Sinkers are the workhorses of catfishing rigs. Yet, compared to other rigging components such as lines and hooks, matching the functional attributes of a catfish sinker to the fishing situation is often overlooked. Whether you’re leashing baits on bottom with set rigs, banging and bouncing over bottom while drifting, working float rigs, or finessing cats, using the right sinker is the easiest way to improve your presentation.
Consider pouring your own sinkers. You’ll save money, and you’ll always have your favorite sinker on hand. With the right equipment, molding sinkers is an easy process. Plus, you get the satisfaction of fishing with your own home-crafted tackle, but be sure to follow safety precautions provided by the manufacturer when working with lead.
The bell or bass-casting sinker sporting a swivel top has become one of the most popular sinkers among catfish anglers. It’s a good multipurpose sinker to keep in the catbag for anchoring set rigs and for drifting. Bell sinkers anchor rigs better than egg sinkers do, but not quite as well as flat sinker designs. They also work well for drifting baits on three-way rigs over fairly clean bottom.
Like the bank sinker, the bell sinker’s aerodynamic shape allows for longer casts and gives it a fast sink-rate. One- to 8-ounce sinkers cover the range from light-duty channel catfish angling to heavier setups for flatheads and blues.
One of the most useful sinkers for bottom rigging in rivers is the No-Roll sinker by Do-It Corporation. With its flat, low-profile design, this sinker holds in place better than egg or bass-casting shapes. Its weight-forward, teardrop shape allows for long casts and helps reduce snagging in woody cover.
The flat shape causes it to sink more slowly than casting-type sinkers. The sinker’s carried more in current because of its large surface area, making the No-Roll a good option for walking baits and rigs along bottom in current.
Egg sinkers are one of the most utilized designs on catfish rigs, but they’re also perhaps one of the least understood. They typically don’t sit tight when cast cross-stream or in fast current, making it more difficult to keep baits in position. They’re a good option for pitching rigs directly behind an anchored boat in current.
One place where egg sinkers excel is on float rigs. They’re the best choice for balancing slipfloat setups, whether it’s with smaller baits for channel cats or big baits for flatheads.
Shot is another good option for balancing slipfloat rigs, weighting drift rigs, and for pinching on your line as a stop for a slipsinker. Add shot to your line a foot above the hook when drifting rigs for channel cats in smaller rivers, or for finessing channels near cover in bigger rivers, lakes, or reservoirs. Soft, round shot is best, rather than eared shot that can snag more easily and twist line.
A jig is a fixed-sinker rig, except the weight is molded onto the hook rather than pinched onto the line. Some anglers worry that the added weight on the hook causes catfish to drop baits, but most jigs aren’t heavy or bulky enough to make the fish back off once it commits. Jigs can be an excellent choice for presenting baits to catfish, but different situations call for different jig designs.
A ballhead jig is a good choice for working over clean bottom. It also performs well on float rigs, eliminating the need for leaders and other sinkers. To reduce snags when fishing cover such as downed timber, turn to a weedless jig with a fiberguard.
Bullet-style heads work well when swimming and vertical-jigging soft plastics for channels and flatheads. And for still-fishing, it’s hard to beat a jig with a stand-up head. There are many more jig designs available, so experiment to find your favorite for the situations you fish.
Another fixed sinker rig, the bottom bouncer is well suited for drifting and trolling baits at steady speeds and in heavy current. Attach a 1- to 3-foot mono leader with a baited hook or spinner rig.
Pulled at steady speeds, the bouncer drags and skips over bottom due to the elongated shape of the sinker and the flexible wire frame. Catfish are often triggered by the slowing-and-darting motion of the bait, as the bouncer contacts and releases bottom.
Many other designs exist for special duties. Storm, pyramid, and claw sinkers have extra holding power but tend to snag more easily in cover. Cannonballs pound bottom on lift-drops while walking or drifting baits. Experiment to find the best sinkers for your own catfishing needs.
- Pictured: Basic Sliprig.
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 mainline, 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 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, bank, or flat sinkers. Slip your mainline through the top of a slipsinker 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 because it separates the bait from the sinker. Rather, 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.