Thanks FishinMatt - Maybe I've just let other gamefish take the bait too long w/circles... (I don't do a whole lot of bait fishing for anything other than cats so mabye my 'sample size' for other fish just isn't great enough to see good results.
With cats, I've REALLY let them eat the bait, and the circles still produce the desired results (ie- right in the corner). I can't recall any gut hooked cats.
back to the topic of the thread (sorry for slightly hi-jacking) -
depending on the size of the cat, like others, thumb and index finger under the pectoral fins and palm against the belly (head pointed up) and middle finger behind the dorsal - that should keep your hands in control of all of those spines! I ALWAYS have a good pair of needlenose with me especially for cats - just b/c their skin is a bit rubbery and barbs stick very well in them.