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Catfish Rigs

Published by Joel Johnson on 26th Aug 2020

CATFISH RIGS

A Catfish Angler's Guide to Choosing Catfish Rigs

Catfish Rig Introduction

In 2016, over 29 million fishing licenses were sold nationally, and catfish were the 3rd most popular freshwater fish sought. Depending on the species (blue, channel, or flathead), catfish can be found from coast to coast and from southern Canada to northern Mexico. Catfish inhabit lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams, and different fishing rigs work better in different situations depending on the body of water. As a result, how do you ensure you’re using the best catfish rig available for specific types of big catfish in every possible scenario? To help you decide what rig to use on your local lake or river to catch big catfish, Whisker Seeker Tackle Pro Staff member, Joel Johnson, wrote the following catfish rig guide. We know these catfishing tips will help you put more fish in the boat!

To effectively use catfish rigs, you need the right tools for the job, including a quality catfish-specific rod and reel, tough main line, and a wide selection of terminal tackle. The next step is to stock up on catfish rigs, and Whisker Seeker Tackle has the right fishing rig for every situation.

What Are Catfish Rigs?

A catfish rig is any combination of hook, float, rattle, bead, lure, sinker, snap, swivel, and leader, used to present catfish baits. Catfish rigs can be fished from your boat or the bank of your favorite lake or river. Traditional catfish anglers cast a simple circle hook or treble hook and sinker with natural or artificial catfish baits to the bottom, relying only on the catfish’s sense of smell to find the bait.

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In contrast, catfish rigs are actively fished and deliberately designed to seduce big fish using color and flash, as well as sound and vibration. Catfish rigs can be fished for all species of catfish, but some anglers prefer specific hook and bait combinations to catch numbers of big fish. Catfish rigs catch more fish by stimulating all catfish senses, not only scent, to trigger strikes.

 

Catfish Rig Components

Before going into specifics on the different types of catfish rigs, please review the common terms below:

  • Main line: Monofilament or braided line spooled onto a fishing reel. Big catfish are legendary for their strength, fight, and death rolls, and quality main line is crucial for landing trophy fish.
  • Catfish baits: Any live, dead, cut, whole, natural, or artificial food used to attract fish.
  • Lure: Any artificial product used to simulate the movement, sound, and/or color of prey. Lures add sound and vibration to catfish rigs and trigger sensitive nerves on the catfish lateral line to increase bites.
  • Hook: The terminal end of a catfish rig is used for holding bait and hooking big catfish when they bite. The most common varieties are circle hooks, treble hooks, and J-style hooks.
  • Swivel: A device used to separate the main line (reel) and a leader; preventing the current or action of catfish rigs from twisting the main line. Swivels also enable anglers to easily swap leader materials for changing conditions.
  • Snap: A simple device that allows quick and easy modification of catfish rigs. Snaps come with or without a swivel attached and open and close without tools and without having to re-tie your catfish rig.
  • Sinker: A lead weight used to sink catfish rigs below the water’s surface and/or hold them in position on the bottom
  • Sinker slide: A plastic sleeve that can be used to quickly change sinker types and weights without cutting and re-tying the main line.
  • Leader: Any secondary line connected to the main line, which a catfish rig can be attached. Leaders are typically a foot or more in length depending on conditions.
  • Float: An inline foam device or bobber used on catfish rigs to suspend lures, hooks, and catfish baits off the bottom, out of snags, and in the strike zone.
  • Rattle (versa): An artificial device used to mimic the sound of wounded baitfish and attract predator fish.
  • Bead: A small device used to add color or flash to a catfish rig and to protect knots from abrasion.

Must-Have Knots for Catfish Rigs

After investing time and money into selecting a rod and reel, terminal tackle, and catfish rigs, it is absolutely critical that you know how to securely attach each component together. The last thing you want to do is lose precious gear and big catfish due to poor knot tying. At Whisker Seeker Tackle, we recommend you learn how to tie and use the Palomar, Snell, Trilene, and Dropper Loop knots.

Types of Catfish Rigs

Now that you understand what components and knots are required to build a catfish rig, we can discuss each fishing rig in detail. This will guide you on when and where to use the different catfish rigs depending on the situation.

Slip Sinker Catfish Rig

The old school slip sinker rig is a simple and passive setup for catfish. This rig relies on scent alone to catch all types of big catfish. Anglers generally cast slip sinker rigs from the lake shore or drift with the wind or current from a boat. Strikes can be extremely aggressive, and it's always a good idea to set your rod and reel in a rod holder to prevent accidents. The slip sinker rig is easy to tie and has seven components:

Catfish Rig - Slip Sinker - Whisker Seeker Tackle

 

To tie the slip sinker catfish rig, follow these steps in order:

  1. Cut 12-16” of the leader line. Depending on how fast the current is running and how deep the fish are swimming in the water column, you may need to experiment on leader lengths and adjust.
  2. Tie your Triple Threat hook to the leader and trim the excess line.
  3. Tie the swivel to the leader and Triple Threat hook and trim the excess line.
  4. Run your main line through a sinker slide and follow it with a bead stop.
  5. Tie the main line to the other end of the swivel and trim the excess line.
  6. Finally, select a suitable sinker for the situation and attach it to the sinker slide.

Your slip sinker catfish rig is now tied and ready for your favorite catfish baits. After casting the rig, it simply lies on the bottom where scavengers may feed on it. In addition, sand, sediments, moss, and algae can settle on the bait. As a result, to maximize fish-catching potential, it is vital for anglers to lift or jig this catfish rig every 5 to 10 minutes and check bait regularly to keep it fresh.


Santee Cooper Catfish Rig

The Santee Cooper catfish rig is a versatile fishing rig that can be used for all types of big catfish. On the lake where it earned its namesake, it has been used with tremendous success on giant blue and flathead catfish. The Santee Cooper rig can be drifted, trolled, or simply tight-lined on the bottom, and the buoyancy provided by the peg float keeps any catfish bait off the bottom. Now that you understand how to tie a slip sinker rig, building the Santee Cooper rig should be simple with the eight following components:

Catfish Rig - Santee Cooper - Whisker Seeker Tackle

To tie the Santee Cooper catfish rig, follow these steps in order:

  1. Cut 12-16” of the leader line. Depending on how fast the current is running and how deep the fish are swimming in the water column, you may need to experiment on leader lengths and adjust.
  2. Tie your Triple Threat hook to the leader and trim the excess line.
  3. Slide the peg float on the leader; inserting the pegs to hold the float 2-3” from the Triple Threat hook.
  4. Tie the swivel to the leader, peg float, and Triple Threat hook, and trim the excess line.
  5. Run your main line through a sinker slide and follow it with a bead stop.
  6. Tie the main line to the other end of the swivel and trim the excess line.
  7. Finally, select a suitable sinker for the situation and attach it to the sinker slide.

Finally, select a suitable sinker for the situation and attach it to the sinker slide.


Slip Bobber Catifsh Rig

The slip bobber rig is a great setup for big channel catfish on lakes as well as slow-moving streams and rivers. However, it can also be used for big blue and flathead catfish under the right circumstances. To build this catfish rig, you need the following 5 components:

Catfish Rig - Siip Bobber - Whisker Seeker Tackle

To tie the slip bobber catfish rig, follow these steps in order:

  1. Attach a bobber stop to the main line and follow it with a bead. You can find both types (string or rubber) of bobber stops at most bait shops and sporting goods stores. Set the bobber stop at a depth that presents the catfish bait off the bottom and slightly above the fish to maximize bites.
  2. Run the main line through the top of the slip bobber and out the bottom.
  3. Tie the J-style hook to the main line and trim the excess line.
  4. Squeeze split shot onto the main line 3-4” above the hook. In order to precisely detect strikes, it's critical to use enough weight to keep the slip bobber completely vertical in the water. However, don’t use so much weight that your slip bobber sinks after it's baited.

The slip bobber rig is phenomenal for catching big catfish on small to medium-sized streams and rivers as well as lakes. For neutral catfish, try fishing the rig vertically across current breaks and eddies associated with rocks, riprap, brush piles, or a deep snag. For aggressive fish, cast the rig upstream from deep cut banks and outside bends as close to the bank as possible. You want the slip bobber to hug the sheer shoreline and present the bait to fish lurking in natural holes and depressions in the bank. For negative catfish, let the slip bobber drift lazily in slack water areas near cover and dropoffs. It's a good bet that if you dangle a fist-sized ball of nightcrawlers, magnum crawdad, or fat creek chub, in front of a big channel or flathead long enough they will bite.

Natural baits are a good choice for catching catfish on the slip bobber catfish rig. Early in the year, nightcrawlers are a good option followed by creek chubs or shad. However, by midsummer, leopard frogs, bluegills, and sunfish, are your best bets for catching aggressive channel and flathead catfish in lakes and rivers


3 Way Catfish Rig

The 3-way catfish rig can be fished for all types of big catfish and when it’s crucial to keep your bait off the bottom to avoid a snag or main line cut. Under these circumstances, the 3-way rig is most often used from a boat when anchored or drift rig fishing on medium to large rivers. To build this fishing rig you need the following 7 components:
Catfish Rig - 3 Way - Whisker Seeker Tackle

To tie the 3-way catfish rig, follow these steps in order:

  1. Cut 12-16” of the monofilament leader line for your Triple Threat Hook and peg float. Depending on how fast the current is running and how deep the fish are swimming in the water column, you may need to experiment on leader lengths and adjust.
  2. Tie your Triple Threat Hook to the monofilament leader and trim the excess line.
  3. Slide the peg float on the monofilament leader line; inserting the pegs to hold the peg float at the desired location 2-3” from the hook.
  4. Cut around 16-24” of the monofilament sinker line. Depending on how fast the current is running and how deep the fish are swimming in the water column, you may need to experiment on sinker line lengths and adjust. However, the sinker line should always be longer than the leader line.
  5. Tie the leader line to the 3-way swivel and trim the excess line.
  6. Tie the sinker line to the 3-way swivel and trim the excess line.
  7. Tie the main line to the 3-way swivel using and trim the excess line.
  8. Finally, select a suitable sinker for the situation, attach it to the sinker line, and trim the excess line.

Whisker Seeker Catfish Rig

The Whisker Seeker catfish rig is incredibly versatile and can be used to enhance the slip sinker, Santee Cooper, and 3-way catfish rigs. Tournament angler and fishing guide Chad Ferguson includes the Whisker Seeker catfish rig in his arsenal as an added edge on the competition and to get clients on more and bigger fish! The rig can be drifted, trolled, or simply tight-lined on the bottom, and the Whisker Seeker float keeps the catfish bait off the bottom. That is where the similarities between the Whisker Seeker catfish rig and all others end!  

The Whisker Seeker catfish rig was created to make noise and vibration while keeping your bait elevated off the bottom in “key strike zones”. Catfish detect vibration and sound better than any other game fish due to their incredibly sensitive lateral line. As a result, to maximize your catfish presentation, it's crucial to add noise and vibration to your catfish rig. Combining noise and vibration with pungent baits triggers all catfish senses, and this is vital when fishing in dark, stained, and muddy waters that big fish inhabit. The Whisker Seeker catfish rig was intentionally designed for these applications and is an excellent choice when targeting all species of big catfish in large rivers and reservoirs. Whisker Seeker Catifsh Rig - Whisker Seeker Tackle

The Whisker Seeker catfish rig includes a prop to create turbulence, sound, and vibration. In addition, the float is available in multiple sizes and colors to customize to the specific situation. The rig is also available with EZ-Rig-Fast-Clips to enable hook changes in a matter of seconds without having to re-tie your catfish rig.

To tie the Whisker Seeker catfish rig, follow these steps in order:

  1. Cut 12-16” of the leader  line. Depending on how fast the current is running and how deep the fish are swimming in the water column, you may need to experiment on leader lengths and adjust.
  2. Tie your Whisker Seeker rig to the leader and trim the excess line.
  3. Tie the swivel to the leader and Whisker Seeker rig and trim the excess line.
  4. Run your main line through a sinker slide and follow it with a bead stop.
  5. Tie the main line to the other end of the swivel and trim the excess line.
  6. Finally, select a suitable sinker for the situation and attach it to the sinker slide.

If you want to catch more catfish, go above and beyond the “forked stick zone” and give catfish rigs a try. Augmenting old-school catfishing techniques that focus only on a catfish’s sense of smell with a splash of color and flash, and a temblor of sound and vibration, will take your catfishing game to the next level!

Just like bass, catfish are apex predators, and it’s time they’re given the respect they deserve. At Whisker Seeker Tackle, we know big catfish are aggressive, and we’ve developed new catfishing techniques and products for all catfish species that put more fish in the boat whether you’re a weekend warrior or tournament pro. Follow these tips for fishing catfish rigs and you will turn those fish stories into reality!  

For a complete selection of catfish rigs, product reviews, and catfishing tips, please visit us at Whisker Seeker Tackle.  

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