There are quite a few methods for successfully catching catfish, and they all have one thing in common; they are all exciting in their own respect. Personally, I have always preferred the rod and reel method for catfish much as I do when fishing for flounder; as opposed to gigging. However, every angler has a preference. When it comes to catfishing, all methods are exhilarating, and each one has a high level of intrigue. You never really know what type or size catfish you are going to catch, and this alone is worth planning a catfishing outing. Here are a few of our favorite methods. We are sure this information will assist you as you plan your next catfish trip.
ROD AND REEL: Large fish can be caught on small tackle, and in many cases, it is a great challenge to put undersized gear against hard fighting fish. One of my favorite ways to catch crappie and other large panfish is with a 6-foot ultralight, a 500 series spinning rod, a 4-pound fluorocarbon line. This is hard to beat when anything over a pound takes your bait. However, catfishing is not usually done for finesse. The possibility of hooking a giant always exists, so it is wise to be prepared with a tackle that is a step heavier than you would normally use. While you typically can get by with a medium heavy, bass style rod, it is wise to upsize your reel so that you can utilize heavier line with greater capacity. When catfishing on a river or lake, it is foolish to fish with less than 17 or 20-pound monofilament. I prefer a 7-foot, medium heavy, Ugly Stick™ Catfish Casting Rod with an Abu Garcia™ 6500c3 baitcasting reel. Braid is my line of choice; I have always been partial to PowerPro braid in 30-pound yellow for catfish. Some of this is personal preference, but most of this tackle is used because it gives me a fighting chance in case a 100-pound plus catfish takes my bait.
For stationary catfishing from the shore, dock, or boat, the Carolina rig is hard to beat; rigging a Carolina rig is very simple. The tackle recommended for this setup would be used with the rod and reel combination previously mentioned. Of course, you may be able to downsize some of these items for ponds or smaller rivers. First, add an egg or Mudville sinker to your mainline; size will depend on the current and/or wind. I try to use just enough to keep the rig stationary. Then, string on a plastic bead (the bead is optional but does serve to protect your knot from the weight) and tie your main line to at least a number 1/0-barrel swivel. With a 30-pound test mainline, I would recommend using a 25-pound leader line. Berkley™ Big Game monofilament is a good leader choice. A good rule of thumb when choosing the correct pound test for your leader line is to go with a slightly smaller pound test than your main line. It is a good bet you will deal with many snags when catfishing; using a lighter line for your leader will allow the leader to break first enabling you to keep the rest of your rig. Anywhere from 18 to 36 inches off leader line is enough, and I will normally use a circle hook between 5/0 and 7/0 in size secured with a Snell Knot. Circle hooks typically provide good hookups and next to zero swallowed hooks.
When drifting for catfish, I recommend switching to what we refer to as a Santee rig. The idea is to keep the rig in touch with the bottom as the depth changes, present your bait at an adjustable distance from the bottom, and avoid the hundreds of possible snags as you slowly drift. For this example, let’s say you want to drift for catfish with your bait around 2 feet off the bottom. Although there are more complex versions, a simple Santee rig connects your main line to a 3/0 snap swivel. The main line is tied to the barrel swivel end that is not connected to the snap. A leader line (again, slightly lighter than your main line) is connected to the same end of the barrel swivel as the snap. A traditional crappie cork is pegged on the leader line so that it remains stationary 8 to 12 inches from a 5/0 to 7/0 circle hook tied to end of the leader line. The purpose of the float is to keep the hook out of potential snags on the bottom and at a more eye-level with the catfish. Catfish are bottom feeders, but they rarely hang out right against the bottom. If you want to drift your bait 2 feet off the bottom, use a 40 to 46-inch leader. You can use almost any type of weight that can be attached to the snap, but we recommend using slinky weights. When using slinky weights with the Santee rig, snags are almost completely eliminated. These rigs can be lethal when drifting for catfish as they allow you to cover large areas in search of the most productive catfish waters.
You can easily control the speed of your drift with a drift sock that matches the size of your boat. It is crucial to keep your boat speed down to one mph or less. Drift socks are an extremely easy way to control your drift, and they are quite simple to deploy. One drift sock out of the stern causes the boat to drift bow first. Placing a drift sock at the bow and stern of the boat will enable a sideways drift, thus allowing the fishermen to utilize a full side of the boat.
LIMB LINING: When you are ready for an angling experience at night that you can share with good friends, give limb lining for catfish a try. Depending on your state’s regulations, this is a fishing activity that is typically done during the evening hours. Couple the excitement of having a few friends together at a riverside bonfire with a 50-pound blue pulling on a limber willow limb, and you have the setting for a good time. Limb lining rules vary with location, so be sure to thoroughly check your regulations before going out. In its simplest form, limb lining involves tying a line to a tree branch on the bank of a river or lake. The line is weighted, baited, and left for a duration of time. However, there is always the best way to skin a cat, so we will give you the basics.
Limb lines vary with preference, but they are similarly basic. Typically, the line used is heavy test nylon with a weight sufficient enough to keep the end close to the bottom. A three-way swivel is used to add a line for a hook 1 to 2 feet up from the weight. The angler should look for tree limbs along the bank that are limber enough to absorb and exhaust the energy of a big catfish. When attaching the limb line to the branch, allow enough line so that the weight comes in contact with the bottom. The best bait for catfish on limb lines depends on your target species. If you are looking for flatheads, live sunfish or perch is always a good bet. Cut eel, shad, or Bait Binder ‘CATFISH CUBES’ work excellently for channels and blues. Once limb lines are set, give them time to soak before going back to check for moving limbs.
JUGGING AND SWIM NOODLES: The moment I was old enough to legally drive a vehicle I was also enjoying the open water freedom of operating a boat. For me, it was a Lumber River strip boat made entirely of cypress; powered by a 15 horsepower Johnson. One of my favorite activities growing up was jugging for catfish on Lake Greenwood in South Carolina. Back in the late 80s we would use empty milk or Clorox™ jugs (thoroughly rinsed of course) as flotation/visible reference. Tied to these jugs was enough line to reach the bottom with a weight and hook attached to the business end; typically utilizing a three-way swivel or Carolina rig. Baits for catfish while jugging varied; we often used whatever we could get our hands on. We used cut hot dog wieners, table scraps, cut shad, live minnows, or on occasions, Ivory™ soap. Ivory™ soap contains just enough animal fat to be an effective bait for catfish. Would have been nice to have some ‘CATFISH CUBES’ back then. We would set out 3 to 5 of these rigs just before dusk and return to search for them at first light the next morning. There was always great excitement when you would return the next morning to find all of your jugs missing. Sometimes, we would find them steadily cruising down the lake more than a mile away from where they were set. Chasing a jug being towed by a catfish of unknown size can be quite exhilarating. I used to always think of the classic scenes from the movie Jaws while that famous theme music played through my head!
Over the years, jugging has become a bit more innovative. Give a bored fisherman some free time and a well-stocked shop garage, and the sky is the limit. One recent advancement over an empty milk jug employs the round swimming noodles found in most stores that carry swimming pool related items. My blueprint for these is as follows. Cut one-half inch PVC (thin wall) into 18-inch sections. Slide a 13-inch section of swimming noodle over the PVC (these noodles have a hollow center). Insert a 3-inch piece of metal rebar into the PVC pipe. Using PVC glue, apply one-half inch caps to both ends of the pipe. Pre-drill a pilot hole in one end cap and screw in an eye bolt with PVC glue applied liberally to the threading to keep things water-tight. From there the terminal rigging follows from the previously mentioned with a Carolina or a three-way swivel rig. The rig is tilted so the metal rebar slides to the end of the noodle jug opposite where the line attached, then it is placed in the water. The whole rig will lay on its side until a catfish bites causing the rebar to slide to the other end and the whole noodle to stand erect in the water. For all of you ice fisherman, this is reminiscent of using a tip-up indicator. Nothing like having kids in the boat when that first noodle jug stands up! Always be sure to check your local rules and regulations when it comes to jugging.
TROTLINES: A trotline for catfish consists of a long, heavy main-line with usually 10 to 20 short lines with hooks attached along its length. Trotlines are made with many variations and by dozens of companies, but they all follow from this same premise. The ends of the trotline can be secured to trees, stumps, docks, or any other stationary structure. Another method for securing the ends are with heavy weights attached by rope to a float or a buoy. These weights keep the length of the trotline tight preventing any major tangling that results from larger fish. The trotlines are simply attached to the rope between the buoy and the weight at any desired depth. The best bait for catfish using trotlines varies on your location and target species, however, some of the favorite catfish baits include live or cut fish. Cut shad and herring are always good choices, but many will use live bream or perch. As always, be sure to know your rules and regulations before going. Using a trotline for catfish can often result in a well-stocked freezer, but a heavy DNR fine can put a hurting on the wallet.
TRADITIONAL NOODLING: WARNING! This method of catfishing is not for the faint of heart. Noodling involves wading in the water with snakes and other creatures, placing your hands in holes in the bank or other structure, and enticing a large catfish into eating your hand. That’s right, eating your hand and wrestling a fully charged catfish into submission. Sound easy? What if the catfish weighs over 50 pounds? If this sounds exciting to you, then you are a unique breed of individual. I spent 10 years scuba diving for golf balls in lakes, ponds, and swamps full of alligators, snakes, and snapping turtles, but I have never been overly eager enough to go noodling. It is on my bucket list, and clearly, with my experience, I would qualify as a good candidate. But what I was doing in the swamp was to earn money. Noodling is a sport, and it is hands-down one of the most action-packed water adventures available. Since this method is so hard to put into words, check out GETBITNOODLING.com for some crazy videos more information. These folks can take you on noodling adventures for one person or the whole family. Tired of watching action movies? Go live one. You can call 336-682-6289 or contact them on their website.