12 Best Catfish Rigs

Catfish are especially good at hiding and can be tricky to reel in, which is why skilled fishers often use rigs designed for catching them. Choosing the right kind of rig for the catfish you are after can be difficult, though.

What are the 12 best catfish rigs? Your choice depends on several variables, such as the kind of catfish you’re catching and where you are catching it. Rigs to consider:

  • Drift Rig
  • Slipfloat Rig
  • Slip Rig
  • Poly Ball Rig
  • Three-Way Rig
  • Paternoster
  • Float-Paternoster
  • Brush Hook Rig
  • Release
  • Santee Dragging Rig
  • Bobber Rig
  • Zero Rig
  • Carolina Rig

With the different variables in mind, you should know about the top rigs before you go after the catfish. Consider how each rig works and when you should use it and then apply those to your situation.

Types of Catfish Rigs

There are 12 top rigs that any avid fisher should learn before trying to bring in their catch.

Rig Type

How it Works

When to Use it

Drift Rig This rig simply uses a line, a lead shot, and a hook. It is designed to fully flow with the water and is inconspicuous in calm waters.  It is designed to imitate catches the catfish may be after already, as the baited hook will move at similar speed. This is best in slow-moving waters that are calm and not full of debris or other things your hook will easily catch on. This can be used from a boat or from shore. These are best for blue and channel catfish, as they are less aggressive.
Slipfloat Rig These work similar to the Drift rig, but they include a bobber to keep the hook from snagging as often. This also allows you to control the depth of your hook and bait. These are ideal for channels and slower moving water. They aren’t good for quick-moving water as the fish won’t want bait that is moving too quickly to catch. These are also best for less aggressive catfish, such as the blue and channel.
Slip Rig This is designed to keep the bait at the bottom and allow the catfish to grab the bait with slack before the hook grabs them. This is ideal for slower or even near-still water. This only really works if you know there are catfish near and require a lot of patience.
Polyball Rig This rig allows for the bait to lift off the bottom with a small floater, while a heavier weight keeps the rest of the line away. It will keep the bait flowing a bit and attract more attention than a bait that is on the bottom. This is ideal for the shore or even out of a boat. It shouldn’t be used in a fast-moving water, as the fish aren’t going to be as interested in the fast-moving bait as much as they are in slower-flowing water.
Three-Way Rig It uses a three-way swivel, attached to which is the sinker, the hook, and the main line. This allows for the bait to move freely and flow with the water, while the sinker keeps the line from reaching the surface or other depths you wish you avoid. This is best used when you want the freely moving bait, like in the Santee Dragging Rig, but a more flexible weight and line. This is good for boat and shore use. This would be good for all catfish in the right environment.
Paternoster This is like the three-way swivel but uses a lighter bottom line in case of a snag. This rig is designed best for live bait. It will allow the bait to move around and attract the attention of the catfish, while also preventing the line from being snagged as easy and keeping it more manageable. Consider avoiding more aggressive catfish for this rig, as the lighter bottom line will break easier.
Float-Paternoster This is the same as the paternoster, but it is best for catching larger fish. It is designed for using larger, live bait and catching larger fish. It is most often used in deeper waters.
Brush Hook Rig This rig uses the brush around the water as a way to hold the line. It has a clip which allows the bait to move freely over the top part of the water. The clip releases and a bell rings when a catfish takes the bait This is ideal is larger bodies of water as they require more freedom for the bait to flow and float. This rig is applicable for all catfish with the right set-up.
Release This is similar to the Brush Hook rig, but it uses a floating bottle, instead. Unless customized, it will pull the lid or cork to alert the fisher when the catfish has been hooked. These rigs require a lot of patience and waiting and are design for just that. It is why there are commonly ways that the fisher will be alerted when the bait has been taken. This will also work with all catfish types.
Santee Dragging Rig This allows your bait and hook to flow with the water and be more inconspicuous than some, more aggressive attempts. It has a fixed float, a pencil sinker, and strong line. This is good to use from the shore or from a boat. It is most useful when you know where the fish are, as it also requires patience and understanding of the catfish. These are most likely to work with all catfish species in the right environments.
Bobber Rig This is more of a traditional rig and incorporates sound into the catch. The bobber is larger and makes a “plop” sound when hitting the water to get the attention of nearby catfish. It will keep the bait closer to the surface of the water. This is good when the water is shallow, or when there is a lot of debris or other items that your hook could catch on. This works best when you know there are fish nearby, as it also requires patience while waiting. It is an easy rig and can be used by amateur and expert fishers. Aggressive fish will be most likely to be interested in these rigs.
Zero Rig This rig has a weight that is up against the hook and a strong line. That’s it. It is simple and allows for a controlled hook and bait. This is what you should use in the faster-moving water. Freely flowing baits aren’t of interest to the catfish in these waters, so using this method will give you a better chance of catching any species of catfish.
Carolina Rig This rig uses a swivel with the main line and sinker attacked to one end and the hook with bait attached to the rest. This is good when fishing in channels and isn’t as aggressive as the Zero rig. All species can be caught with this rig.

Gear for Rigs

Here are some supplies to consider for rigs, though they will vary greatly based on person preference, type of catfish, size of catfish, location, your personal pole and other gear, the weather, and the type of water:

Types of Catfish and Where to Find Them

There are three main types of Catfish species: The Blue Catfish, the Channel Catfish, and the Flathead Catfish. Each have their own characteristics, such as color, fin and tail types, and weight and size.

Blue Catfish

The scientific name for the blue catfish is Ictalurus Furcatus. Other common names for the Blue catfish are Mississippi white catfish, hi-fin blue, and hump-back blue due to geographic variations and environmental factors.

“Ictalurus is Greek meaning “fish cat,” and furcatus is Latin, meaning “forked,” a reference to the species’ forked tail fin.”
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Some of the main characteristic and facts of a blue catfish are:

  • These catfish have a forked tail, or a tail that forms a v-type shape.
  • They vary in color from slate blue to white and even near-black at times.
  • They do not have spots on their bodies.
  • Their anal fin is flat with 30 or so Rays.
  • They can exceed 100 pounds, but most often weight between 20 and 40 pounds.
  • Blue catfish most often live in larger rivers in main channels. In the summer, they prefer cooler water, so they move to a cooler water area.
  • They are primarily found in the Missouri, Mississippi, Texas, Ohio, and Mexico waters. They are also sometimes found elsewhere.
  • Eggs hatch in about a week, and it is the male who will guard the new fish for the first while until they leave on their own.
  • They commonly live for thirty years, sometimes a bit more or less.
  • They will feed off of the bait that other fish have let drift away and prefer heavily scented bait over fake bait, though they will go for fake bait sometimes.

These catfish are common in North America and are sought due to their larger sizes. They also look similar to the channel catfish to untrained eyes.

Channel Catfish

The scientific name for a channel catfish is Ictalurus Punctatus. Punctatus is the Latin word for “spotted.” These catfish are the smaller of the species, and they can look similar to the Blue Catfish and the Flathead Catfish.

“Because of the coloring of the channel catfish, they are often confused by inexperienced anglers with the flathead catfish. Channels however have a deeply forked tail (instead of slightly notched) and have a protruding upper jaw (instead of lower jaw).”
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Some of the main characteristic and facts of a channel catfish are:

  • Channel catfish have a forked tail.
  • Their color ranges from olive brown to grey and they have dark spots.
  • They are smaller than the blue and flathead catfish. They are most often less than 30 pounds.
  • Channel catfish have curved anal fins with around 24 Rays.
  • They much prefer warmer waters and will try to stay within the warmth.
  • The males will guard the nests and will eat the eggs if the nest is in danger.
  • They are near the top of the list for most popular fish species in the United States.
  • They can be found all over the country.
  • They prefer larger bodies of water, like lakes and larger channels and reservoirs.

The channel catfish are popular and easier to wrangle for new and expert fishers, so they are in high demand and often kept in fish nest made by humans for mass production.

Flathead Catfish

The scientific name for the flathead catfish is Pylodictis Olivaris. Other common names include Appaloosa Catfish, Pied Cat, Yellow Cat, and even Shovelhead Cat.

Pylodictis is Greel and means “mudfish” and olivaris is Latin for “olive colored” obviously due to the dark olive and yellow coloring of the skin of the species.
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Some of the main characteristic and facts of a flathead catfish are:

  • These catfish can grow to over 100 pounds.
  • They do not have a forked tail and instead have a more uniform shape.
  • Their anal fin is rounded with less than 30 Rays.
  • They are dark brown, black, and yellow in color–often a mix of all three. It is often seen as a more olive color.
  • Their head, being flattened, is how they earned their name. It is also why they are sometimes known as shovelhead catfish.
  • Their lower jaw is protruding and sticks out, which also gives their head a unique look.
  • They prefer and will often only eat live fish and bait. They are known as scavengers.
  • They will even eat other catfish if they need to, once they are fully grown.
  • They prefer much warmer weather, such as is found in the summer months.
  • They prefer cloudy water with slow-moving water to feed easily and hide better.
  • Females can lay up to 1200 eggs for every pound of her body weight.

Best Gear for Catfishing

Certain gear is needed in order to catch a catfish, as they are typically pretty heavy, strong, and are known to fight against the hook and line. Some of the following gear should be considered:

  • A 6- or 7-foot rod with a spinning rod, such as this one, will offer the best chance to reel in the catch.
  • Abrasion Resistant Mono Line, like this one, is crucial for your catfishing. Other, weaker line will break easily as the catfish fights against being reeled in.
  • You need proper tackle, such as this smaller kit, or this larger kit. Without the proper tackle, you won’t be able to successfully rig or fish for the catfish.
  • Live Bait is the best for catfishing. However, that isn’t always an option. So, instead, consider this catfish bait or a similar product. There are multiple flavors, so you can experiment and figure out what seems to work best for you, in your regularly visited fishing spots.
  • Rod Holders are key to securing your rod and making sure it isn’t suddenly jerked away when you aren’t expecting it. Consider even a simple holder, such as this, for your boat. Or, for shore fishing, consider something similar to these.
  • A Lip Grip is sometimes necessary for securing your fish off the hook. Another method involves a proper net, such as this Make sure it is sturdy and built for the heavy fish you are bringing in, or you could place it in the net only to lose it by breaking the pole of the net.
  • You will also need a pair of pliers for removing the hooks from the fish. Make sure they are long-nose, such as these. You can also get a tool specifically designed for removing hooks, such as this.
  • You will need storage for your caught catfish, so make sure you have a basket, like this or this.
  • A Partner for the big catches. You don’t want to go fishing for the biggest fish without the means and ability to reel them in. Even with a rod holder, you have to be able to get them onto your boat, or onto the shore, and into whatever means of storage and keeping.

Without the proper gear, you will not have the best luck catching your catfish. Keep in mind that your gear may need to be switched out, depending on the type of catfish species you are catching. If you are going for the bigger fish, you don’t want a smaller basket, for instance. You will also need to consider your rob strength, your individual strength, and if you will have any help reeling in your large catch.

The Takeaway

Consider the area you will be fishing at, as well as the means in which you will fish, such as by boat or on the shore. The gear needed will be reliant on these things. The type of rigging that will work best will also be dependent on the areas and the type of catfish available. You should also make sure that you have the proper permits needed for fishing and removing fish from the area. You can learn about what you need at the Fish and Wildlife Service website.

To figure out what fish are available at your local lakes and ponds, consider contacting your local departments. You can find yours here, or consider calling your local park and recreation for more localized information, if necessary.  From them, you can also learn of any recent flood or species warnings, find resources for fishing, cooking, and releasing fish as well as find which areas allow outside boats, what kind of boats, and even information on the motors allowed in the water.

Finally, consider the area, the rules of the specific body of water, and the amount of people that are also fishing when you choose which rig you should use. Also, check how fast the water is flowing, as not all rigs work in fast-moving or even slow-moving water. Not all catfish like certain bait, and they also won’t go for certain rigs in various waters. Make sure you understand what the catfish need and what will get them to take the bait before setting up your rig.

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