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Catfishing Rigs: Finesse and Drift Tactics for Big Cats

You'll be glad you know how to tie these specialty rigs for proper catfish bait presentations.

Catfishing Rigs: Finesse and Drift Tactics for Big Cats

Catching catfish sometimes requires more than just bait on a hook. (Photo by Keith Sutton)

The best catfishing rigs usually employ just a few pieces of terminal tackle. For example, you can tie a hook to the end of your line and weight it with a single split shot to create a rig that works great in many situations.

Simple rigs like that are easy to tie, of course, and allow for more natural-looking bait presentations.

There are times, however, when you need a more complex rig for proper bait presentation. That's when you'll be glad you know how to tie these specialty rigs.


Big catfish often stay close to cover in deep river holes. Catching them consistently in these spots requires some finesse, hence this rig's name.

Illustration by Peter Sucheski

Hardware: One 3-way swivel; one size-7 barrel swivel; one 2-ounce bell sinker; two 5/0 Daiichi Circle-Wide Bleeding Bait hooks.

Preparation: Use 65- to 100-pound-test braided line on your reel for better feel, and monofilament backing to prevent slippage.

  1. Start by tying the three-way swivel to your main line.
  2. Next, tie an 8-inch leader of 20-pound-test mono between the bell sinker and one free eye on the three-way swivel.
  3. Tie a 12-inch leader of 60-pound-test mono between the remaining three-way swivel eye and the barrel swivel.
  4. Tie the two hooks to a 24-inch leader of 60-pound monofilament—one at the end and one above it, but not more than 6 inches apart. Tie the other end of this leader to the free eye of the barrel swivel.

Presentation: I prefer fresh chicken liver on one hook and shad guts or cut bait on the other, or a single large bait, like a skipjack chunk or head, that is double-hooked.

Start fishing at the upstream end of a river hole and drift through after lowering the baited rig to the bottom. Catfish usually hold beside timber and rocks, which you’ll feel while moving along. Pay constant attention, raising or lowering the rig with your rod tip so you keep it bouncing across the cover without hanging up. If you see a fish on your fish finder but it doesn’t take your bait on the first drift, pass over the hole again. Second passes often prove productive.


When fishing reservoirs with little current, you'll want a different rig. This one works especially well when active cats are deep and scattered.

Illustration by Peter Sucheski

Hardware: One 8/0 circle hook; one size-5 stainless steel split ring; one 2-inch peg-on cigar float; one size-7 barrel swivel; one 1-ounce slinky weight or other flexible snagless sinker; one size-7 snap swivel. You’ll also need a tube of J-B Weld Liquid Weld Epoxy or a similar product.

Preparation: If you hook a big cat on this rig, the split ring could open, and you’ll lose your catch. So, start by attaching the split ring to the circle hook and putting a drop of the Liquid Weld on each side. Once dry, the ring will stay closed.

  1. Tie a 36-inch piece of 50-pound-test mono to the split ring to make a leader.
  2. Put the cigar float on the leader about 10 inches above the hook and ring. The other end of the leader is tied to the barrel swivel.
  3. Clip the snap swivel to the slinky weight, run your main line through the eye of this swivel, then tie the main line to the free eye of the barrel swivel.

Presentation: Good baits to use on a drift rig include shad cut bait and long, triangular strips of buffalo or carp prepared with the skin on. Bait up, then place your rod in a holder firmly mounted on your boat and drift with the wind or by using an electric motor. Because you’re using a circle hook, any catfish that strikes should hook itself. When you see the rod go down, leave it in the holder, quickly crank the reel handle 10 to 15 times, then pick the rod up and start reeling. The catfish should be on.

Using the split ring allows the baited hook to swivel, thus enabling better hook penetration when a fish bites. The slinky weight is snagless, making it ideal for drift fishing, and when the rig moves across the bottom, the cigar float keeps the baited end floating up in the strike zone.


These offerings stink—and catfish can't resist them.

PowerBait PowerPunch

This sticky fiber bait provides maximum catfish attraction and stays on the hook even in swift current. Available in blood and cheese scents. ($5–$9;

Stick-It Punch Bait Attractants

Mixed evenly with fiber make this an ideal stay-on-the-hook enticement for the eating-size catfish that most anglers like to target. ($6–$10;

Bootleg Dip Bait

This thick dip bait adheres to hooks, dip worms and tubes like glue, yet is clean and easy to use. It comes in two blends: Sweet & Sticky and Bold & Bloody. ($5;

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