So far this spring, at least two catfish trips come to mind where an adjustment in rigging made all the difference in catching more fish, and in one case at least some fish. We've written about this rig before, but it still tends to get overlooked, I think partly because of its simplicity.
In the instances I'm writing about here, which were both tailrace situations, we started the day using standard sliprigs, constructed by sliding a slipsinker on the mainline, tying the mainline to a barrel swivel. A leader (about 10 inches) was tied to the other end of the barrel swivel, and a hook (circle hook) was tied to the end of the leader. Hooks were baited with cutbait. Standard stuff.
This rig was successful in getting baits to cats, but success in getting catfish to commit and hook up was low. It could have been that the fish were tentative, but it just as well could have been that the fish didn't prefer a bait that was likely dangling and fluttering in the current on the leader, or a combination of factors. Too much bait movement perhaps?
Having trouble hooking up, the adjustment we made was eliminating the leader, letting the No-Roll sinker slide right to the hook (with a bead added to cushion the sinker on the knot at the hook eye). The result was that strikes were more committed, and hookup rates increased substantially.
The success of the no-leader sliprig must have been due to keeping the bait stationary with the leader eliminated, reducing the bait's ability to flutter in current, and staying pinned more to bottom. I wonder if current pulling on the bait creates some distance between the hook and sinker, pulling line through the sinker. But more realistically, current forces act on the line, which causes the line to bow downstream, which actually pulls the bait into the sinker keeping it tight to the sinker.
Some might wonder if cats might shy from a sinker being too close to the bait, or whether they feel the sinker and drop the bait. I don't think the presence of a sinker is going to deter a catfish from picking up a bait—it doesn't know the difference between a sinker, a rock, or a spark plug. As for the "feeling" of dragging a sinker? Can't be much different than a standard sliprig. A hungry cat is a willing cat is a committed cat.
A few weeks ago, Red River of the North catfish guide Brad Durick and I turned a good day into a great day, filming a segment on channel cats for In-Fisherman TV, by eliminating the leader on the sliprig. You might consider this rig for flatheads, too, especially around wood, and also for blue cats. Sometimes simple is better.