Over the years, several basic rigs, like the slipsinker rig, three-way, and float rig, have undergone tweaks and refinements, while new catfish rigs have entered the scene as new ways of catching catfish have caught on. While fundamental riggings cover most situations, experimenting with novel approaches and adjustments can at times put more and bigger cats in the boat. Many of these catfish rigs and components can be scaled to match larger and smaller catfish.
In-Fisherman Contributor Brian Ruzzo on Guide Ryan Casey’s stacker rig: Casey guides for giant Mississippi River cats, often using 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.
In-Fisherman Field Editor Cory Schmidt on John Jamison’s river bumpin’ rig: Legendary tournament pro John Jamison is renowned for his prowess with walking bait. For big fish in strong current situations like the Mississippi, walking bait is the most natural presentation of all. So while vertical drifting with rods in rod holders consistently scores numbers of 5- to 20-pound blues, walking bait bags big fish.
Bumpin’ is precise and allows you to move your rig and bait with the current speed at the bottom, which can vary greatly from current speed at the surface. It also puts your bait into little nooks and crannies along bottom; the sinker follows the river’s contour, rather than moving along at a set distance above, such as with drifting. “If you’re not walking bait,” Jamison says, “you’re missing all those little current breaks that can hold a big fish. Even a 1-foot rise or dip in the bottom can be enough to hold a monster.”
From the bow of his boat, he uses his trolling motor to position the bow into the current. He alternately nudges his boat upstream, slipping back and holding still with the tolling motor’s spot-lock function, guiding his rig downstream. He also can use the motor’s autopilot to maintain a specific drift path and speed, such as .5 mph, even while the current may be running at 2 mph. He drops a three-way rig to the bottom and immediately engages the free-spool and allows the current to pull the bait along. He waits until the rig, anchored by a 3- to 8-ounce bank sinker, stalls on bottom before gently lifting the rod tip while thumbing the free-spool. As the current drags the rig along, he continues lifting and dropping the rod tip, letting out line as current necessitates. “Let the current sweep the sinker downstream 2 feet or so, releasing line from your spool, then engage the reel and drop the rod again,” he says. “When the sinker touches down, slowly lift the rod tip to regain contact, and hold in place. This is when a big blue usually strikes.”
Down Deep Rigs
In-Fisherman Managing Editor Rob Neumann on Phil King’s deep vertical rigs: On waters like Wilson Lake on the Tennessee River system, legendary tournament pro and retired guide Phil King at times finds blues as deep as 80 to 100 feet, on bottom and suspended off bottom, where they relate to schools of bait and bottom structure. To target both levels, he’s developed a vertical trolling rig with dual hooks set at different depths, one near bottom and one about 4 feet above bottom.
In addition to targeting blues at two depth levels, he offers baits of two different sizes. Both leaders have dual 8/0 and 9/0 Lazer Sharp L141 Kahle hooks tied on. On the upper leader the hooks are separated by about 4 inches to accommodate a chunk of skipjack herring. The lower hooks are separated by about 6 to 7 inches to handle a whole, big skipjack.
Once fish are spotted on sonar, he uses his trolling motor to maintain boat position over the fish and drops baits straight down. Once rigs hit bottom, he cranks the reel handle about a turn to keep the rig skimming right above bottom. The other rig he cranks up about 3 turns. Others about 5 cranks, and another rod 6 or 7. With four rods out, eight baits are staggered at different depths from bottom up to about 15 feet above bottom, covering the depth range of blues seen on sonar. Rig depths are adjusted with depth changes associated with structural elements.
In-Fisherman Managing Editor Rob Neumann on release floats: Release-style floats, like the Redi Rig, popular with East Coast striped bass anglers, are designed to fish baits suspended at a constant depth on stationary and drift-fishing presentations. This rigging looks particularly promising for fishing deep cats in reservoirs. Along with rods in rod holders fishing baits vertically directly off the boat, release-float rigs also can be used to drift baits farther from the boat and allow you to cover more water.
If you see blue cats on sonar at 50 feet, for example, lower your bait to the desired depth and then attach the release float. Then allow the float to drift away from or behind the boat at whatever distance is desired. The mainline attached to a rubber release clamp on the float pulls free when a fish strikes hard or when you see the float submerge and you set the hook. When released, the float then slides free up the line on a stainless-steel clip during the retrieve.
This rig is adaptable to a variety of catfishing applications including fishing for suspended blues in deep water, suspending livebaits over woodcover for flatheads, and drifting small rivers for channel cats. Available in 10 sizes of various shapes, for bait weights from 1/32 to 48 ounces at redirig.com.
Catfish In-Sider Guide Contributor Brian Ruzzo on Guide Chad Ferguson’s rattling rigs: Ferguson is 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.
In-Fisherman Field Editor Steve Ryan on rigging big baits: For less hardy livebaits, try the saltwater technique of bridling baits. Bridling allows a bait full range of motion and an unimpeded hook gap. Lacking a large puncture hole from a big hook, delicate baitfish like skipjack herring and shad stay lively for hours. The hook is positioned vertically and is more likely to result in hookups.
To bridle a bait, either make or buy an open-eyed rigging needle. You can purchase them from online saltwater retailers. Cut off a 4-inch piece of rigging thread and tie a sliding knot on each end. The resulting rig is less than 2 inches long after trimming the tag ends. Attach one end of the rigging thread to the bend of the circle hook and tighten. Attach the other end to the rigging needle and slide the needle, with rigging thread attached, through the nose of the livebait. Remove the rigging needle from the open loop of the thread. Slide the hook point through the open loop and tighten the knot.
To keep the hook from acting like an anchor on the baitfish, use a circle hook of light-gauge wire and with the widest possible gap. The VMC Wide Gap Tournament Circle (#7385) and TroKar TK4 Circle are well suited to this application. Bridling allows a large lively bait to be rigged with just one hook to minimize snags when fishing close to cover.
In-Fisherman Contributor Kirk McKay on the Colorado River rig: An alternative to bridling, this rig offers versatility of how and where the bait is hooked for enhanced action and bait longevity. To tie, snell a 9/0 to 12/0 circle hook to the end of the leader. Cut a separate length of 65-pound-test braid and secure one end to the shaft of the circle hook with a uni-knot. To the other end of the braid snell a heavy-duty #2 to 1/0 J-style hook, such as a TroKar TK7 livebait hook. The small hook serves to hold the bait, leaving the circle hook unobstructed.
The smaller hook can be inserted into the livebait through the mouth, nostrils, or behind the dorsal or anal fin. Hooking baits in the dorsal area works well on float rigs or other vertical presentations. Baits hooked near the anal fin or pelvic fin retain the ability to swim upright, even with the added weight of the detached circle hook, making them good options for bottom rigs. Heavy braid connecting the hooks is necessary because sometimes cats are hooked on the stinger.