Catfish rigs: The best rigs for catfishing

Learn with us about the three key rigs: the slip sinker rig, which keeps bait near the bottom and moves freely; the Santee Cooper Rig, which lifts bait off the bottom for better scent dispersion; and the 3-way rig, which separates bait and weight for natural movement in currents.

Found across North America, catfish are strong fighters and abundant, making them exciting to catch. The article also emphasizes safe handling techniques to avoid injury from catfish spines. 

catching a catfish

What Is So Special About Catfish?

Fishing for catfish is an incredibly enjoyable activity that brings excitement and satisfaction. These powerful fish put up a strong fight, showcasing their strength and resilience. Not only are catfish abundant in numbers, but they also offer a delicious taste when prepared for a delightful dinner. One of the great aspects of catfish is their eagerness to take the bait, making them easily accessible from both the shoreline and a boat using a simple bait rig.

Catfish can thrive in a wide range of water systems, be it warm and shallow ponds or swiftly flowing rivers. While different species may exhibit preferences for specific habitats, there are key areas that generally attract catfish.

During daylight hours, they can be found in muddy water areas, such as tributaries and outflows. Additionally, deep structures like river bends, drop-off bases, deep holes, and humps are often fruitful locations for finding catfish. 

Catfish use their heightened senses of smell, taste, and barbels (whiskers) to locate food in the darkness when night falls. Thus, flats, bars, points, shorelines, and weedy areas become prime spots to catch these prowling cats during nocturnal excursions.

Contrary to popular belief, catfish are opportunistic feeders and can be enticed to bite at almost any time of the day, according to the Fairfax County local government. The time you choose for your fishing expedition should not heavily influence your chances of reeling in a catfish. Rest assured that you have favorable odds of landing a satisfying catch regardless of the hour. 

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The Best Rigs for Catfishing

Selecting the best catfish rigs may initially seem daunting due to the sheer number of different options. However, this presents an exciting opportunity to explore and discover the rig that resonates best with your style. While anglers across the globe passionately advocate for their preferred techniques, we encourage you to experiment as fishing patterns vary depending on location and species, so it's ideal to try out multiple options. To kickstart your adventure, here are a few of our top choices to get you started:

  • The slip sinker is one of the most common rigs anglers use for catfishing. It is a simple and versatile rig that uses a sinker (weight) to keep the hook and bait close to the bottom of the water. The slip sinker design enables it to move freely up and down the line, cleverly ensuring that the catfish won't sense any resistance when they eagerly bite your bait. To ensure the sinker stays in place, you can enhance the setup by adding a small plastic bead or swivel above it.

catch a catfish

One variation of the slip sinker rig is to add a peg float close to the hook so that it stays just off the bottom, and therefore the smell of the bait is not lost in the mud, this is called a Santee Cooper Rig. Its name comes from the famous Santee Cooper catfish lakes in South Carolina.


  • The 3-way rig is another popular choice as it ensures the weight and bait are kept further apart. The mainline connects to one ring of a 3-way swivel, with the other two connecting to separate lines, one with a sinker and the other with the hook and bait. The line with the hook and bait is free, allowing the bait to move naturally and lure in a juicy catch. The 3-way rig is most commonly used in rivers or where there is a current.

catfish rigs

A key point for achieving great results with the 3-way rig is discovering the ideal weight balance, according to Vermont's Agency of Natural Resources Fish and Wildlife Department. Striking this balance ensures excellent contact with the bottom, promoting increased sensitivity to bites. Finding the sweet spot where you maintain a steady connection without experiencing excessive break-offs that require frequent re-tying is essential. 


  • Slip bobber rigs are a great addition to your setup as they allow you to precisely set the depth to which your bait will sit. Like the slip sinker, the bobber can move up and down the line, so all you need to know is the optimal feeding depth for your target fish and off you go. Slip bobber rigs are great when you need to suspend your bait so it can be combined with a sinker to keep the line nice and vertical. 

rigs for catfishing

Slip Bobber rigs have an advantage over traditional bobber rigs in that the bait can be set deeper as the slip bobber will move back up when you reel in the fish. For shallow waters, a traditional bobber works well.

There are countless variations to these and many more rig types. To maximize your angling odds, it is recommended to test certain combinations, be creative and ask other anglers for their own success stories in local areas. Each species of catfish and each location present their unique qualities, so being flexible to their patterns is likely to lead to more bites!

catfish fishing

Which Line Works Best?

Knowing the limits of your equipment and your lines is essential in ensuring you spend more time fishing. Selecting the best main and leader line materials can be the difference in snagging your fish or snapping your rod. There are plenty of options to choose from, so doing your homework pays dividends. Reel Coquina is here to help you by asking the tough question: Fluorocarbon vs Mono: What’s the best leader material? 

Tie the Knot

Understanding which rigs and lines to use are great, but if you cannot tie a good knot, there is no chance of catching your target fish. It sounds simple, but there is a subtle science behind which knots to use and how to ensure they stay tightly knit. Our ultimate guide to learning how to tie a fishing knot has the necessary answers!

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Choosing the Right Bait

Now that we know which rigs, lines, and knots to use, it’s time to bait the hook. Again, there is a strong emphasis on trial and error. Catfish, like us, have unique tastes and likes, but generally speaking, a few guaranteed baits will send our whiskered friends wild. 

Anglers nationwide are well aware of the tried and true catfishing secret: chicken livers are hailed as the ultimate bait. Particularly effective in deeper waters, chicken liver entices catfish with its irresistible aroma (for them). It's important to note that the scent of the chicken liver remains potent for approximately 15 to 20 minutes, making it essential to rebait your rigs frequently to maintain its appeal.

Nightcrawlers (Earthworms) are a popular bait for catfish as they are easy to obtain (try looking in your garden) and seem a culinary delight. Easy to attach securely to your hook and resilient, they have a proven record of excelling as bait.

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Proper Handling

Properly handling catfish is essential to avoid injury. Their dorsal and pectoral spines may cause a menacing sting. "Although these stings are often innocuous, severe tissue necrosis may occur." Mann JW 3rd, Werntz JR. Catfish stings to the hand. J Hand Surg Am. 1991. The hand is the most common site of catfish stings. To be safe, hold them from below, behind the pectoral fin, to prevent spines from reaching your hands. Alternatively, grip them from above, securing the butt end of the dorsal spine between your thumb and forefinger. Seek medical help if the punctured by a spine and clean the wound. Consider using gloves for added protection. Practice and caution ensure a successful catfishing experience.