Channel Catfish are my favorite fish to target for most of the summer. They are aggressive and put up a great fight. They also taste pretty good in the frying pan. While the season for catfish is still months away, I wanted to post a lesson on how to rig for them. The first year I fished for cats I wasn’t very successful, partially because my rigging didn’t get my bait in front of the fish I was after. A friend of mine saw I wasn’t catching anything and turned me on to this slip sinker rig (often called a “Carolina Rig”) which has helped me catch dozens of channel cats (and some walleye, goldeye, carp, and other bonus species). This simple setup is easy to tie and relatively inexpensive. It makes a great dead stick setup while you fish a more active presentation if multiple rods for one angler are allowed in your state.
What You’ll Need
The Carolina rig is designed to hold your bait on the bottom of a river. The current of the river is going to dictate how much weight you will need to keep the bait in place. Stronger current will require more weight, but you don’t want to go too heavy as too much weight can make casting more difficult. I’ve found that two ounces works well for me on the Red River, but if possible, it is nice to have several ranging from one and a half to three ounces in your tackle box for varying conditions.
Next you’ll need a good, strong hook that will be able to take a beating and hold large baits. To catch big fish, we use big baits. Catfish feed more by smell and taste than with their eyesight, so they aren’t shy so you’re not going to spook them by using a large hook. Depending on the size of your bait, try a 1/0 to 5/0 kahle or circle hook. Bonus tip: When using chicken livers, use a section of light monofilament line to tie around your bait and hold it on the hook.
For my main line from the reel to the swivel, I like to use a braided line. Braids have almost no stretch, and they’re much stronger than monofilament line of the same diameter. In the pictures, I’m using 20lb test Sufix 832 Braided Superline in high visibility yellow. Catfish aren’t line shy, so a high-vis line isn’t going to spook them. I recommend at least a 15lb test braided line for your main line. For your leader, use anywhere from 6 to 18 inches of monofilament in no less than 10lb test, preferably 20-25lb. Use a shorter leader when there are branches, rocks, and other things to snag on near the bottom.
- Kahle or Circle Hooks (Size 1/0 to 5/0, depending on your bait)
- No Roll Sinker (1½oz to 3oz, depending on current)
- Barrel Swivel
- Bead or Rubber Stop
- 6-18″ of leader line (monofilament, at least 10lbs)
The first step is to run your braided line through your slip sinker, followed by your bead. After the line is through these two, use a palomar knot to tie on a barrel swivel to the end.
Next, tie your leader line using an improved clinch knot. Trim to your desired length, and tie your circle or kahle hook to the leader using a palomar knot. That’s it! Now you’re ready to fish!
How It Works
To oversimplify things, catfish are opportunistic feeders who typically relate to the bottom of the river. The heavy, flat no-roll sinker holds the bait down in heavy current. Once the catfish gets a whiff of your bait, she’ll have your rod bent in no time. The way the circle hooks are designed, you don’t often need to set the hook. When you pick up your rod, reel up any slack and give a slow, sweeping hookset rather than a fast, jerking one.
Now get out and try it out! Try chicken livers, frogs, or cut goldeye for bait. Cast your bait out, put your rod in the holder, and clip on a pole bell. It shouldn’t be long until a catfish picks up your bait and it’s game on!