How to catch Catfish: Catfish Trotline

How to catch Catfish: Catfish Trotline

Catfish fishing trotline: what is a trotline?

So, what is a Trotline?

A trotline is a real simple way to catch catfish that you only have to check once every few hours.  It is defined by The Free Dictionary as “a strong fishing line strung across a stream, or deep into a river, having individual hooks attached by smaller lines at intervals.
It is the best way to “spread yourself out” to be able to increase your chances to catch as many catfish as you want. You can learn to catch catfish this easy and fun way.

I use trotlines on catfish fishing because I eat what I catch, on a trotline or with a pole. I do not keep anything that the Parks and Wildlife says not to keep and I rarely catch the limit either.
Now you can keep the biggest ones for the most part but I don’t most times. Why you might ask? Because I want to have more of the Biggest Ones out there to catch. But I do keep some large ones close to the largest. I like catfish on my plate.

I have used every one of these “Store Bought” Trotlines.
Though I tend to make my own now days. These are good and reliable but all of them have their ups and downs and they are easy to modify for my fishing style.
I keep one or two around though because you never know where you might need one. For beginners they are a great way to get used to using trotlines and seeing some different ways they are made.

How to catch catfish.

How to run a catfish trotline

I would rather do all my fishing from a boat. I get to go where I want. Can’t find fish on the main body of the lake, try by the shore. No fish by the shore, try the river or the spot where the river meets the lake.
Using a boat also makes it easier to use a trotline, to find a place to set it up and wonder off to other places to fish.
I usually use at least one of 100 feet in length with 50 hooks on it.

The one thing to be sure of any time you are running a trotline is that the hooks (all hooks have a least a 4 inch lead) stay at least 4 to 6 inches off the bottom. There are several ways to do that and it has taken some testing to learn how to do it.

Trotline set up on a river bend

Trotline set up on a river bend

The easiest way is to have a small float about two foot out from the last and first hooks on the line. Then you need to have 10 to 30 feet of leader to the weights and a marker floats on them.
Drop one weight where you want to start the line. Move boat out toward where you want the line to end.

Then you pull the line taut, using the weight to do so, and let it go, the weight drops in a shallow V. The float/weight side is steeper then the float/lead side. That will allow the trotline hooks to stay up at least 4 to 6 inches from the bottom, but remain taut so you catch the fish.

Trough or Channel Trotline

Set up for a Trough or Channel.

Sometimes you don’t have enough room to have, let’s say give or take, 200 feet of trout line rig. So when I make up a trotline, or lines, I make them so they can be broken in two (25 hooks per). I put clips on them and have varied lengths of leaders (5, 10, 20 feet) and make my marker float lines adjustable as well. That also helps in quickly finding the middle if I only have room for a 50 footer (25 hooks) or need to put it out in a V shape (need 3 weights/floats for that) to cross a small trough/channel twice or use it on a river/creek bend.

Trotline using small floats.

Trotline using small floats.

It really depends on where and what is around, as to what I do. Sometimes I’ll run from jug to jug. When I do this I’ll attach the trotline to the weights with a 10 foot leader, using two heavy 5 or 10 pound weights with a marker jug tied two foot out from the first and last hooks. I spend the time to be sure the jug has just enough line to hold the trotline up but not enough to come close to floating the weight. Set the first weight pull line out with second weight until taut and drop.

Trotline set up for Flats

Trotline set up for Flats

This keeps my trotline about 1 foot up from the weight on both ends, to keep the hooks up about 6 to 8 inches.

Or I’ll put a smaller float two foot out from the first and last hook with a small weight and float in the middle. The middle float is only big enough to pull the trout line up and keep it taut, but not pull the weight up. The two end floats are pulled down by the end weights with up to 20 feet of leader to the trout line. Let the marker float, just float, with a little extra line above the end weights.

The small floats keep the line taut. Again it really depends on the what and the where. I have tied one end of a leader to a tree at the water line and ran a leader out from shore at least 20 to 30 feet then, the trotline with small float, then the weight and jug. As long as you are not dropping off a shelf, it will follow the slope of the bottom.

There are times you’ll need to have a small 2 to 4 pound weight and small float in the middle of the trotline to keep it following the contour of the bottom if you are across a channel. That keeps the line in a shallow V to follow both sides of the channel. The float needs to be just enough to float the line and let the weight keep things taut.

Final Thoughts

How to catch catfish

Baiting a trotline is inexpensive with a cast net which I have at all times. Buy one and learn to use one it will save you loads of money.
The trotline is not the only way I fish for catfish. I do use rod and reels. I’ll set at least one trotline of 25 hooks then go and find another spot to fish for catfish with the rods to maximize my fun. I’ll sit in one spot for an hour or so and change if I don’t get any bites. I check the trotline about 4 to 6 hours and rebait as needed.

A Trotline is like an investment in patience. You have to let them sit for at least 4 to 6 hours before moving them. If you set out two, you could set one on the flats and the other in the channel or trough, then check them every 4 hours. If one catches some or a lot, put both or two in that spot. Always remain flexible in catfishing because catfish like all critters that have to hunt to live are always flexible.

Please feel free to leave a comment on your thoughts on catfishing or any fishing. I’d love to read them and learn from you.

All images belong to doug48 on… and are made using Sketch Book Express on my computer. Great professional drawing with a shaky handed mouse, isn’t it?


Husband to Teresa, father to four of the best children in the world (Don't tell them that) Grandpa to the four BEST Grandkids in the world. Grandkids are great I get all the fun my daughter gets to clean the fun. Fishing is one of my pass times (When I can that is.) Learning not to beat my computer to death when it is only doing what I stupidly told it to is my other pass time when I am not Remodeling someones home or building decks. doug48 on Google+

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