June 10, 2021
By Alan Clemons
Catching catfish on a rod and reel is a relatively straightforward process many anglers learn at a young age, but it’s hardly the only viable method for tempting blues, flatheads and channel cats.
Where legal, two other fun ways to catch catfish include brush hooks—also known as spring rigs or yo-yo rigs—and tip-ups. The former is attached to stout branches on shoreline trees or brush, and secures a hungry cat with a quick hook-set. Tip-ups float above attached baited hooks.
Both can fill a large cooler in short order. Here’s how to rig and use them.
Simply tying a line and baited hook to a limb might work for catching catfish, but it’s possible the fish will slurp the bait without getting hooked. That’s where spring-loaded yo-yo rigs come into play. Tension from the spring helps drive the hook into its mouth when a fish bites.
The Mechanical Fisher and White's Auto Fisher are two popular models, and both are available online. They come with stout nylon line that, if cared for, will hold up for years, and a quick-clip to which you attach a hook. They’re easy to hang, set and use.
A 1/0 Tru-Turn O’Shaughnessy catfish hook is a good option. It’s large enough to hold big fish, small enough for smaller cats and has a big eye. Additionally, its red color is appealing to catfish. You can use treble hooks with stinkbait on yo-yo rigs, but it’s more likely that a catfish will swallow the hook, meaning you’ll have to get it out with pliers, which can be a pain.
For bait, it's hard to beat a piece of nightcrawler. Use maybe a third or half of a nightcrawler so the fish will get all of it and trip the spring. Other options include small chunks of oily gizzard shad or a piece of sponge secured to the single hook and dipped into stinkbait. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Secure the yo-yo rig to a green limb that won’t break, pull out enough line to get the baited hook hanging in the water about 10 inches deep over your desired depth, and set the spring lock.
You may catch bass, crappies, bluegills and even gar on a brush hook, too. None of those opportunists pass up an easy treat.
If you think brush hooks are easy, the tip-up rig is the definitive "bait, toss and forget" setup. It catches catfish pretty darn well, too.
Tip-up rigs, also known as jug rigs or noodle rigs, consist of a line and baited hook attached to a visible floating jug or foam swim noodle. They can be left out for a few hours or even overnight and checked the next morning. Be prepared to search for them, though, because cats will swim with them.
Painting jugs or 2-liter soda bottles fluorescent orange helps with visibility. For a longer lifespan, use clear soda bottles and pour the paint inside, swish and let dry. Adding a band of reflective tape to the bottom of a foam noodle, bottle or jug helps it stand out in a Q-beam light at night. Orange noodles stand out better, too.
With the noodle, I’ve seen rigs with coat hangers through the core and more elaborate ones with PVC pipe, secured end caps and a screw eye in the cap for the line.
If you want to try the coat hanger trick, use one with a cardboard tube bottom. Discard the tube, fold the open wire ends so they touch and insert into the core of a 14-inch piece of noodle. Mash the wire ends into the foam to secure them, and mash the hanger hook (now on the bottom) to the center to form a loop. Attach your line to this loop.
With the PVC rig, cut noodles to 12 inches and slide 14-inch pieces of PVC into the core. Secure the ends with caps and a dab of glue, then add a screw eye to the middle of one end cap for your line. Monofilament or copolymer line can be used to your desired depth. Circle hooks are a good option, as the fish will hook itself when it swims away. Add your favorite bait, and set out the rigs where cats are known to swim.
Put out as many brush hooks or tip-up rigs as you want (check regulations on their use), and take a load off in the shade. Have a net on hand in case you hook a big one, though. Chances are good you’ll need a big cooler with ice, too, to keep all your wriggling cats fresh for a fry.