Many hardcore catfish anglers have favorite baits they swear by over all others. A variety of live baits, cut baits, stinkbaits and homemade concoctions are on the list of baits many outdoorsmen use to pursue Mr. Whiskers, but Mike Spinks of Sumter, S.C., has branched out in other directions when searching for the perfect catfish bait. 

Spinks has caught blues, channels, and flatheads on McDonald’s french fries, hot dogs – the cheaper, the better, he said – and grasshoppers. They all work with some degree of consistency, but after years of looking for that perfect collection of bait, Spinks has found what he likes to call some “clean and healthy alternatives” that put catfish in the boat just as surely as the stinkiest, garlic-soaked chicken livers will. All it takes is a stop at the grocery store on the way to the boat ramp.

His top bait is green grapes.

“They don’t work so well in open, deep water, but if you’re fishing near trees, green grapes catch catfish,” said Spinks, who said they’re especially good if the trees have any kind of ball-shaped objects that regularly fall into the water, like, say, sweet gums.

“I don’t know if catfish eat the balls from sweet gum trees, but when I see sweet gum trees along a bank, I’m pretty sure I’ll catch some catfish on green grapes,” he said.

Ironically, Spinks said that when he finds wild grape vines along the banks, he doesn’t use them for bait.

“I’ve tried them many times and just never had any luck with them, so now I just buy grapes from the store,” he said.

When it comes to hooking a grape, Spinks said doing it the wrong way will result in a cracked grape that falls right off the hook. “Don’t insert the hook where the stem of the grape was; it will split in two. Insert the hook into one side of the grape and push it all the way through to the other side,” he said.

Apples are also good baits, and Spinks said he has better luck on sweeter apples.

“A good, red delicious apple is what I usually use, and I will use different sizes. I’ll cut some small cubes, and I’ll also put some bigger slices out. I’ve always thought a bigger slice would attract the bigger cats, but I can’t say that’s happened so far,” said Spinks, whose catches on both fruits range anywhere from a pound on up to 20 or more.

Another fruit that produces for Spinks, but is a little harder to keep on the hook, is blackberry.

“I was fishing on Lake Wateree with grapes one day and having some luck, and I noticed some blackberry vines growing along the banks,” he said.

Though he felt confident catfish would eat the blackberries, he couldn’t get any to stay on the hook.

“Before my next fishing trip, I picked up some bigger ones from the grocery store, and they are big enough to run a hook though them without falling apart. They flat work,” he said.

Spinks said one of the best things about using these baits is that you always have good snacks to eat, and it doesn’t surprise him that catfish eat them.

“They are opportunistic feeders, and those fruits are sweet and have a strong smell,” he said. “Plus, those fruits are similar to fruits that fall into the water from nearby trees on some bodies of water, so it’s a native bait.”

The strangest bait that works, in Spinks’ opinion, is Ivory soap.

“I actually saw something mentioned about Ivory soap in the fishing regulations (guide), so I tried it,” said Spinks. “It definitely catches catfish, but it’s easy to get discouraged when you first try it out. You can cut a bar of it into chunks, and it crumbles bad. Then when you put the hook through, it splits the chunk open. The trick is just to cut bigger chunks than you want to use. Once you put the hook through, some of it will break off, and you’ll have the right size,” he said.

Spinks believes the soap works because it gives off a scent and spreads an oily film in the water, which catfish investigate.

“I figured it would come off the hook easily, but it stays on really good. Honestly, if a catfish doesn’t bite it, it’s going to stay on the hook until I take it off,” he said.