Catfish RigsAs selective as catfish might be about where they live and what they eat, theyʼre seldom choosy about catfish rigs. So most catmen favor simple rigs, which are easy and inexpensive to construct and have fewer components to interfere with a natural presentation.

Indeed, some catfishing situations require nothing more than a baited hook. Cast this rig onto a shallow flat in a lake or reservoir or into a quiet eddy in a river, and allow the bait to slowly drop to the bottom. Unweighted baits also can be drifted in moderate current, tumbling slowly across the bottom until catfish find them.

Most conditions, though, call for a bit of weight to aid casting distance or to anchor baits in current. A lead shot or two pinched on the line six to 12 inches above the hook might suffice for cats in shallow, still water, but a bank sinker weighing six ounces or more is needed for some big-river tailraces.

Point is that no single rig is suitable for every application. The best catmen—those who consistently catch fish when others complain about poor fishing—adapt their rigging to conditions. Learning to do the same will help you catch more and bigger cats.

Sliprig Savvy
Many catfishing situations call for a livebait or piece of cutbait to be stillfished on the bottom. The most popular bottom rig for all catfish species is the simple sliprig. This rig consists of an egg sinker sliding on the main line, held in place above the hook by a lead shot. The objective is to anchor the bait near the bottom, and then allow a catfish to swim off with the bait without feeling too much tension. The idea is sound, but this rig doesn’t accomplish either objective well.

The success of trotlines and limblines illustrates that catfish—particularly big cats—aren’t timid feeders. Let a trout or walleye run with the bait before you set the hook, but don’t wait for cats. When a decent-size cat picks up the bait, he has it. Most of the time, you could set immediately without giving any line. But your chances of a solid hookset increase if you let the fish turn first. When you feel the thump of a fish grabbing the bait, follow him with your rod tip for a foot or two, then set.

Another problem with the egg-sinker rig is the egg sinker. These sinkers work well when pitched directly behind a boat anchored in current. When cast across current, though, they tend to roll along the bottom and snag more often than other sinker designs like bell or bank sinkers. Slip your main line through the top of a bell sinker and replace the split shot with a swivel to improve the effectiveness of this popular rig.

Leader length is another concern, especially for novice anglers. Don’t use a longer leader just to separate the bait from the sinker. To catfish, a sinker is just another rock. Adjust the length of the leader to vary the amount of action and movement imparted to the bait. A piece of cutbait tethered on a 12-inch leader may lie motionless on the bottom of a lake or pond, but would flail about wildly in heavy current.

Use just enough leader for your bait to attract fish without hanging up. That might mean a 3- or 4-foot leader for drifting cutbait across the clean bottom of a reservoir for blue cats; a 6-inch leader for holding big livebaits in front of a snag for flatheads; or no leader at all for probing the broken bottom of a tailrace for channel cats.

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