When it comes to catfish rigs, I’ve long been a proponent of the K.I.S.S. principle: Keep It Simple, Sutton! The best almost always are the simplest. With fewer components, there’s less chance something will fail. Simple rigs also are easier to tie and cast, plus there’s less weight to interfere with natural-looking presentations.
In certain situations, however, more complex rigs provide benefits that serious catmen can use to their advantage. These include specialty rigs such as the Paternoster rig, the big-lake drift rig and the big-river finesse rig—all of which have applications that make them invaluable for certain types of catfishing.
Application: The paternoster rig, which originated in Europe, is one of the best flathead setups. It’s ideal for fishing a large live baitfish such as a bluegill or sucker in shallow water, particularly from late spring through early fall when nightfishing for big cats.
Hardware components: One bobber stop and bead; one large slip float such as a Thill 4-inch Big Fish Slider; two size 7 barrel swivels; one 1-ounce bell sinker; and an 8/0 octopus hook.
Rigging: 1. Begin by making a swivel/sinker dropper with 3 feet of 17-pound mono. Tie one of the barrel swivels to one end of the line and the bell sinker to the other. 2. Make a 20-inch swivel/octopus hook leader in the same manner but use 30-pound mono. 3. Place the bobber stop on the main line from your reel, followed by the bead and slip float. 4. Run the main line through the free eye of the swivel on the dropper, then tie the tag end of the main line to the free eye of the swivel on the leader. You’re ready to fish.
Details: The paternoster allows the bait to ride higher off the bottom than a simple rig incorporating all hardware components on the main line. The sinker lies on the bottom while the baitfish struggles against the float.
Position the bobber stop on the main line to leave a foot or two of slack between the dropper and the float; this gives the bait extra freedom to move. Lighter line is used on the swivel/sinker dropper so it will break off if the sinker snags.
Big-Lake Drift Rig
Application: This relatively snagless rig, developed by Texas catfish guide Randle Hall, is excellent for use when drifting for blue catfish on large reservoirs with little or no current. It is ideal in winter when cats are deep and scattered in loose schools.
Hardware components: One 12/0 circle hook; one size 5 stainless steel split ring; a 2-inch peg-on cigar float; a size 7 barrel swivel; a 1-ounce slinky weight or other flexible snagless sinker; and a size 7 snap swivel. A tube of J-B Weld Liquid Weld Epoxy or a similar product also is needed.
Rigging: 1. Attach the split ring to the hook eye, then put two drops of epoxy on each side of the ring so when it dries, the ring won’t pull open. 2. Tie the split ring to 3 feet of 50-pound mono. 3. Peg the cigar float on the leader about 10 inches above the hook. Tie the other end of the leader to the barrel swivel. 4. Clip the snap swivel onto the slinky weight, and run the main line through the eye of this swivel, then tie the main line to the free eye of the barrel swivel. The rig is ready to fish.
Details: This is best used when drifting with the rod in a holder. With the circle hook, there’s no need for a hookset. When a fish strikes, leave the rod in the holder, quickly crank the reel handle 10 to 15 times, then pick the rod up and simply start reeling. The split ring lets the hook swivel, thus allowing better penetration. The slinky weight is relatively snagless, making it ideal for drift fishing, and when the rig moves across bottom, the float keeps the bait up in the strike zone.
Hall’s favored baits when using this rig are cut shad or triangular “strip baits” made from buffalo, carp or bonito.
Big-River Finesse Rig
Application: Mississippi catfish guide Phil King created this superb rig to use when targeting channel and blue catfish holding tight to cover in deep holes of big rivers. It works well year-round.
Hardware components: One three-way swivel; a size 7 barrel swivel; a 2-ounce bell sinker; and two 5/0 Daiichi Circle-Wide Bleeding Bait hooks.
Rigging: 1. Tie the three-way swivel to the main line. Use 65- to 100-pound braided line on your reel for increased sensitivity. 2. Tie an 8-inch dropper line of 20-pound mono between the sinker and one of the free eyes on the three-way. 3. Tie a 12-inch leader of 60-pound mono between the remaining three-way swivel eye and the barrel swivel. 4. Snell knot the two hooks one above the other and very close together on a 2-foot leader of 60-pound mono, then tie the other end of this leader to the free eye of the barrel swivel. The rig is now ready to fish.
Details: Using this rig is basically a form of finesse fishing, thus the name. To get the most from this presentation, start at the upstream end of a river hole and drift through after lowering the rig to bottom. Most cats hold beside riverbottom timber and rocks, which telegraph vibrations up the braided line. You must be attentive at all times, raising or lowering the rig with the rodtip so you maintain bottom contact without snagging.
Watch your electronics constantly, looking for cats holding near structure. If you see a good fish but don’t get bit on the first drift, drift through the hole again, targeting those spots. You must develop a keen touch to keep this rig in the fish zone without getting hung up.
King uses two baits with this setup: a big, bloody chunk of fresh chicken liver, or a “catfish sandwich.” The latter is simply the innards of a big skipjack sandwiched between two fillets from the same baitfish.