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The Best Catfish Rigs: Blue and Flathead Essentials

Last Updated: February 11th, 2021
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If there’s one thing that separates novice catfish anglers from the pros, it’s rigging. Good rigs are designed to present live bait attractively, keep it put in a strong current, and control the depth of presentation to a tee.

For blues and flatheads, that’s essential. Unlike the scavenging channel cat, they hunt their meals and much prefer a tasty, live shad or minnow to stinking punch baits or rancid chicken livers.

But to make live bait work for you, you need the right rigs--so keep reading!

Related: Catfish Tips, Catfish Line, Catfish Rods, Catfish Reels

Gear Up for Catfish Rigging

You’ll need some basic supplies to create catfish rigs, and with this list in hand, you’ll be prepared like a pro.

Gamakatsu 4X Strong Octopus Hooks

We’ve reviewed catfish hooks before, and if you want the whole scoop, take a look. Our favorite circle (or octopus) hook below a size 8/0, the Gamakatstu is an amazingly strong, scary sharp 4X.

Guaranteed, it’ll lock a monster blue or flathead to your line.

Gamakatsu Octopus Circle 4X Strong Hook (25 Piece), NS Black, 5/0

Amazon 

Catfish Sumo Heavyweight Catfish Hooks

If you need a big hook, Catfish Sumo is the same to trust. Available in 8/0 and 10/0, these bad boys are the trophy cat-man’s best friend.

Heavyweight Catfish Hooks - Offset Octopus Circle Hooks - 25 Pack (8/0)

Amazon 

Bullet Weights Egg Fishing Sinker

Egg sinkers are essential for catfish rigging, and these are available in a variety of weights to suit your conditions.

Bullet Weights EGI3-24 Egg Fishing Sinker (5-Pack), 3-Ounce

Amazon 

Eagle Claw 8 mm Beads

Plastic beads are an important component of Slip and Slip Float Rigs. In addition to arresting the movement of an egg float, they add a bit of color and vibration to the mix.

Eagle Claw A8BEAD20R Plastic Beads, 8 mm, Red, 20 Piece

Amazon 

Mimilure Soft Silicon Float Stops

Float stops are essential when you run a slip float.

Mimilure 100 Pcs Rubber Fishing Bobber Stopper,6 in 1 Float Sinker Stops,Black Orange Oval Cylinder Float Stop Available (Black & Oval, M)

Amazon 

Riptail Barrel Swivels

Barrel swivels are a great way to attach a leader to your main line, and lots of rigs use them. The largest offering from Riptail is rated to 155 pounds, so there’s no question if they’ll hold!

Riptail Barrel Fishing Swivels – Steel with Corrosion-Resistant Finish, Size #8 (45lb) - 100 Pack

Amazon 

Dr. Fish Oval Foam Floats

Ideal for giving your live bait a little lift from the bottom, these oval floats won’t deaden a minnow or shad’s frantic action.

Dr.Fish 30 Pack Oval Foam Floats Trout Floats Fishing Rig Floats Pompano Walleye Catfish Crawler Harness Bead Stopper Sinker Stops Red 0.45X0.78

Amazon 

South Bend Catfish Float

Among my favorite catfish floats, South Bend’s option is easy to see and just as easy to use.

These arrive with a string-style stop, but you’ll eventually want silicon stoppers.

South Bend Catfish Pole Float

Amazon 

Scotank Three-Way Swivels

Big cats demand strong swivels, and Cotank’s got you covered. Their #1 is rated to 100 pounds, so you don’t need to worry about them holding up to a monster.

50 Pcs 3 Three Way Swivel Black Stainless Steel Preventing Line Twist Durability Terminal Tackle for Trolling Catfish Rig Walleye Game Fish Accessories Bottom Rigs for Saltwater Freshwater

Amazon 

Bullet Weights Disc Sinker

Available in 1-, 2-, 3-, and 4-ounce options, these disc sinkers really stay put in hard currents and allow you to cast a Three-Way Rig a country mile.

Bullet Weights Disc Fishing Sinker (8-Pack), 2-Ounce - DSI2-24

Amazon 

Best Catfish Rigs: Step-by-Step Instructions

The Slip Sinker Rig (A Modified Carolina Rig)

Slip Sinker Rig

The Slip Sinker Rig is a close relative of the Carolina Rig, an awesome largemouth bass option that you’ll see fished on the tournament circuit.

For cats, it works wonders. That sliding sinker allows you to cast it well, and it doubles to keep your minnow or shad where you need it, even in heavy current. And if you give this rig a tug or two, that sinker will slap the bead, creating some attractive vibration.

With sufficient leader in tow, your live bait has room to run frantically, and the Slip Sinker Rig will keep it up out of the muck.

To tie a Slip Sinker Rig, follow these steps:

  1. Slide an egg sinker onto your main line. 
  2. Follow the sinker with a bead.
  3. Attach a heavy-duty barrel swivel with a Uni Knot, wet it, and tighten it down, trimming the tag end.
  4. Cut approximately 18 inches of tough leader.
  5. Using a Palomar Knot, attach a strong hook. Wet your knot, tighten it, and trim the tag end.
  6. Attach the leader to your barrel swivel using a Uni Knot. Wet it, tighten it down, and trim the tag end.

The Slip Float Rig

slip float rig

Experienced cat-men know that blues and flatheads prefer live bait, and rather than scavenging, they actively hunt.

The Slip Float Rig is an ideal way to present a live minnow or small shad, and it allows you to control depth really easily. You don’t want your live bait buried in the mud and muck on the bottom; it needs to be swimming erratically a foot or two above that.

Easy to cast and easy to rig, this is a killer option when you’re after large fish.

To tie a Slip Float Rig, follow these steps:

  1. Attach a float stop to your line and follow it with a bead.
  2. Slide a slip float onto your line behind the stop and bead.
  3. Follow the slip float with an egg sinker.
  4. Add a second bead to your line.
  5. Attach a heavy-duty barrel swivel with a Uni Knot, wet it, and tighten it down, trimming the tag end.
  6. Cut approximately 18 inches of tough leader.
  7. Using a Palomar Knot, attach a strong hook. Wet your knot, tighten it, and trim the tag end.
  8. Attach the leader to your barrel swivel using a Uni Knot. Wet it, tighten it down, and trim the tag end.

The Santee Cooper Rig

Santee Cooper Rig

The Santee Cooper Rig is essentially a Slip Sinker Rig with a twist.

By adding a float to the leader, it buoys your live bait further from the bottom, acting something like a Slip Float Rig in reverse.

By varying the length of the leader and the float stop, you can control the height of your presentation, and for water that’s too deep for a Slip Float Rig, this is just murder on big cats.

To tie a Santee Cooper Rig, follow these steps:

  1. Add an egg sinker to your main line.
  2. Attach a heavy-duty barrel swivel with a Uni Knot, wet it, and tighten it down, trimming the tag end.
  3. Cut approximately 24 inches of tough leader.
  4. Using a Palomar Knot, attach a strong hook. Wet your knot, tighten it, and trim the tag end.
  5. Attach a float stop about a foot from your hook.
  6. Slide a foam float onto your leader behind the stop.
  7. Attach the leader to your barrel swivel using a Uni Knot. Wet it, tighten it down, and trim the tag end.

The Three-Way Rig

three-way-rig for catfish

The Three-Way Rig has been adopted by legions of catfish anglers, and it’s a great option when you’re fishing in current.

Using a heavy sinker to keep it put, while running a leader that holds live bait down-stream, it’s won its reputation as cat-catcher.

Just be sure to run a robust three-way swivel: it will take a beating from a big flathead!

To tie a Three-Way Rig, follow these steps:

  1. Attach your main line to the top of a three-way swivel using a Uni Knot.
  2. Wet the knot, tighten it down, and trim the tag end.
  3. Cut a length of line (dropper line) to determine the depth of your presentation. I start with 12 to 18 inches but vary that as necessary. I don’t recommend using strong line for the dropper, as you may need to break it if it snags.
  4. Using a Uni Knot, attach this line to a disc sinker.
  5. Wet the knot, tighten it down, and trim the tag end.
  6. Attach the weighted line to the bottom of your three-way swivel using a Uni Knot.
  7. Wet the knot, tighten it down, and trim the tag end.
  8. Cut 12 to 18 inches of leader, and using a Snell Knot, attach a strong hook.
  9. Wet the knot, tighten it down, and trim the tag end.
  10. Using a Uni Knot, attach the hook and leader to the rearward facing eye of the three-way swivel.
  11. Wet the knot, tighten it down, and trim the tag end.

Final Thoughts

We hope this article has helped you learn a new rig or improve an old one, and as avid fishermen ourselves, we know the value of a solid tutorial.

If this article has helped you, we’d love to hear about it.

Please leave a comment below.

 

About The Author
Pete D
Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Pete grew up fishing on the Great Lakes. When he’s not out on the water, you can find him reading his favorite books, and spending time with his family.
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