Catfish are simple creatures. Catching them is simply a matter of putting a good bait in the right place at the right time, using the simplest rig that can deliver and hold your bait in a location where active cats can find it. The least number of components in the rig means fewer components to fail and knots to break, and less weight to interfere with a natural presentation. Simple catfish rigs also are easier to construct on the water when rigs are lost to snags or abraded leaders need replacing. And sparsely tied rigs cast farther and tangle less often than more complex rigs designed to accomplish the same task.
Drift Rigs—Most situations, though, call for a bit of weight for better casting distance and more accurate bait placement. A lead shot or two pinched on the line 6 to 12 inches above the hook casts farther and drops to the bottom faster than a plain piece of bait, for fishing deeper water. Cast alongside a snag in light to moderate current, and the bait moves slowly across the bottom, around the perimeter of the snag. This rig also is a good choice for drifting across shallow flats in lakes, ponds, or reservoir creek arms. Use fresh cutbait and let the wind or current push the boat across the flat toward deep water to intercept channel cats that prowl the shallows at night from late spring through early fall.
Slipfloat Rigs—Float rig also keep baits moving along the bottom at current speed, but snag less often than shot rigs. Cigar-shaped slipfloats are more sensitive than round bobbers, allowing cats to swim a short distance with a bait without feeling much resistance. Small, thin designs like the classic Thill Center Slider are perfect for drifting small to medium-size portions of cutbait for blue and channel cats, while the larger and more bulbous Thill Big Fish Slider suspends big livebaits for flatheads.
Regardless of which catfish species you’re fishing for, the basic slipfloat rig is constructed in the same way. Before tying on a hook, tie a five-turn Uni-knot around your main line with the same or slightly heavier line, to serve as an adjustable float stop. Sliding the stop knot up the line makes the bait run deeper, while sliding it down allows for a shallower drift. Next, slip on a 5-mm bead followed by the slipfloat. Anchor cutbait and smaller livebait rigs with a few lead shot about a foot above a hook, ranging from a #2 for small baits to a 3/0 for bigger baits. To anchor larger livebaits for flatheads, add a swivel about 20 inches above a 3/0 to 7/0 hook. Slide a 1- to 2-ounce egg sinker on the line above the swivel to balance the float.
There are, of course, endless refinements to these and other terminal rigs to help you catch more and bigger cats in a particular situation. Consider the conditions you encounter on the water and modify standard rigs to improve your presentation. Let us hear about your successes. And look to future Catfish Guides, the Catfish In-Sider, and In-Fisherman magazine for refinements to top riggings.