Just a few basic ingredients can yield a fun stinkbait mix that kids can enjoy helping with to catch more catfish
Making Stinkbait With Your Kids
By Alan Clemons
Fishing is even more fun when you create the bait that entices a whiskerfish to bite.
Stinkbait comes in many forms. Thicker punch baits stay on a bare treble hook better. Dip baits have a thinner consistency for use with sponges or rubber tube lures. Other types of stinkbait are even more runny. Ingredients include old cheese, fish, bread, oatmeal, cornmeal, blood, fish guts, animal offal or maybe all of the above churned into something akin to potted meat.
Stinkbaits dissolve, emitting wondrous aromas catfish detect and seek. All that’s left is for you to take the wriggling fish off the hook. Another good thing about stinkbait is you can make it yourself and teach your kids how to make it. Talk about a project they’ll remember forever!
It’s easier to buy stinkbait, just like it’s easier to buy vegetables instead of growing them in a garden. Buying an apple pie at the bakery is a cinch, too. Making it at home, and teaching your kids or grandkids how to do it, though, is far more rewarding. It just depends on how badly you want to do something.
If you fish a lot, you may need more homemade bait than you realize. You can go through a batch of stinkbait quickly. If you’re fishing for numbers, like with a slat box, you better have a lot of room for barrels or big storage buckets.
My first introduction to stinkbait came more than 50 years ago when my father had a trailer at Wilson Lake in north Alabama. Fisherman’s Resort was a fun getaway. He would head out from there to the dam to catch smallmouth bass. Driving through the campground, we’d pass a trailer with a metal-roofed shed out back. “Cap” lived there—I never knew his name—and sold catfish to the local fish markets. He ran a series of slat boxes baited with his ungodly aromatic homemade stinkbait.
Cap stored his stinkbait in 55-gallon metal barrels. It was a mixture of cheese, guts and, I believe, the unusable lint from a local cotton gin. Maybe some other things. The mixture went into the barrels just a little more than halfway to allow for fermentation and expansion. The lids weren’t sealed tightly—again, expansion—and the barrels were put under the sheet-metal roofed shed to ferment for a year. When the wind was right, and especially in late summer, the six-year-old me thought it smelled like dead animals.
Make Your Own
Dead animal scents apparently attract catfish, as do fermented cheese, fish innards and other aromatic delights. Catfish detect these various stinky treats through the thousands of taste sensors on their bodies and tongue.
Find a spot to make your baits. You need to do this outside, if possible, unless you have an understanding spouse. The ingredients may not be truly stinky yet, but they’ll still smell bad during the process. Cooking and prepping outdoors is a big plus.
Get your gear together. This includes the ingredients, cooking tools and pots; anything to stir, scoop or pour the warm mix; the containers in which you’ll let the mix ferment; and a storage area for however long you’re going to let the goodies get juicy. I highly recommend good, disposable rubber gloves that come to the elbow, if possible, for the handling and mixing. Your local dollar stores or big mart stores have inexpensive cooking pots. A great mixing tool is a heavy wire potato smasher.
Making stinkbait is akin to your grandmother making her famous tater salad. Everyone does it a little differently and maybe has a special or secret ingredient. You can do this, too, after nailing the basics. Perhaps you want to add crayfish or chicken livers or perhaps stinkin’ shad minnows, or you have access to a butcher and can get beef blood.
Whatever trips your switch is cool. But start with these easy ingredients to make stinkbait with the kids:
- Cheese, either scraps from a big cheesemaker (online sleuthing helps) or the cheapest block cheese you can find at the dollar store. Your local grocery store may have a line into old cheese, too. Sharp cheddar is fine. Something stinky like limburger will impart more aroma.
- Cattails, in late summer when the heads are brown with seed fluff. These make great binders for the mix and are free if you can find them on roadsides, public lands or a friends’ property
- Anise, an old-school scent for fishing
- Garlic powder, whatever is cheapest. Garlic gets a cat’s attention.
- Cherry or strawberry Kool-Aid or red food coloring (optional)
If you’re making a big batch for, say, a 5-gallon bucket or two, put the cheese chunks in a pot over a propane burner (outside!) to soften. You want to melt them enough to be stirred; remember, they’ll cool quickly. If you’re making a smaller fun-sized batch you can melt the cheese in the microwave. Have the cattail fluff already plucked from the stem and ready to mix with the cheese. Add a healthy dose of garlic powder and anise, and stir everything until it’s mixed well. The cattail fluff will act as a binder. The optional Kool-Aid or red coloring is a visual cue.
If you want it thicker, add cornmeal. You may have to keep the cheese on the burner to keep it soft enough to mix. Let your son or daughter help with the process, safely, of course. Put the mix into the buckets a little more than halfway and loosely affix a lid. Remember, it’ll ferment and expand. You don’t want a bucket exploding. If you’re making a smaller batch, put about half or a smidge more in the jar and loosely seal. Large plastic containers with screw-on lids are, to me, great for thick stinkbaits.
Store your baits in a hot, dry place so they can get all juicy and yummo. If you want to add chopped-up minnows, shad and guts, crayfish or other things, do so during the warm-slurry mixing. Chicken livers are a great addition. You can chop all these with a knife or smash with a mallet. Even better is to put them in a blender, pulse for the desired consistency and add to the warm cheese mix to stir with the cattail fluff and other items.
You don’t have to use cheese. It’s just a common and often easy-to-find ingredient. Some catmen use cheap peanut butter, a workable material that stays on a hook. I’ve also heard of cheap cat food being mixed with cornmeal, blood or blended shad, and other ingredients. Creating a DIY stinkbait can be as simple or exotic as you desire.
Get the kids, get all the goodies and have fun. Making stinkbait and catching fish with it will create memories that last forever.
(Alan Clemons is an award-winning professional writer who has hunted and fished in more than 40 states. He has written about news, sports, outdoors and more since 1984. Some of his first memories of fishing are of catching catfish. Clemons is married and lives in Alabama.)