Top 4 Catfishing Techniques

By: Simon Shadow
Fishing. Big cat Fish!
iStockphoto/Evgeny Kan

Everyone has heard a good catfish story, right? It starts off with the person telling the story describing the staggering size of the fish. And then the storyteller's arms stretch farther and farther apart until the listeners start yawning a­nd rolling their eyes. Well, it turns out that you can catch a giant catfish -- if you have the right moves. Then you can mount your catch on the wall and bask in your success.

There are many different catfishing techniques, but these four have proven to be extremely successful:


  • Jug fishing
  • Trotlines
  • Throw lines
  • Limb lines

Although these techniques might help you hook a catfish, there are a few basic things to consider before you get out on the water. First, bring a partner. Not only is fishing with a friend more fun, but handling long l­engths of line strung with big, heavy hooks and sloppy bait can be pretty tricky -- especially if you are trying to maneuver a boat at the same time.

­Second, it's important to know how much weight your fishing line will need. Weights can be as simple as heavy sinkers or as extravagant as cement blocks. The amount of weight you'll need depends on the type of water you're fishing in, and the type of line you're using. And finally, it's important to choose the right bait. Some of the best catfish bait includes crawdads, live or dead minnows, worms, shad, bluegill and clams [source: Catfished]. You can also use chicken livers and dip baits [source: Samsel]. But whichever bait you decide to go with, it needs to stay on the hook for an extended period of time. And it should also be able to withstand a fair amount of movement without falling off the hook.

Now that we've covered the basics, let's explore the different fishing techniques.


Technique 4: Jug Fishing

A jug line is a large float that has a fishing line hanging down into the water. Baited hooks are set at intervals along the line, which can be anchored or free-f­loating [source: Redneck Outdoors]. Picture a string of Christmas lights -- jug lines involve the same concept. Jug lines can be made at home or purchased bare or with hooks.

Jug fishing is one of the better techniques to use when you are introducing children to catfishing because jug fishing is an active sport. The entire time you're out on the water you're checking the jug lines you've placed in different areas [source: Redneck Outdoors]. If a child argues fishing is boring, get out the jugs.


If you're not trying to keep youngsters occupied, you might prefer setting your jug lines at night and checking them first thing in the morning. You can also set them in the morning and check them throughout the day. This allows you the freedom to multitask while fishing. However you choose to do it, check your jugs on a regular basis to keep your fish alive and healthy, especially during the warm months [source: Redneck Outdoors].

Anchored jug lines prevent the jug from drifting across the water because they are weighted down. They also keep the fish you've already caught from dragging the jug all over the place, which may injure the fish or the equipment. Free-floating jug lines have lead sinkers or other items attached to the ends, but they can still drift across the water. If you're free-floating your jug, stay close by or risk losing your jug and your fish [source: Redneck Outdoors].

Jug fishing sound too complicated? Read on to learn about trotlines.


Technique 3: Trotlines

­Trotlines are one of the more po­pular ways to catfish. A common setup is to secure at l­east one end of the trotline to a stump, bank or even a sturdy tree branch that sits right at the water's edge. Weights are attached to the trotline in the middle (depending on the length of the line you might need to weight it at quarter lengths) to keep it underwater and to prevent larger catfish from dragging the line all over the place [source: Eggertson].

Trotlines range in length from 50 to 100 feet (15.2 to 30.5 meters). With this size, you may have 25 to 50 hooks on the line. Yes, it's a long line, and it's sharp. Bring the following gear to assist you while working the trotline:


  • A pair of sturdy gloves
  • Needle-nose pliers
  • A net
  • Weights and floaters
  • A knife [source: Eggertson]

Once the line is set, you can start baiting the line. Use bait that will stay secure no matter how many catfish you have tugging on the line [source: Texas Catfishin' Resource]. You can rebait the line after you catch your first batch.

­Trotline catfishing is better in shallow to medium waters, but make sure you keep your trotline anchored low enough that it won't get caught in the boat's propellers [source: Texas Catfishin' Resource]. Also, keep your lines away from swimming and fishing areas.

A little intimidated by trotlines? No problem. Read on to learn about the trotline's cousin -- the throw line.


Technique 2: Throw Lines

Catfish throw lines are an easy way to get some hooks in the water without exces­sive preparation. They can be thrown from shore, or set by boat, and are perfect for river fishing. One end has a weight and the other is attached to a tree or other sturdy source. Then, all you do is throw it in and catch the fish [source: Clark Baits]. Most throw lines are 25 to 30 feet (7.6 to 9.1 meters) long with five to 15 hooks, depending on state regulations [source: Redneck's Catfish Bait Soap].

­There are probably as many different ways to set up and toss a throw line as there are people who use them. You can set up a short line with only one hook or long lines with numerous hooks. Your location, water depth, and personal preference will dictate which method you use.


To keep your line from tangling, consider stretching it out on the bank along the water line before doing anything else. Bait your hooks and then tie on an end weight. Heaving your line overhead and out into the water puts you at risk of snagging yourself so try pitching it sidearm with just enough force to go the length of the line. And be careful not to jerk it back, or you'll snag the line.

Most states require you to tag your line with at least your name and the date you dropped it in the water. If you check your catfish throw line every few hours, you can remove your catch, bait it up and set it again to catch the daily maximum.

If you don't have a boat but still want to go after the big catfish, you can use a limb line. Read on to learn about fishing from shore.


Technique 1: Limb Lines

There are not many rules with limb line catfishing. Imagine ­a rope swing hanging above a pond or river. Now, imagine the rope swing going all the way down to the water with some bait on it. Presto! You have a limb line.

The trick to limb line fishing is finding the right tree. Choose a flexible green limb that hangs low over the water [source: Texas Catfishin' Resource]. You want a flexible limb because your giant catch will probably snap old or ragged limbs.


Here are tips for successful limb line fishing:

  • Alternate your bait and your hook.
  • Tie live bait just below the water's surface, so the bait makes a lot of noise and attracts the catfish [source: Texas Catfishin' Resource].
  • Drop artificial baits deep into the water [source: Eggertson].
  • Try different baits on each limb line you set to find out which ones work best in the areas you're fishing.

Because flathead catfish can get big, use large, heavy hooks or consider circle hooks. Flatheads have been known to flatten out J-style hooks on limb lines [source: Texas Sportsman]. As with the other forms of catfishing, check your limb lines every couple of hours. Limb lines are the easiest line to set and sink over and over again, which can dramatically increase your day's catch.


Lots More Information

R­elated How­StuffWorks Articles

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