To some, a catfish rig is a catfish rig. But to catfish anglers who consistently catch more and bigger fish — those who understand the nature of catfish and their location and tendencies across the seasons — a rig is much more, like a finely tuned instrument in the hands of a maestro. Skilled catmen test, tweak, tune, and tinker to build rigs that work best in various situations, to account for flow conditions, weather, wind, tactics, and terrain.
Mississippi River Guide Ryan Casey tangled with several blues over 80 pounds last year, including one that topped 100. Some of these fish were caught on his stacker rig, his favorite during high flow. Compared to the standard slipsinker rig, he says the stacker allows for a more natural bait presentation in heavy current, and it's also effective when drifting in reservoirs.
The rig begins with a 250-pound barrel swivel followed by a 7- to 10-foot 80-pound monofilament leader that terminates with a small loop for a sinker. Two additional larger loops are made to attach hooks. One loop is added 6 to 10 inches above the sinker loop and the other about 2 to 3 feet above the sinker loop. An overhand knot with a twist is used to form these loops.
The sinker loop allows you to change weights quickly. This is critical because when you're drifting you have to keep the rig vertical. The other loops allows Casey to change hook position. "Most blues feed upward," Casey finds. "At the start of the day they might feed lower and then move up the water column, and this rig allows you to change hook position to the top or bottom loops." The stacker works with a variety of cutbait options.
He prefers this rig when drifting channel edges or washboard depressions, which are subtle 2- to 3-foot waves in the river bottom. But he recommends this rig for any hole, outside bend, or structure where you can effectively drift. He keeps the rod perpendicular to the water and moves with the current, starting his drift about half the speed of the current and adjusting speed depending on fish preference. He likes to tick the bottom with the weight if possible.
Alabama Guide Jason Bridges tackles both flatheads and blues on the Tennessee River's Wheeler Lake with what he describes as precision tactics. He likes to anchor just upriver of wood and rocks and cast tight to the cover. He fishes a set rig (he calls it a modified Carolina rig), consisting of a snelled 10/0 Lazer Sharp L2022 circle hook with a 30-inch 80-pound leader tied to a 150-pound crane swivel with a fast snap or duo-lock snap. He attaches a 6- to 8-ounce bank sinker to the snap allowing for quick weight adjustments.
"This rig allows precise bait placement because I control leader length," he says. "The bait can't outrun the sinker because the sinker doesn't slide." One objection Bridges often hears about a set rig is that it allows the fish to feel the weight when they pick up the bait. But he points out that where he fishes that doesn't seem to be an issue. He's caught 5- to 75-pound flatheads and up to 100-pound blues on this rig. Even when fishing for flatheads, his favorite bait for this rig isn't livebait, opting instead for fresh cut skipjack.
Minnesota Guide Brian Klawitter relies on a three-way rig when channel cats suspend late in the year below tailwaters. The rig keeps his bait higher in the water column and in front of the fish, and can be used wherever you find suspended cats.
He recommends a high-quality three-way swivel. He's found that line breaks through the eye of the swivel at about half the rating of most swivels, so use one that's heavy duty. He finds an 80-pound rating sufficient for a swivel, and prefers to use the same 80-pound braided line that he spools on his reel to form the rest of the rig so that there are no weak links. A 2-ounce sinker is tied on to a 24-inch dropper and a #6 treble or circle hook is tied to a 12- to 18-inch leader. Some anglers like to use a weaker pound-test for the dropper, so if the sinker snags, the dropper breaks and the rest of the rig remains intact. For late-season channel cats, he baits with Team Catfish Sudden Impact fiber bait. He also at times uses a circle hook with dipbait.
PP Seeker Rig
First developed for drifters and trollers, the PP Seeker rig includes a prop and float that generates flash and noise making it an effective search rig. It's a mainstay of some drifters and trollers who cover a lot of water.
North Dakota Guide Brad Durick doesn't drift or troll, but he's found another niche for this rig. Anchoring and casting to woodpiles along the Red River of the North for channel cats, he uses a version of this rig as a search bait during low-flow periods. He fishes a slipsinker rig around woodpiles, but casts PP Seeker rigs to secondary breaks bordering the woodpiles. The PP Seeker adds more flash and vibration to attract fish that are dispersed or traveling along the breaks bordering the woodpiles.
Durick ties 6 inches of monofilament to the rig before attaching a swivel and adding a 2- to 6-ounce no-roll sinker. The 6-inch leader allows the float to rise off the bottom. Drifters and trollers often add a leader about 24 inches long, but in low flow the bait rises too far up in the water column and you end up fishing over the fish. His favorite baits for PP Seekers are cut sucker and goldeye, and frogs.
Rattling Rigs (SlipSinker and Santee)
Texas Guide Chad Ferguson first experimented with noise-making rigs by tying on PP Seekers while fishing on Lone Star State reservoirs. He's convinced that noisemakers have advantages at times. "Where I fish, I find that more catfish hit noisemakers than quiet rigs most of the time," he says. "Whether they're scattered on a flat and inactive or in big groups actively feeding, it doesn't matter."
His belief in noisemakers led him to work with Whisker Seeker Tackle to develop rattlers that could be used with slipsinker and Santee rigs so he wasn't limited to one rig. His slipsinker rig consists of a 2- to 3-ounce no-roll sinker above a barrel swivel. Tied on is an 18-inch 50-pound monofilament or fluorocarbon leader with a 7/0 Daiichi Circle Chunk Light hook. The rattle is made to slide on the leader. The Santee rig is similar except Ferguson uses a longer leader — up to 36 inches — and he includes a 2- to 3-inch foam float pegged about 2 to 3 inches above the hook.
The slipsinker rig is especially effective when fished vertically while controlled-drifting with the trolling motor. He likes to drop the rig directly over blues and channel cats holding close to ledges and submerged river channels, and finds it an excellent setup when weather conditions allow for precise boat control. If the weather's not cooperating, the Santee rig, which is fished horizontally, can be trolled or drifted over the same structure and doesn't require the precision of a vertical presentation.
For channel cats, he uses prepared baits, but notes that he's often after numbers rather than trophies. Cut shad is his preferred bait for blue cats.
Short-Leader DipBait Rig
Kansas Guide Mike Cook spends most of his time chasing blues and channels in wind and waves on the open water of reservoirs. Since the fish often hold tight to structure, it's important that he uses a rig that won't drift off a spot. His preferred rig consists of a 3-ounce no-roll sinker with a bead and #1 snap swivel followed by an 8-inch 30-pound mono leader. Tied to the leader is a #3 Tru-Turn hook baited with a Tubie Worm filled with dipbait. His favorite dipbait is Team Catfish Secret 7.
He targets timber, laydowns, and rocks along shallow flats of Kansas reservoirs. He positions his boat upcurrent and casts his short-leader rig to the edge of targets, allowing the dipbait to carry scent to the fish. If that rig moves, the entire strategy falls apart.
"Ninety percent of the time I fish in 3 feet of water or less near laydowns," he says. "Cats make a hole under these laydowns and this rig is perfect for reaching them because it's compact and easy to cast. Also, the no-roll sinker keeps it in place, even in current." –
*Brian Ruzzo, Carlisle, Ohio, is a freelance writer and contributor to In-Fisherman publications. Guide contacts: Ryan Casey, 314/477-8355, showmecatfishing.com; Jason Bridges, 256/738-9461, -wheelercatsguideservice.com; Brian Klawitter, 651/307-8326, brianksworld.com; Brad Durick, 701/739-5808, redrivercatfish.com; Chad Ferguson, 817/522-3804, -txcatfishguide.com; Mike Cook, 316/655-1541, catfish-guide.com/kansas/catfishing-trips.