For a beginner it can be really intimidating picking the proper rig to go cat fishing. There are hundreds of different rigs and styles out there. So I am going to walk you through a rig that works all over the world and is the most versatile and simple of any cat fish rig I know: The basic fish finder rig.
This rig is a super easy beginner catfish rig. What makes this so simple is that it can be fished just about anywhere, it only requires three pieces of tackle to make and the whole thing is tied with only three knots.
The basic fish finder rig is comprised of a sliding lead (“sinker”), a swivel, some leader and then the hook.
Why is this such a great rig for beginners?
The fish finder rig is great because it is simple, it doesn’t require any expensive parts, its sensitive and it doesn’t spook fish. This rig is sensitive because every little movement of the hook sends vibrations straight back to the rod without the lead interfering. If the lead did not slide, the vibrations would be dampened by the lead.
The fish finder rig doesn’t spook fish as easily because the fish don’t feel any resistance when they pick up the bait. Because the lead slides along the main line, the fisherman can control how much resistance the fish feels. If the fisherman fish’s with the main line tight, the fish feels tension right away and the hook pulls into the fish’s mouth sooner. If the fisherman fishes with slack line the fish can swim away with the bait before it begins to feel anything. This allows the fisherman to adjust the tension in the line depending on whether the fish are bold or spooky when they bite.
How do you fish the fish finder rig?
This rig belongs on the bottom. You use it when the fish are feeding on the bottom. Most of the time cat fish are feeding at or near the bottom. You cast this rig out where the catfish are and let it settle to the bottom. Once on the bottom you reel the line in slowly until you feel tension when the lead hits the swivel. Most of the time I fish this rig with my line tight enough that there is a very slight bend in the tip of my rod. If the fish are grabbing the bait very cautiously and not immediately running away with the bait, then I switch to putting about 12-18inches of slack into the line.
Choosing the sinker.
There are two ways to make a sinker or lead slide along the line. First option: you use an inline lead. An inline lead is basically a big lead bead. You feed the line through the hole in the center of the lead and you are done. Second option: you use a slide with a clasp on it and you clip the lead to the slide.
Using an inline lead is my favorite way to go but it has its limitations and its benefits. An inline lead is less likely to get tangled in the line and it requires one less piece of hardware. However, using a slider allows you to easy change leads. If you are fishing in a river you may need different amounts of lead depending on where in the current you are fishing. More current, more lead. Less current, less lead. If you have a slider you can adjust your lead to match the current instead of cutting your line and retying each time.
When choosing the size of your lead, you definitely want enough lead to cast far enough and enough weight to keep from being dragged away in the current or wind. But once you have got enough lead to do those things you also want enough lead to set the hook. The lead is what helps the hook dig into the fish’s mouth before you grab the rod. I prefer at least 2 ounces of lead when fishing for catfish with a fish finder rig, but 3/4 oz will do in a pinch if you are using sharp smaller hooks.
The shape of the leader depends on whether you are more concerned with casting distance or preventing your lead from rolling around. Flat leads tend not to be as affected by current. Round leads tend to cast further. So pick your shape based on what you are trying to achieve/prevent.
The swivel’s main purpose it to stop the lead from sliding all the way up to the hook. Generally you want there to be about 6-18inches of line in between the hook and the lead. However, you don’t always need a swivel. When fishing in current, you can put the lead above the hook without a swivel. After the lead settles to the bottom you can let out 12 inches of line and the current will sweep the hook downstream away from the lead. So the swivel is really only necessary when you are not fishing in significant current.
When I do fish with a swivel I like to have something rubber or plastic in between the swivel and the lead. Without a stopper or bumper inbetween the swivel and the lead, sometimes the swivel will partially jam into the inline lead or the slider and prevent the lead/slider from sliding. A bead or rubber sleeve can prevent this.
I attach the lines to either end of the swivel using a Palomar knot. I also like to use a helicopter sleeve to protect and camouflage my swivels. The swivel you choose should be as strong as your leader or better. If the swivels don’t tell you their strength on the package, I generally use a #8 swivel for my beginner cat fishing rigs.
If you want to get fancy you can get put a fancy little swivel clip on the leader end of the swivel so that you can switch out leaders and hooks easily. This is nice for switching rigs quickly.
You want an abrasive resistance leader. I love braided lines and highly recommend the Spiderwire Stealth. The leader should be slightly weaker than your mainline so if you break off it breaks off bellow the swivel and you get your lead back. The leader should be about 6-18″ long.
Circle hooks are far and away the best choice for beginner catfish rigs. Circle hooks work by only digging into the catfish’s mouth as the hook is being pulled out of the catfish’s mouth. This means that catfish rarely swallow circle hooks. You’ll find that almost all of the cat fish will be hooked in the corner of the mouth or in the lips. If you choose to use a J hook the fish may swallow the hook and get it stuck in their throat or gut. Circle hooks are so much easier on the fish and easier to get out. You do NOT set the hook when using a circle hook. You simply wait until the fish has hooked itself, then begin reeling.
I generally use a 4/0 Gamagatsu circle hook for most beginner catfish rigs, but if I am going for trophy cat fish I will upgrade to a bigger hook (up to 10/0).
I generally attach the hook to the leader using the improved clinch knot.