reel will handle heavier line than a spin cast reel but a bait casting reel will work better for the heavy line needed for monster cats.
Catfish feed by smell and sight but usually monofilament or braided line is fine for them. More expensive flurocarbon line is normally not necessary but does work well if you want to use it. For smaller cats 10 to 15 pound test monofilament line is good but for big cats 30 pound test or heavier monofilament and braid from 30 pound test up is best.
A usual basic catfish rig consists of a sinker heavy enough to hold your bait on the bottom, a swivel and a hook on a leader. A slip sinker above the swivel allows the catfish to pull line without moving the sinker and feeling weight. The leader between the swivel and hook allows the bait to lie naturally on the bottom, away from the sinker.
Bullet or round sinkers both work. You need a strong swivel when fishing for big cats. A short shanked hook is usually used. For years a straight shanked hook with an offset point was common. Now, circle hooks are usually used for catfish. Choose a size suitable for the size catfish you are trying to catch. A #1 hook is good for pan size catfish, a 2/0 is good for fish in the 3 to 5 pound range, on up to a 10/0 for monster catfish.
Be sure to use a good knot to attach your swivel and hook to the line. You can use a snelled hook that comes with a leader already tied to the hook.
Catfish will hit almost any bait. For flatheads, live minnows and sunfish are best. Earthworms, liver, stink baits, crickets, cut bait and others will work well for most catfish. Some have even caught catfish on small chunks of soap!
Where To Fish
Catfish can be caught just about anywhere there is water. From rivers and streams to ponds and lakes, catfish inhabit them all.
Many huge cats are caught from rivers, especially below dams on big rivers like the Tennessee River in Alabama. They hold in current breaks and wait for the moving water to bring food to them. Fish behind rocks, on the downstream side of river ledges and drops and downstream of points and islands where the current eddies behind them. The cats often hold in deeper holes in the middle of the river, too.
Streams and Creeks
Smaller streams and creeks generally hold smaller fish but they act just like the ones in bigger rivers. Fish undercut banks, eddies and holes where the water is deeper. Fish in both big and small rivers and streams will often hold in deep holes during the day and move to the upstream shallows at night to feed. Night fishing can be the best fishing in some spots.
Big lakes hold big catfish as well as smaller ones. Fish usually inhabit old river and creek channels and deeper holes and move to more shallow points and ledges to feed. If fishing a lake, try to set up near a deep hole or channel and put a couple of baits on the ledges and drop a couple down into the deeper water. Current in lakes, from power generation or other water release, will usually turn on the catfish and make them move more shallow and feed. Time your trips to take advantage of any water release.
Pond fishing for catfish can be excellent, especially for eating size cats. Just like in bigger lakes, the cats usually hold in deeper water and move more shallow to feed. Try baits in both areas. Also try the area at the head of the pond where a creek or stream enters. Cats will hold there and wait on food washed to them by the current. Another good spot is around the spillway or drain pipe in ponds.