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Catfish Limb Lines

Catfish Limb Lines

Catfishing with limb lines is a pretty simple process, which is often call tree limb fishing or limb lining as well. Just like many other things with catfishing, what it is called depends on the area you are in. No matter what you call it, fishing with limb lines is just another form of setline fishing.

Trotlines, juglines, bank lines, throw lines, pole lines and rubber band lines are all forms of setline fishing or set lines.

Fishing with catfish limb lines is a very popular form of catfishing and is very popular among people who are into flathead catfish.

The catfish limb line is in itself a petty simple piece of equipment although in recent years there have been some attempts to modernize this form of fishing with some high tech equipment.

The basic equipment is some braided nylon twine, some catfish bait and a hook. The bait you will use for your limb line will depend on the species of catfish that you want to target with your set lines.


First let’s start with the actual line or twine, which should be braided nylon twine. Braided nylon twine is available at just about any sporting good retailer or outlet.

Braided nylon twine comes in a variety of sizes. The smallest sized braided nylon twine you will usually find is #9 braided nylon which has a break strength of about 73 lbs. if you are going to be fishing for smaller fish like channel catfish or smaller blue catfish that would probably be sufficient but if you are going to be catfishing for bigger catfish like flathead catfish then you should use a larger braided nylon twine like a #18 braided nylon twine which has a break strength of 170 pounds. I like to use Mariner Green Braided Nylon Twine.


Hooks are a matter of personal preference. If you are going to be fishing for smaller catfish then I would recommend you use a smaller circle hook like the Eagle Claw Circle Sea Offset Circle Hooks – Model L197 or if your not a fan of circle hooks then look at any hook like a Kahle hook in size 4/0. Be advised though that circle hooks perform very well on set lines.

If your going to be going after bigger fish like big flathead catfish or big blue catfish then look at using a larger circle hook like the Daiichi Circle Chunk Light Hooks, the Mustad Demon Circle Hooks – Model 39951BLN or even a traditional J-Hook. Flathead catfish are well known for straightening out hooks. If you’re going after them then you want to make sure you use a heavy duty hook on your set lines.

Don’t be afraid to experiment with different hooks and see what works best for you.


If you’re fishing for smaller fish then you can use cut bait or some forms of prepared catfish baits. One bait you might consider is my product, Redneck’s Catfish Bait Soap which is a lye soap catfish bait that is specifically designed as catfish bait for setlines like those you will be using.

If you’re fishing for flatheads, you will want to fish with live bait. Most commonly perch, bluegill, goldfish and bullhead catfish are used as bait for flatheads. Whatever you choose you want to make sure that your bait is good and lively when you bait your lines. Having good lively bait that will stay alive is an essential step to catching flatheads. While flatheads will occasionally bite dead bait or cut bait, especially in the spring, flatheads are well known for preferring live bait.

Building and Setting Your Catfish Limb Lines

Most experienced fishermen using this method of fishing will tell you that they build their lines on the water and don’t prepare them before hand.

The preferred method is to find a tree limb overhanging the water in the lake, river or creek where you will be catfishing and identify where you will set them. The ideal tree is one that hangs over the water and has a good flexible branch. Branches that are somewhat flexible and will move slightly are preferred because they help reduce the chance of the catfish straightening the hook or pulling the hook from their mouth.

If you cannot locate a flexible branch you might want to consider adding a piece of bicycle inner tube or bungee cord to allow some flex in the line. This can be done by securely tying the inner tube bungee cord to the limb and adding the line to it at the bottom. This really only needs to be considered for branches that don’t have any flex and only if your fishing for big fish.

Tie your line to the tree using a firm knot of your choice (or to your inner tube or bungee cord).  Once you have tied off to the limb you should measure off a length of twine to your preferred depth in the water. How deep or shallow you set these in the water is a matter of personal preference and something you will learn through trial and error.

One well known technique for flatheads  is to set the bait right at the water level where the live bait is suspended just enough in the water to keep the bait alive and lively. Doing so, allows the bait fish to swim around and splash a lot and makes a lot of noise, which is believed to assist in attracting flatheads.  You can obviously rig the bait suspended below the water line as well to any depth of your liking.

If your fishing for smaller fish and baiting with cut bait, dead bait or Redneck’s Catfish Bait Soap you should experiment with setting your baits at depths below the water line and even down towards the bottom of the water column.

Slide your hook onto the line and then tie a slip knot onto the mainline with the end of your line. Once secure, slide the slip knot up on the twine about 6 inches (or more) above the hook. This allows the line to slip when the fish bites the bait allowing some “play” in the line and helps with setting the hook in the fish’ mouth. This is an optional step but can be very effective in increasing hooksets.

Some anglers will add split shot weights above the baits to help weight the lines but I typically have fished mine weightless and just used the weight of the bait to hold the line down.

Responsibility and Ethics

Obviously when you set limb lines you should keep track of where you set them and you need to make sure that you run them (check them) on a frequent basis, at a minimum twice a day, but preferably more (when baited).

Also make sure when you are done fishing that you remove them from the area.

Big catfish are breeding fish that take years to grow to large sizes. Please fish responsibly and when you catch big catfish take a picture with them and then return them for the waters to grow and continue to spawn and populate the lakes so we all have fish to enjoy for generations to come.

It only takes a few irresponsible anglers who let fish die on their lines, leave trash in the lakes, and act otherwise irresponsibly to give all of us a bad name.

Make sure that you become familiar with the laws in your state regarding fishing with a limb line or any form of set line and that you are in compliance with all state and local laws, because the laws on setline fishing will vary from state to state, and it is illegal in some states.

Make sure you visit the tackle page for the list of products that I use in my catfish guide service.

Visit all of the pages on Learn To Catch Catfish for more great catfishing tips, tricks and information. Subscribe to our daily feed for daily updates by email as we add them and our newsletter for less frequent updates and to gain access to exclusive content and promotions as they become available. You can also keep up by following on Twitter and Facebook.

Update 8/18/2010 – Video Added

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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. AWESOME, Ill have to try this.

  2. Thank you Very much I have been looking on you tube for limb line tips & tech! You tubes not the best instructor either!

  3. James Greene says:

    Hi Chad.

    I never knew about the trick where you go through the hook and hangman knot it 6 inches or so above the hook. GREAT TIP!!! Can’t wait to try this out.

    Your Friend,

    James Greene
    Mesquite TX

  4. This is the only way that we catfish! We have never built them on the water, but will prepare 40-60 lines through the week and then set them out after work on Friday. We have had luck on everything from nightcrawlers, catalpa worms, and salamanders. We seem to way more luck when we tie them under over hanging maple trees.

  5. Barry Simmons says:

    your link for #9 Twine takes you to Bass Pro shops and they say they do not carry it. I cant find number 9 anywhere. Can u help

  6. I did Google it and can’t find it anywhere. So if you are using it, where Do you buy it.

    • Just go to Walmart and get some 80lb braided line…Spiderwire works great, Fireline is pretty good too! (Though, all the Fireline I’ve used tends to hold some to a lot of memory and it’s a bit pricey, but it last forever if you treat it right [though I guess that part doesn’t really matter for limb/trot-lines unless you carefully respool it])

      If you look on eBay, they have some great generics from China too (ex Dyneema) that are under $5.

      Just remember that once braided line gets snagged, you almost always have to cut it. Also, like Chad sort of mentioned, it doesn’t stretch, so you risk the chance of the fish ripping the hook out it’s mouth (btw, thanks Chad about the inner tube/bungee cord tip!!)

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