Freezing/Preserving baitfish for catfishing

Your bait is the most important part of catfishing and you should always opt to catch and use fresh bait when you can for catfishing but only if catching it, is worth the time, however when you don’t have that option properly prepared frozen bait will also work effectively. I will freeze and use at least a 1000 lbs of bait a year and I can say with confidence that some of my biggest fish has been caught on frozen bait.

Catching baitfish for catfishing can be difficult at times, running here and there to find bait can get expensive and take up a lot of time. In my region the bait can be tough to find at times and may take a day and 200 miles to just to catch bait before I can go catfishing. Sometimes I don’t have a lot of time to locate bait, that’s why I keep my freezer full of frozen shad and herring at all times. So when the bait is plentiful and easy to find, is the best time to catch them in bulk and freeze them for a later date.

Some will disagree and say freezing bait will make the mushy and fall of the hook to easy and I will agree with that if the freezing process is not done properly. Frozen bait is only as good what you put into it and the process should be started as soon as you catch it, If not the bait will start to decompose very quickly, causing it to become soft and mushy.

The key to this freezing process is being able to drop the baits core body temperature quickly. This will preserve the bait better as the decomposing process will be postponed due to the sudden cold temperature. I never let my bait sit in a bucket for any length of time before I put ice to it.

My procedure for preserving bait is a little more involved than just catching it, putting it in bags and freezing it. It takes a bit more time but I think it well worth the time spent to have the freshest frozen bait possible.

Items needed

3 large coolers –
Cooler #1=brine solution
Cooler #2=ice storage
Cooler #3= ice storage/ extra brine solution if needed.
Zip lock bags (1 gal bags for shad and 2 gallon bags for skipjack)
Crushed/cubed ice
10 lb. Granular 100 % pure rock salt


A little preparation goes a long way in this process. The key like I stated above is, dropping the baits Core body temperature quickly to postpone the decomposition cycle and this process should be started as soon as the bait is caught. I do this by preparing a brine solution of super chilled ice water in one of the large coolers I’ve provided to immediately put the bait in after it is caught. It doesn’t matter what type of bait you’re catching, shad, skip jack or other, this super chilled brine solution will work for all bait types.

Mixing the solution

I will put one a large bag of crushed or cubed ice in the cooler and spread 2-3 handfuls of rock salt on top of the ice and repeat the process with another bag of ice on top of the first layer. Now I will pour water in the ice to make a slushy type ice mixture.

Adding salt to the ice water changes the melting point of ice therefore making the solution colder preserving the bait better.
To be honest I’m not really sure about the physics of this process of changing molecules and equilibriums. So I’m not going to try to explain it, as I’m a catfisheman and not a scientist, I just know it works and take full advantage of this phenomenon, however if you want to know how it works, here is a link to the topic I found on the subject.

Once you’ve prepared the ice brine solution your ready to put the bait in it as it’s caught, always push the bait down into the solution allowing it to super chill never leave it on top exposed to air for any length of time.. The idea is to postpone the decomposition process as bait fish are very quick to decompose. You will have to add more crushed ice to the solution as you add more bait.
Now that you’ve caught enough bait to last several trips, it’s time to bag it out.

I will always wait until I get home to do this so I will always top off my brine solution with more crushed ice and another handful of salt for the ride home keeping the bait super chilled until bagging time as I don’t ever want to give the bait time to warm up before I freeze it. I prefer to take it straight from the super chilled cooler to the bag and in the freezer within minutes. The salt based super chilled ice brine that the your bait is soaking in is an old school preservative that is proven effective over the centuries in keeping human food fresh, it’s just as effective in keeping the bait in perfect condition for future use.

Bagging the bait for the freezer

Now it’s time to bag your bait for future fishing trips. Depending on the baits size I will fill each bag with a certain number of pieces to know what I will have for each trip.
For instance, if I’m bagging out 6-8 inch shad, I’ll use the 1 gallon bags and put 2 dozen pieces per bag but if I’m bagging 12-15 inch skip jack I will use the 2 gallon bags and only put one dozen pieces per bag.

As I’m bagging I will add more rock salt to the bait in layers so that all the bait has been touched by the salt. Put half of the bait in the bag and then a hand full of salt on it, then the other half of the bait and another handful of salt and seal the bag with the air in it and begin to tumble or mix the bait and salt thoroughly. Now open the bag and remove all the air from it and reseal the bag for the final freeze. This will preserve the bait in the best condition possible. Be careful not to get salt in the zip lock grooves and only fill the bag half way with bait; leave a little room in the top so it’s easy to close.

Keep repeating this process until you’ve packed out all your bait.

Now lay the bags out and spread the bait flat within the bag and put it in the freezer so they all freeze quickly and evenly. You’re now all set with excellent bait for your next fishing trip. Just grab the number of bags that you’ll need, put them in a cooler with some ice and go fishing.

If you happen to take too much bait not to worry, by leaving it in the cooler on ice you can refreeze it when you get home and use the rest on your next fishing trip. The salt you used when packing it out will keep the bait in good shape even though you thawed it out some.


  1. mikecarman says:

    what do use a brine to freeze shad

  2. Steve Douglas says:

    i use rock salt

  3. gauspohl says:

    hey steve how do you do this process when you make a trip to get bait? I was going to go to cumberland city to the steam plant in jan or is KY lake dam better your thoughts?

  4. Steve Douglas says:

    Sorry , i just do not know how i missed this and i do apologize, i do have an article on this process on the home page in the left or right columns one. here is the link

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