Three Way Rigs for Catfish

three way rig for catfish Three-way rigs catch fish in lakes, rivers, and reservoirs; along structure and in open water; and now more than ever before, at different depths.


Livebait's a natural on three-way rigs, but they also might be the best way to present lures or bait-lure combinations that are proving effective for catfish across the country. Plastics, crankbaits, floating jigheads, spinner rigs, and lightweight trolling spoons all follow the three-way lead.

The strength of this rig always has been its ability to hold livebait just above the bottom, regardless of depth, current, or drift speed. An infinite range of bell sinkers, from 1/4 ounce up to and exceeding a pound cover all conditions. Select the proper sinker size for the job.


The heart of the three-way system is the junction formed by the swivel. Three loops provide attachment points for the main line, dropper line, and leader. Varying the length of the dropper line positions the bait closer to or farther from the bottom, depending on how fish are relating to the bottom.


Changing leader length positions baits farther or closer to the hardware, which to some degree affects how far off bottom the bait will ride. In general, the longer the leader, the farther an offering will droop toward bottom, unless the current's exceptionally fast or a float is added to the leader to increase buoyancy.

As a general rule, in moderate current or fast-drifting applications (say anything from 1/2 to 2 mph) the bait will sink below horizontal from 1/8 to 1/5 the length of the leader. Thus a five-foot leader may run as much as a foot below the swivel, more or less.

Misconception #1 — They're unforgiving. Unlike sliprigs, line can't be fed to the fish when it begins to move off with the bait. Hogwash. Look at the design. When a fish strikes, just drop your rod tip toward the fish.

three way rig for catfishThe whole rig collapses back, providing momentary slack until the fish pulls the swivel directly between the hook and sinker. By that time, you should have had the opportunity to rear back and set the hook.

Misconception #2 — They're snaggy. Some truth to that, especially on rock or wood bottoms, though they're great in open water. Best bet for snags is to use a lighter line on the dropper than on the main line. When you snag, a strong pull breaks the dropper, losing only the sinker instead of the whole rig.

Also, keep leaders short to prevent dragging bottom or wrapping around wood cover. You might also replace standard bell sinkers with a more snag-resistant design such as a Lindy-Little Joe No-Snagg sinker or a Scott Enos Sand Bag.

Misconception #3 — They work only within two or three feet of the bottom. Definitely wrong. Tie the dropper as long as you wish, anywhere from a typical one to three feet up to 10 feet or more, to position baits far above the bottom. Land fish by leaving sinkers dangling in the water while you net the fish.

Versatile Rigging Options

The ultimate in versatility begins with a rig we've been playing with for several years. It's an adjustable three-way that doesn't require a three-way swivel. Instead, tie on a standard barrel swivel between your main line and leader. Next, thread a long dropper line up through one of the loops of the swivel, and clamp a lead shot somewhere on the dropper opposite the sinker and swivel.

three way rig for catfish

The lead shot functions as a bobber stop. Where you set it determines the distance the swivel rides above bottom, and thus the depth the lure or bait runs. To adjust the off-bottom depth, simply slide the shot up or down the dropper. Should you snag, a firm pull slides the shot off your dropper line, once again losing only the sinker and saving the rest of the rigging.

Want the ability to feed more line with a three-way? Try a double-¬≠barreled rig. First, tie a standard dropper line and weight to one loop of a barrel swivel. Next, thread your main line through the opposite loop of the swivel, then tie it to a second swivel connected to your leader. Bingo — a slipsinker three-way rig. Feed biting fish as much line as you wish.

Substitute a bobber stop and a bead for the second swivel, and you can easily adjust leader length, too. This works best with lighter weights that won't slide the bobber stop down the main line toward the hook.

For the coup de grace, combine all aspects of adjustability to make an adjustable-leader-length variable-dropper-length rig. Rather than trying to envision my description of the rig, I offer an illustration of the Super Three-Way Rig.

And you thought three-ways were stone-age technology. They're more like space-age magic. Virtual reality for a few cents worth of terminal tackle. The question anglers should be asking: "Is there anything three-ways can't do?"

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