Catfish Sinkers

Catfish Sinkers

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.

Bell Sinkers

Bell-Sinkers-In-FishermanThe 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.


Flat Sinkers

Flat-Sinkers-In-FishermanOne 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


Egg-Sinkers-In-FishermanEgg 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.

Split Shot


Split-Shot-In-FishermanShot 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.

Jigs

Jigs-In-FishermanA 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.

Bottom Bouncers

Bottom-Bouncers-In-FishermanAnother 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.

Adjustable Three-Way Rig

The three-way rig is an option so versatile that it should at least be considered in most catfishing situations. It's an effective rig for presenting static baits in the heavy current of a tailrace or the still waters of a lake or pond. But it's unparalleled for slipdrifting on big rivers like the Mississippi, Missouri, and Ohio, and for drifting windblown flats in big reservoirs like Santee-Cooper.

The three-way rig consists of a dropper line 6 to 24 inches long, anchored by a bell sinker of sufficient weight to keep the bait near bottom. A half-ounce sinker might be sufficient in still water, but 3 to 8 ounces are needed to drift around the tips of wing dams for blue and channel cats. The leader should be slightly longer than the dropper line - usually 2 to 3 feet, depending on current velocity.

Three-way rigs also excel at extracting fish from areas where other rigs can't hold or return from. Say you're fishing for channel cats over a broken-rock bottom below a lowhead dam. Use a three-way rig with a 20-pound mainline and a 17-pound leader. Secure a 2- to 4-ounce bell sinker to the remaining rung of a three-way swivel with 6-pound line. When cast into place, the sinker hangs, anchoring the rig until a fish strikes. Big cats sometimes grab a bait hard enough to hook themselves and break the light dropper line. When a smaller fish strikes, a sharp snap of the rod tip breaks off the sinker and sets the hook.

Another versatile rig is an (pictured here) that doesn't require a three-way swivel. Instead, tie on a standard barrel swivel between your mainline and leader. Next, thread a long dropper line through one of the swivel rungs and clamp a lead shot somewhere on the dropper opposite the sinker and swivel.

The lead shot functions like a bobber stop. Where you set it determines the distance the swivel rides above bottom, and thus the depth the bait runs. To adjust the distance from bottom, 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.

Sliprig

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.

Double Barreled Float Rig

As much as floats aid strike indication, their true worth lies in the unique ways they present baits to catfish. Given that catfishing remains a game of delivering the right bait the right way, float rigs ought to play a major role in every angler's lineup. This is increasingly true as we discover how well cats respond to drifting, as well as to off-bottom presentations. A float is simply a bait-delivery tool similar to a sinker, and catfishermen ought to consider it just as important.

Regardless of which catfish species you're fishing for, the basic slipfloat rig is constructed in the same way. Before tying on a hook, cinch on a pre-made stop-knot, or tie a five-turn uni-knot around your mainline with the same or slightly heavier line to serve as an adjustable float stop. Sliding the stop-knot up the line makes the bait run deeper, while sliding it down allows for a shallower drift. Next, slip on a 5-mm bead followed by the slipfloat. Anchor cutbait and smaller livebait rigs with a few lead shot about a foot above a hook, ranging from a #2 for small baits to a 3/0 for bigger baits. To anchor larger livebaits for flatheads, add a swivel about 20 inches above a 3/0 to 7/0 hook. Slide a 1- to 2-ounce egg sinker on the line above the swivel to balance the float.

Double-Barreled Sliprigs

Pictured: Double Barreled Rig

These rigs are a combination of a sliprig and a three-way rig. They're worth the extra time they take to construct - particularly for presenting livebaits to flatheads. The low-frequency vibrations emitted by a struggling baitfish attract catfish by stimulating their sensitive lateral lines. Baitfish of all sizes must first be wild and super lively, and second be presented in a way that allows them to advertise these seductive qualities. Keep a wild bait suspended over cover and it feels exposed, vulnerable, and will panic.

Begin with a terminal leader as you would for a sliprig: A 12-inch section of monofilament or braided line with a hook on one end and a barrel swivel on the other. Before tying the swivel to your mainline, add a sinker dropper consisting of a lighter piece of monofilament with a bell sinker on one end and a swivel on the other. Thread the dropper swivel on the mainline so it slides above the leader swivel. The length of the bottom dropper determines how high the bait is held above the bottom.

This rigging is most effective when you maintain a 30- to 90-degree angle on your line, from rod tip to sinker. Fishing the head of a hole from a boat anchored slightly upstream, or fishing the edge of a flat from the sandbar on an inside river bend, or fishing the scour hole behind a bridge abutment from the top of the bridge are all top situations for double-barreled sliprigs.

Drifting Rigs - Bottom Bouncer Rig

Fixed sinker rigs usually are favored for steady drift speeds or heavy current, since active cats tend to hit moving baits fast and hard. Fish often are hooked on the strike, but always set anyway to ensure a good hookup - unless you're using a circle hook. Another advantage of fixed-sinker rigs is that the leader slackens and tightens as the weight pivots along the bottom. When pulled behind a boat moving at a steady speed, the bait slows then darts forward, often triggering a neutral fish to strike.

Slinky Rig

Slipsinker rigs usually are a better choice for slower drift speeds and lighter current. Standard slipsinkers like the walking sinker are fine over a relatively clean bottom, but more snag- resistant designs like the Lindy No-Snagg or Slinky sinkers are better in heavy cover. No sinker design is completely snag-free, but these designs glide through tangles that would devour egg and bell sinkers. Adding a panfish-size float to the leader and using weedless hooks make the rest of the rig more snag-resistant, too.

Pop Up Paternoster Rig

The paternoster is a wonderful rig in areas of relatively consistent depth. The problem is, as depth changes with cast placement, you need to adjust stop-knot position to keep the rig running properly. To some extent, the float acts like a sail, too, catching wind and riding current at speeds exceeding that of water moving below the surface. In significant current or wind, the float may drag the top of the rig into trouble spots or, occasionally, dislodge the entire rig from its position.

Again, we need to change the way we regard floats on a fundamental level. Floats aren't only bite indicators, just as they don't necessarily have to remain on the surface. Consider the pop-up paternoster rig. Rather than presenting the float above the rig on the surface, slide the float onto the dropper line between the swivel and weight, typically a 1- to 5-ounce bell sinker. Streamlined floats, such as Betts - Billy Boy or Little Joe's Pole Float, catch less current, reducing downstream drag. By submerging the float, you've eliminated worries about adjusting stop knots to changing depths. At rest, the float pops up the dropper line, holding the rig erect above bottom. The depth is a function of dropper length. Finally, by running back-to-back barrel swivels rather than a single three-way swivel, striking catfish run free with the line, similar to the action of a slipsinker rig.

Slip Float Rigging

Pictured: Slip Float Rigging

Splitshotting

If the weight of the bait alone isn't enough to keep it near bottom - either because the bait is moving too fast or the water is too deep - a lead shot or two pinched on the line may be the best solution. This is especially true in lakes and reservoirs, where tentative cats often reject a bait when too much pressure is on the line from a heavy sinker. A single 3/0 or #7 shot usually is enough to keep the bait in the strike zone, but not so heavy that a cat rejects the added weight.

This rig also is a top choice for river fishing situations that usually would call for a slipfloat rig. Pinching lead shot on the mainline about 6 to 12 inches above the hook results in a rig that can be drifted through riffles, shallow holes, and even around the edge of visible cover like snags and boulders. Round shot, as opposed to the removable type with ears, tends to drift better in current and doesn't twist as much while drifting in still water. Soft lead shot also is less damaging to lines than lead substitutes like tin or shot poured from hard lead alloys.

Standard Three-Way Rig

The three-way rig is another option so versatile that it should at least be considered in most catfishing situations. It's an effective rig for presenting static baits in the heavy current of a tailrace or the still waters of a lake or pond. But it's unparalleled for slipdrifting on big rivers like the Mississippi, Missouri, and Ohio, and for drifting windblown flats in big reservoirs like Santee-Cooper.

The three-way rig consists of a dropper line 6 to 24 inches long, anchored by a bell sinker of sufficient weight to keep the bait near bottom. A half-ounce sinker might be sufficient in still water, but 3 to 8 ounces are needed to drift around the tips of wing dams for blue and channel cats. The leader should be slightly longer than the dropper line - usually 2 to 3 feet, depending on current velocity.

Three-way rigs also excel at extracting fish from areas where other rigs can't hold or return from. Say you're fishing for channel cats over a broken-rock bottom below a lowhead dam. Use a three-way rig with a 20-pound mainline and a 17-pound leader. Secure a 2- to 4-ounce bell sinker to the remaining rung of a three-way swivel with 6-pound line. When cast into place, the sinker hangs, anchoring the rig until a fish strikes. Big cats sometimes grab a bait hard enough to hook themselves and break the light dropper line. When a smaller fish strikes, a sharp snap of the rod tip breaks off the sinker and sets the hook.

Another versatile rig is an adjustable three-way that doesn't require a three-way swivel. Instead, tie on a standard barrel swivel between your mainline and leader. Next, thread a long dropper line through one of the swivel rungs and clamp a lead shot somewhere on the dropper opposite the sinker and swivel.

The lead shot functions like a bobber stop. Where you set it determines the distance the swivel rides above bottom, and thus the depth the bait runs. To adjust the distance from bottom, 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.

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