Larger catfish, particularly trophy-sized blue cats that are popular with a lot of anglers, are a lot more nomadic than most anglers give them credit. These fish have been compared to cattle, just wandering along travel corridors, grazing as they move from place to place.
The best way to target roaming catfish is by trolling for them.
Most anglers would not associate trolling, a tactic normally reserved for striped bass inland and large saltwater fish in the ocean, with catfishing, but it can and does produce numbers of big catfish.
The secret to trolling for catfish is to have the bait, typically fresh dead or cut bait, move slowly along the bottom to resemble food that bottom dwellers typically come across. To keep the bait low in the water column, the trolling rig will have to drag along the bottom.
Trolling over heavy cover is a recipe for break-offs. To combat this, catfish anglers on Santee-Cooper designed a special rig employing a slinky weight and crappie float to keep the weight on the bottom and the hook out of cover.
“I make my own weights using utility cord,” said Lake Santee catfish guide Spencer Edmonds. “I use anywhere from 16 to 23 pellets of No. 3 buckshot, stuff that down in the cord and melt the end of the cord to hold it tight.
“The deeper the water, the heavier the weight you need. Down on the lower lake, when I’m in that fixed wood, I like 23 to 24 pieces of lead, but on the upper lake I normally use 18 to 20. I’m also using a snap barrel swivel so I can change if I’m fishing up and down a lot. All I’ve got to do is snap off one weight and snap on a different one to match the water depth.”
Behind the weight, Edmonds pegs a small, 2-inch crappie float on a 3- 4 foot leader (point the peg away from the weight to it won’t hang) between the hook and the swivel. The added buoyancy of the float rides the hook and bait up off the bottom where it won’t snag.
World famous catfish guide Phil King from Corinth adds a little variation to the rig, which he refers to as a “Two Hook” drift rig. King’s rig employs a stinger hook to insure hook ups on a big fish or nab a short striker. It’s a great way to catch trophy flatheads by trolling. Bait for the rig would consist of a large whole skipjack herring, shad, or live bream.
“I tie this rig using two 7/0 Daiichi circle hooks,” said King. “I’m going to use a big whole bait for trolling. I snell both hooks and that way you get about a 99 percent hookup rate on the circle hook.”
King ties the rig using a three-way swivel. The main line, 80-pound braid, is tied to one end. A slinky weight is connected to the middle eye of the three-way. His slinky weights can also be homemade using 550 paracord and No. 4 buckshot pellets or can also be purchased commercially made. A length of 30-pound mono leader is tied to the remaining eye. The length of the leader will vary depending on how high you want the bait to suspend in the water column.
“Now, go find that heavy cover,” said Edmonds. “The slinky weight provides your catfish rig with 4-wheel drive, trolling easily over the thickest cover without getting stuck.”