Depending on where and how you’re fishing, and what catfish you’re targeting, you’ll need to tie on one of several different kinds of terminal-tackle rigs. Here they are:
Rigging and bait choices for catfishing may, at first blush, seem like the simplest things in the world. Catfish feed on the bottom, they eat dead stuff and they usually aren’t too picky.
It may surprise some Mississippi anglers that the world of catfishing has entered a new era. While it’s true that catfish, at times, are not very picky and can be caught on anything you throw at them, the evolution of trophy catfishing and species-specific fishing has taught us that not all catfish are alike in their feeding habits, and the tactics, tackle, and baits used to tempt catfish often spells the difference between success and failure.
A handful of rigs are employed by both casual and tournament catfishermen today. The rigs range from simple to relatively complex, most based on the environment in which the angler is fishing.
Bumping rigs can be as simple or as complex as you want to make them. The main components are a heavy weight, spherical or pyramid shaped. According to guide David Magness of Cat’n Around, the size of the weight is dictated by the amount of current.
“I prefer a round cannonball over any other type of weight, because there is more surface area on the ball. When it makes contact with the bottom, there is only one bump,” he said. “A pyramid or bank sinker falls over when it hits the bottom, creating a false “double tap” when it hits the bottom.”
He said the rule of thumb is more weight for faster current and/or slower boat speed and less weight for slower current or faster boat speed.
While some anglers prefer a three-way swivel for bumping, Magness uses an interlocked barrel swivel.
“The interlocked swivel is preferred over a 3-way swivel because it provides the main fishing line with direct, in-line contact with the weight,” he said. “The most important aspect in bumping is feeling the bottom.”
Magness said the only hook he uses is a Team Catfish Double Action 8/0 circle hook, which is identical to a 7/0 Daiichi circle hook. He snells the hook with 50-pound Hi-Seas Quatro line and crimps the tag end to the barrel swivel with a metal crimp.
While his bumping rig might seem complicated and difficult to store, Magness stores the leader, attached to the remainder of the rig, in a Rig-Rap organizer container. The only detachable component is the weight line, which he ties to the coast-lock snap swivel. This allows him to change weights and lengths of line quickly based on current fishing conditions.
The flathead rig is a favorite of FV catfishing guide Ty Conkle, who mainly fishes on the upper Tennessee River for flatheads. It is fairly simple in design, a variation of a Carolina rig, but with a no-roll sinker to keep the rig and bait steady in current.
“Technically, I am fishing in the reservoir, but I’m in the upper ends where there is good current coming out of the dam above wherever I’m fishing,” he said.
The rig uses a 4/0 to 6/0 no-roll sinker and an 8/0 Team Catfish Double Action circle hook on either end of a 3-foot length of 60-pound leader. The heavy weight is needed to keep the bait in place in current.
When anchored down, Conkle will spread six of these rigs out, fan-casting rods around the boat so he’s covering multiple depths.
Many anglers are familiar with the trolling for catfish using a slinky weight to keep the bait on the bottom. Tournament angler Rusty Jackson of Olive Branch utilizes the same concept but has designed his own version of slinky weights that helps him fish structure most other anglers would avoid.
Dragging heavy tackle through submerged trees, rocks and debris piles is not for the faint of heart, so Jackson uses specialized tackle. At the heart is a specially designed trolling weight that he makes called a Structure Snake.
Jackson named the weight because of the flexible way it bends and crawls around heavy cover. It is a long, slinky weight, coated in high-density, polypropylene thermal plastic that allows the weight to drag across and through obstacles without hanging up.
He drags the weight on 80-pound, main-line braid attached to a Hawaiian swivel that slips to another 3-way swivel. The Structure Snake is attached to one end of the 3-way, while a 36-inch length of leader is attached to the other. The leader, which terminates in an 8/0 Daiichi hook, is comprised of two lengths connected by a 40-pound barrel swivel. The first 4 inches is a break link of 40-pound mono; if the hook becomes wedged, the break link protects against loss of the entire rig. The remaining leader is 100-pound mono crimped to the swivel and snelled to the hook. About midway down the leader is an oval float that provides buoyancy to the leader line and allows the baited hook to ride just above the structure to prevent snagging.
“It might sound complicated, but it’s a good system, and it absolutely allows you to fish in places others won’t go,” said Jackson.
The catfish rigs already discussed have focused on larger blue and or flathead catfish. This last rig is designed for channel catfish. It is a basic Carolina rig, but the specialized part is what goes on the hook. Commercial dip bait rigs are available, but one of the simplest and most-effective baits when using dip baits, also referred to as stinkbaits, is a household object.
Some years ago, veteran angler Walt Justus of Petal learned that a slice of pool noodle, the kind kids play with in the swimming pool, makes a great medium for the dip baits to stick to. Think of the pool noodle like a really long pineapple. In fact, a can-sized piece of swim noodle can last an angler an entire summer.
“I fish a lot of the state lakes for catfish in the summer,” Justus said. “I’ll load up the camper and the family and fish off the bank a lot of times. Right before daylight and right before dark is when I do best with stinkbaits. Sometimes, I’ll fish on into the night.”
To prepare the pool noodle for use, use a sharp knife to cut a ring off the end of the noodle about ¾-inch thick. Lay the slice of the hollow noodle flat and cut the ring into chunks anywhere from ¾- to 1-inch across.
Before applying any bait to the noodle, thread it on the hook. Most anglers use a Carolina rig with a ½- to ¾-ounce weight and a leader 1½ to 3 feet long. Dip baits are sold in jars or buckets with resealable lids. Drop the hooked section of noodle into the jar or bucket and use a stick or spoon to smear the bait onto it.
When casting the bait, it is common for some of the dip bait to fall or sling off. Think of this as helping to chum the area. Fan-cast numerous baits around your position and give each about 15 minutes before checking and re-baiting. If you haven’t gotten a bite in 20 to 30 minutes, it’s time to relocate.
The best catfish bait, hands down: skipjack herring
A recurring theme from Mississippi anglers is the importance of using river herring for bait when targeting catfish, particularly trophy-sized blues or flatheads. The hands-down favorite is skipjack herring, aka skipjack shad.
Skipjack reside in rivers year-round but can be more difficult to catch at certain times of the year.
“If I can’t get skipjack, I’d just as soon not fish,” said Jay Pickle, who along with his dad, Pat, catches the bait they use to tame Mississippi River cats. “You can try live bream, pond perch or goldfish, and you’ll catch a fish or two, but nothing like the skipjacks.”
Like catfish, anglers can find skipjack herring living in the current that flow through and around the river dikes. Bait is caught by hand, using rod-and-reel. One important aspect to catching herring is that they feed by sight, so water clarity is an issue. Without clear water, it’s hard to get the herring to bite.
“These old runouts, wing dams or old lakes draining, anywhere you’ve got running, shallow water that is clear enough to see, is a good place to catch bait,” Pickle said. “We use a Sabiki rig and just bounce it along the bottom.”
Some anglers find that cooler weather is a better time to catch bait, and they will often stock up and freeze any supplemental bait for use later in the year. Care is needed to freeze the skipjack properly, insuring it is viable when thawed for later use.
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