May 20, 2021
It’s easy to forget that it’s possible to fish without a fancy rod and reel. Long before sport fishing was invented, people would throw lines and nets into the ocean to catch fish for food. No-tackle methods such as a seine, handlining, and even a simple soda-can rig are effective in catching fish. However, these methods limit you to a single area for a prolonged period.
Thus, passive methods of fishing were developed to allow an angler to set up multiple rigs at one time in different locations, such as jug lining, limb lining, and trot lining. These simple but ingenious tactics are effective in hooking catfish and aren’t complicated to set up.
Jug-fishing is the most popular method of hooking catfish without a rod. It uses plastic jugs, large plastic soda bottles, or pool noodles as a floater or bobber. A heavy line is attached to the neck or handle, and a circle hook is baited with a sinker on the other end. The entire jug-line rig is then dropped into the water, where catfish are known to swim. After that, it’s just a waiting game for the fish to bite.
To prepare the jug, start with a heavy line about 6-10 feet long. Adjust the length as necessary to the depths of your waters since the hook should be floating off the bottom. Tie one end of the line around the bottle’s neck and attach a circle hook on the other end (we recommend a size 2/0). Add a split shot or an egg sinker on top of the hook to weigh it down, so the line is vertically aligned. Make sure the caps of the jug are sealed so it doesn’t take in water, which can be glued or wrapped in waterproof tape.
Pool noodles can be used for floaters as well. Take a standard size and cut it into two or three pieces. Insert a piece of PVC pipe through the center of the hollow noodle with a few inches of excess on both ends. This will make it stronger, float better, and will provide an anchor to tie your line. Glue covers on the pipe to seal the ends and prevent water from entering.
The jugs will jerk or bob if hooked with smaller fish but can briefly submerge if bigger fish take the bait. The type of jug used is important to make sure that it will float well and resist being pulled completely under the surface. Usually, several jug-lines are placed upstream of the current, floating down naturally to a catfish’s known feeding zones. Blue catfish often school in channels near open water and areas where the shallow ends slope into deeper sections. Bigger catfish prefer shallow flats and areas where water has recently flowed in to flood vegetation.
The best time to set out would be sunrise or just before sunset, and it's best to use bright-colored floaters that can easily be seen from a distance. If fishing at night, these can be painted a phosphorescent color or wrapped in reflective tape if fishing at night. Alternatively, anchoring jug lines to keep them rooted in one spot makes them easier to find. Any standard concrete block or weight that can withstand the flow of the current will work.
The concept of the limb line is quite simple - it’s essentially a line tied to the limb of a tree over water with a baited hook on the other end. There are two variations of limb lining, namely bank-lining and yo-yo fishing.
The most important factor in limb lining is choosing the right limb. It should essentially have the same bending action as a standard fishing rod’s bank. A good bough should be, first of all, alive since dead ones are too brittle. It must be flexible enough to withstand the pulls of even the largest catfish.
Once you’ve selected your limb, use a slipknot to secure your line. Attach a 1/0 to 3/0 hook on the other end with a sinker and attach your live bait. To hook larger catfish, you can try live carp, suckerfish, or bullhead at least 6 inches in length and let the line run around 3 feet into the water. Using bigger bait means hooking bigger catfish.
Run more than one line in different locations to increase your chances of getting a big one. It’s not uncommon to have at least 20 or more lines at a time. Rocky banks, deep pools, and areas below riffles are good places to start. Mark your branches with tape or tie a scarf around them, so they’re easy to find later on. When the limb or branch moves up and down, it’s a sign that the line is hooked.
Used more commonly in rivers and streams, bank lines take a ground-based approach. In this method, heavier forked limbs or saplings about 7 to 10 feet long are laid out on the shore, with about 3 to 4 feet of the forked end hovering over the water. These limbs can also be anchored into the ground or mud near the river-like poles. Concentrate on areas where the shallow end slopes into the deeper end. Wing dams or the slower water downstream are good areas to set up.
"Yo-yoing" or yo-yo fishing is an angler favorite for its automated “set it and forget it” approach. They’re sturdy and handy to bring along in a survival pack or when you’re camping out in the wild. The yo-yo is fastened onto a limb above the surface of the water, and for bigger catfish, it’s supplemented with a bungee cord for added strength.
A yo-yo reel is an automatic spinning reel - a flat disc with a steel spring and acts similar to a pulley and retracts like a tape measure. It has a nylon line wrapped around it, with a snap swivel on the end that acts as a trigger to set your line’s length. When a catfish is hooked, it will activate the trigger and provide resistance and slack to the line until the catfish is exhausted.
Many anglers prefer trotlines for catfish because they are effective in catching a lot of them at one time. Trotlining involves a long main line attached to two anchors, or bases stretched out across a body of water. Evenly-spaced droppers are then attached perpendicular to the main line - these are shorter lines similar to leaders that have the hook attached to the end. Droppers are fastened using a swivel clip or a heavy barrel swivel.
For the main line, heavy nylon is used, such as #24 (210-pound test). The first step is to find your land-based anchor to tie it, usually a tree that’s right on the edge of the water. After securing the first base, the angler will ride out in the water to make the line as straight and taut as possible. The second base of the line is a water-based anchor or weight that will be dropped into the water.
Once the main line is ready, it’s best to go back to the starting point by the tree anchor and begin attaching the droppers while pulling the boat towards the water-based anchor. Tie on the droppers one at a time, making sure it's evenly spaced, at least two feet apart. Trotlines usually have around 10-25 droppers with #18 (165-pound test) line and circle hooks. Smaller weights can be added to the dropper every five to six hooks to keep the bait hovering off the bottom.
Areas near where tributaries converge with a lake are great areas to target for large catfish. Setting up trotlines near wing dams along rivers are good spots as well. Try using oily baitfish for blue and channel catfish, and live bluegills for flathead catfish. Remember, bigger bait catches bigger catfish.
These passive methods of landing a big catfish can be more efficient than a standard rod and reel. Since it’s a numbers game, more lines set up increases the chances of landing a huge one. As always, make sure to read up on your area’s rules and regulations regarding these fishing methods. Some locations require jugs to be marked with a name and address, while some only allow limb lines for a limited time.
After complying with all the laws, get out there and try catching a big catfish using one of these tried-and-tested tactics.