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Balloon Fishing With Balloon Rigs

balloon rig balloon fishing

The balloon rig or “balloon fishing” has been a very popular fishing rig for striper fishermen for a number of years and has also become popular with catfish anglers for certain applications. This is also a popular rig for fishing for a number of other species of saltwater species of fish.

There are many different variations of the balloon rig and options you can use when balloon fishing. I’ll cover some of the basics here to get you started with a good understanding of balloon rigs and balloon fishing.

This certainly isn’t a catfish rig you’ll use every time you go fishing and in every situation but there are situations where rigging with a balloon rig might just outperform anything else.

It surprises me how few anglers use this technique because in the right situation it can be lethal for putting fish on the end of your fishing line.

Why Use A Balloon Rig?

The balloon tied to the fishing line is  partially blown up and functions just like a cork or bobber would holding the bait up off the bottom of the lake or river.

Because the balloon is much larger than a cork or bobber (like a slip float), it has a much greater surface area, therefore the level of resistance is greater when a fish strikes therefore creating a better hookset. The other advantage is that because the balloon is so large, it can be used to move the bait across the surface of the water.

Balloon fishing is also done because because it make it possible to suspend baits. For instance, if you are in 50 feet of water and you think the catfish are suspended at 25 feet, the aid of a balloon can allow you to fish multiple lines at a set depth and get the lines away from the boat or your shore location.

This isn’t a something that happens often with catfish but there are certain seasons when the catfish will suspend this way (like in the presence of a thermocline).

When fish are suspended far from the bottom it doesn’t make sense to use the bottom as a reference point to bring the baits up. So you use the top of the water as a reference point to move the baits down to the target area.

In some instances when fishing from a boat it would be preferred to use something like a slip sinker rig and simply lower the baits to the target depth. The need to get the baits away from the boat or the angler arises at times though and you can achieve this through the use of a balloon rig.

For instance, if you are fishing in deep water and need to cover a large area suspending baits, you could do this with a balloon but couldn’t with a slip sinker rig hanging vertically from a boat.

Allowing you to cover water you couldn’t normally get to or allowing you to drift water you couldn’t normally reach though is one of the biggest advantages of balloon fishing.

A prime example of this is when bank fishing on lakes, rivers and in dam tailraces. Balloon fishing allows you to “float” baits out to different areas and cover more water. They have a much larger surface area than other bobbers and catch more wind, allowing it to drift further and faster.

Over the years I have seen some very extensive plans people use for balloon fishing.

I even spoke with one catfish angler who fishes from the bank and uses these and a slip sinker rig.

He ties the balloon to the line right above the rig and allows it to drift away from the bank with the wind and then shoots it with a BB gun, breaking it and dropping the bait to the bottom so he ends up tight lined with a slip sinker rig.  This allows drifting the baits to an area much further than he would ever be able to cast to.

A good friend of mine fishes from the shore and uses the balloon rig to simulate drift fishing from the shore. This allows him to cover water he wouldn’t normally be able to fish, and it works!

How To Tie The Balloon Rig

Setting up this rig and getting started balloon fishing is simple.

You’ll learn to tie this with a slip sinker rig but there are countless variations you could use. The use and applications of the balloon is more important than the actual rig.

I’ve traditionally used these techniques with a slip sinker rig. You can find full instructions on the slip sinker rig here.

After you tie the slip sinker rig (or your preferred fishing rig) you simply add a balloon to the mainline above the egg sinker. This can be done by simply tying the balloon to the main line or through the use of a sinker bumper, bobber stop and snap swivel.

In deeper water using a bobber stop, sinker bumper and snap swivel is preferred.

The snap swivel is attached to the base of the balloon and the closed end of the swivel simple slides on the main line. The bobber stop and sinker bumper are used to set the depth of the balloon just like when fishing with a slip bobber. This allows you to suspend baits in deeper water and with the use of a bobber stop you’ll have simple hassle free casting and retrieving.

To get more information on fishing with these and other rigs for catching catfish check out the catfish rigs page. You’ll find all the information you need on the best catfish rigs.


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About Chad

Chad Ferguson is a professional catfish guide and founder of Learn To Catch Catfish. Click here to subscribe for more exclusive catfish fishing tips by email and then follow on Twitter or Google


  1. Bob Mueller says:

    Chad and Brethern:

    The lake we fish is shallow and I may try the balloon rig if I want my neighbors to think I am really a cutting edge fisherman, but the slip sink rig, if I followed Chad’s instructions has to be one of the better methods to catch fish for me. The balloon may hold some promise for drift fishing, because the shallow water allows me to cast a reasonable distance and then drift. Is there any bait that is better in the late Fall, other than cut bait? The weather has been fairly warm and the fish are not where I think they should be, but the bait, unless it is cut bait does not bring consistent results. Although my wife almost always catches fish with hot dogs. I think she catches the same fish over and over, but I have no way of proving it. Fish tags anyone?


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