Master the Paternoster Rig for Catfish

Master the Paternoster Rig for Catfish

Big flatheads like this prefer live-fish dinners. A paternoster rig allows fishing with those baitfish in a manner that doesn't spook cagey cats. (Photo by Keith Sutton)

The paternoster rig requires extra time to prepare, but it's invaluable for certain types of catfishing.

I've never been a very good knot tier, so I typically use simple catfishing rigs that don't require many knots.

I like simple catfishing rigs for other reasons, too. Fewer knots means there's less chance a line will break. Casting is easier, and there are fewer components to interfere with natural-looking bait presentations.


In certain situations, however, I find more complex fishing rigs provide benefits I can use to my advantage. The paternoster rig, for example, requires extra time to prepare, but has applications that make it invaluable for certain types of catfishing.


catfishIn its simplest form, a paternoster is any rig where the hook(s) are on droppers above a fixed sinker. Besides a tidy presentation, this arrangement allows the angler to try more than one bait and you'll often find paternosters with two hooks, or even three or four. Effectively, this allows anglers to hedge their bets and try more baits (which could be the same or different types), thereby increasing the scent and attraction.

The rig originated in Europe. Paternoster is Latin for "Our Father," the first two words of the Lord's Prayer, and is the name often given to a rosary, a string of beads used in counting prayers.

Some say the fishing rig got this name because St. Peter used a similar rig to catch a fish that was mentioned in a New Testament story. Others say Paternoster was the surname of the rig's inventor. But it is more likely the fishing rig is so named because it superficially resembles a rosary.

Regardless of the name's etymology, the rig has been widely used in the Middle Eastern and Mediterranean regions for centuries and its use has since spread worldwide.

If you look around on the internet, you'll find a variety of ways for tying a paternoster rig. The hardware components and the manner in which they are configured often vary. 

The rig I'll describe here, however, sometimes called a float-paternoster rig, is the one I learned to use for catfishing and the one I most often see used by other anglers.

It is especially liked by those who use large live-fish baits like bluegills, carp and chubs when bottomfishing for flatheads. It allows the bait to be taken some distance freely without pressure, making it perfect for super-wary fish like big flatheads. In addition, by varying the length of the drops to the sinker and the hook respectively, it alters the rig to suit a variety of fishing situations.

The paternoster rig may look a bit complicated but provides an ideal means for presenting a live-fish bait to big wary catfish. (From Keith Sutton's book "Fishing for Catfish")

The manner in which I make my basic rigs is described in detail below, but by all means, experiment with different components, different line lengths and sizes, until you find a combination that works best for you where you fish.

To make a paternoster rig for catfishing, I use these hardware components:

  1. one bobber stop and bead
  2. one large slip float such as a Thill 4-inch Big Fish Slider
  3. two size-7 barrel swivels
  4. one 1-ounce bell (bass-casting) sinker
  5. one 8/0 octopus hook

I find it easier to remember how to tie a paternoster if I think of it as a two-part rig. One part has the lead weight attached. The other part has the hook. The bobber stop, bead and slip float are added on your main line, then the hook and sinker segments are connected to your main line with barrel swivels.

Begin by making a swivel/sinker leader with 17-pound-test mono. (Lighter line is used on the swivel/sinker leader so it will break off if the sinker gets snagged.) Tie one of the barrel swivels to one end of the line and the bell sinker to the other. The finished leader should be about 36 inches long.

>> Related10 Secret Catfish Baits You Didn't Know About

Make a 20-inch swivel/octopus hook leader in the same manner but using 30-pound-test mono. I find 20 inches to be ideal for most situations, but the length of this leader determines how high the bait will suspend off the bottom and can be varied depending on the situation.

Place the bobber stop on the main line from your reel, followed by the bead and the slip float. Run the main line through the free eye of the swivel on the swivel/sinker leader, then tie the tag end of the main line to the free eye of the swivel on the swivel/hook leader. 

The rig is now ready to fish. The bobber stop should be positioned to leave a foot or two of slack line between the swivel/sinker leader and the float. This gives the bait extra freedom to move about.

Live bluegills are among the baits preferred by catfish anglers who use the paternoster rig. (Photo by Keith Sutton)

The rig's main purpose is to offer the least amount of resistance to the catfish as it moves off with the bait. It provides a very sensitive and highly versatile way of fishing. And, because its configuration allows for deep penetration with a sharp hook, it may be the best rig to use when the bait will be cast or placed at a substantial distance from the angler. You can use the paternoster rig at mid-range and up-close, too, if that's best for the situation. But it truly shines when you expect to lay the steel to a big wary whiskerfish 50 or 100 yards or more away.

>> Related: Catfish Night & Day: How to Catch 'Em Both Ways

With the correct sinker attached, a paternoster rig also will hold the bait in one spot, such as a hump or ledge edge, and will allow the baitfish to swim actively above the bottom, offering additional movement and visual attraction.

When you place your pole in a rod holder, set it so you have a 45- to 90-degree angle on your line, from the rod tip to the sinker. Fishing a drop-off along a cover-strewn flat from a boat, fishing the edge of a tailwater scour hole from shore and fishing beneath the edge of a drifting log pile from boat or shore are among the situations where paternoster rigging really shines.

Now you sit and wait for that trophy fish to come along. When it does, the slip float will dip several times, move across the surface or plunge beneath the water. That's your signal to set the hook and let the action begin.

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