Most catfish anglers know that catfish possess smell and taste senses far more powerful than most other freshwater species, but few realize that cats also possess a range of hearing greater than gamefish like bass, walleye, and pike. This sense of hearing works in combination with the lateral line sense, which detects low-frequency vibrations that can’t be heard. And while cats often get a bad rap in the vision department, they can and do use sight to feed when water conditions permit.
It follows then that offerings like catfish spinner rigs tipped with natural baits like live baitfish, nightcrawlers, or cutbait; or attractor baits like dips and blood may at times attract and trigger more fish than bait alone. As we’ve said, catfish are extremely sensitive to vibration, and the essence of spinner rigging is to attract with vibration and flash. Commercial spinner rigs designed for walleyes usually aren’t heavy enough for cats, but catfish-weight rigs are easy to tie.
Spinner blades obviously are the key component of a spinner rig. Rotating blades produce vibration, alerting catfish to the bait long before they can detect the bait with their other senses. If the combination of components is correct, maximizing or minimizing attention to arouse curiosity or mimic natural forage, catfish can be triggered into striking the bait. Blades don’t necessarily have to spin continuously to produce vibration; often a side-to-side wobble is sufficient. Experiment through a range of options to determine what the fish want on a particular day.
Colorado Blades—Colorados spin at a wide angle for lots of thump and vibration, even at slow speeds. They’re probably the most common blade style on commercial spinner rigs and the best option for catfish in most situations. Cupped blades produce more vibration than flatter models, though thinner blades can be bent to produce more action. Fluorescent orange, red, and chartreuse are good choices for stained or dirty water; nickel or gold blades provide more flash in clear water. Blades plated with silver or gold produce even more flash, but also are more expensive.
Indiana Blades—Similar in shape to Colorado blades, but a bit narrower, Indiana blades rotate faster and at a shallower angle, creating less vibration but more flash. Rigs equipped with Indiana blades should be fished a little faster than Colorados, to keep the blades spinning. This may make them a better choice for covering large expanses of water in larger lakes and reservoirs while searching for active cats, either suspended or holding near the bottom.
Willow Leaf Blades—Willow leafs rotate close to the line and produce subtle vibration but lots of flash. They must be fished at relatively high speeds to spin properly, making them a good option for open water trolling, particularly for suspended fish. Since catfish probably key more on the vibration created by spinner blades rather than the flash, though, willow leafs probably aren’t as effective as Colorado and Indiana blades for attracting cats in most situations. Stock a few sizes and colors in your box, however, to experiment with.
Folded metal clevises in size 2, 4, or 6 are used to attach spinner blades to the leader. Metal spins easier than plastic to maximize blade rotation at slow speeds. Holes on stamped or stirrup-type clevises often have rough edges that eventually wear through leaders. Plastic snap clevises, originally available from Lindy-Little Joe and Quick Change, and now available from a growing number of tackle companies, allow for snapping blades in and out, to change blade size or style without retying.
Plastic beads from 2- to 7 mm in diameter usually are used for spinner rigs. Use small beads as attractors ahead of the hook on plain livebait rigs, or for spacing between the hook and clevis on tiny spinner rigs. Larger beads add color, profile, and work best for spacing components on spinner rigs, particularly between the blade and hook to allow for a good hookset. Northland’s Buck-Shot Rattle beads also add color, sound, vibration, and flotation to spinner rigs.
Snaps, Swivels, Snap swivels
Barrel Swivels—Most walleye anglers prefer #10 or #12 swivels to tie slipsinker livebait snells, but catmen should step up to at least a #7 swivel for increased breaking strength and durability. The swivel prevents a slipsinker from sliding down the line to the hook and also can be used to fashion three-way rigs. A good swivel also reduces line twist, which can be significant during a day of spinner fishing.
Snaps & Snap Swivels—Use #2 or #3 snaps to attach spinner rigs to your main line, resorting to snap swivels only when line twist is significant. Snaps also are handy for attaching and changing sinkers on three-way rigs without retying. Berkley and Sampo dominate the upper end of the swivel market, though many less expensive options also are available. Use the best components you can afford to maximize rig performance.
Tough, abrasion-resistant lines like Berkley Big Game or Stren Hi-Impact in 12- to 20-pound breaking strengths should be used to construct spinner rigs. For trolling larger spinner blades on the Great Lakes, many walleye anglers prefer a 20-pound fused-filament superline like Berkley FireLine or SpiderWire Fusion. These lines hold up much better than mono lines to the spinning blade and clevis. Use a stiffer mono leader with spinning floats like the Spin-N-Glo, though, to keep the rig from tangling, especially in heavy current.
Floating Jigheads—These originated with foam heads, before moving on to cork, hollow soft plastic, and other variations. Most floating jigheads lack significant floating ability, though, so moving slowly and with long pauses is necessary to allow the bait to rise. Many jigheads become colored attractors that are at most neutrally buoyant. Northland Fishing Tackle’s Float’n Jig is available with a 2/0 hook for floating nightcrawlers or small pieces of cutbait, while Stinger Tackle offers weedless Bohn Head floating jigheads.
Sliding Floats—Common with steelheaders, variations of Lil’ Corkies can be adapted to catfishing. Most companies that offer walleye rigs also offer an array of sliding float options suitable for spinner rigs. Cigar-shaped floats usually are positioned between the spinner and the hook, adding profile and color and slowing the sink rate when movement stops. Some anglers string several floats together (interspersed with beads) to further increase flotation and present the illusion of bulk.
Spinner rigging works almost anywhere cats swim—trolled, cast, or drifted in lakes, reservoirs, and large rivers across North America. Spinner rigging may be used as an addition to the drift rigs used for blue cats on big reservoirs, for example, or for stillfishing near cover in current. Spinners call cats and the bait intensifies and focuses their reaction. The opportunities with spinner combos are limited only by your imagination.
- Nightcrawlers remain a great bait for all cats, sometimes unequaled for channel cats. Even the biggest cats can’t resist worms. Drift ’em, float ’em, or bottom rig ’em. A ball of about six crawlers on a 3/0 hook is a fine bait for flatheads early in the season. The aroma and wriggling action seem to attract the big cats. In Kansas reservoirs, catmen dabble treble hooks adorned with several juicy crawlers for spawning flatheads, targeting undercuts and rock crevices along riprap walls where cats have holed up. Catalpa worms are a highly regarded bait in parts of the South, where they’re common. These meaty green worms apparently become a focus for many fish species, where they feed on lakeside trees and tumble into the water. Freeze them for future use. The worm’s flavor is said to be so irresistible that the essence of catalpa or crushed worms is added to some commercial pastebaits.