The goal when choosing fishing line is to find something heavy enough that is capable of landing the fish you will be catching but still maintaining an appropriate balance of performance.A good rule of thumb to follow is the heavier the line is the more difficult it is to cast and work with when you tie catfish rigs. Finding a good balance between line that is heavy enough to land big catfish yet still maintains a good ability to cast will make your time on the water more enjoyable, will help you land more fish and also save you a lot of money in the long run.
As a general rule, anglers have tendency to go way overboard and make a lot of poor decisions when it comes to fishing line for catfish. This is often because they don’t understand how their fishing reel drag system works and they don’t understand catfish fishing reels and how they work.
I fish in lakes, reservoirs and small rivers with very little current. I am not a big river fisherman.
I prefer monofilament fishing line and do not like braided fishing line at all. Braided fishing line is one of the most overused items in fishing. For some reason people think that because they could catch an 80 lb catfish, they need to use 80 lb fishing line, and this could not be further from the truth.
Big Catfish, Big Fishing Line?
“Splash” the 121 Lb Texas State Record blue catfish, and former world record blue catfish, was caught on 20 lb test monofilament fishing line.
The current world record catfish caught in Virginia in 2011 weighed 143 lbs and was caught on 30 lb test monofilament fishing line.
Catching these fish on fishing line that has a break strength that is a fraction of the weight of the fish was all possible due to a smooth drag system on the fishing reel and having it set properly. With a good drag system in the fishing reel and it set properly you can land anything that swims in freshwater with 20 to 30 lb test monofilament.
The Abu Garcia 6500C3 fishing reel is the most popular fishing reel among catfish anglers and it has a drag system of about fifteen pounds. What does that mean to you? It means that that 60 and 80 pound fishing line does absolutely nothing for you.
What About Braided Fishing Line?
There is a time and place for braided fishing line. If you are fishing in deep heavy cover with lots of nasty stuff that could break your line, then braid is a good line to use. I still don’t use it though and I rarely have problems losing fish. There was a point in my fishing, before I became a guide that I thought braided line was great but I learned some valuable lessons along the way.
If you are fishing in big rivers with heavy current, braid is a very popular choice for fishing line because you get a higher tensile line with a smaller diameter, which helps the line cut through current. Less drag on the line in heavy current means your catfish baits stay in the right place easier.
There are numerous Catfishing Radio podcasts where I discuss braided fishing line with big river anglers so if you are fishing big rivers with heavy current go back and listen to those podcasts in the archives.
My take on braided line is most anglers don’t need it (or at least a small fraction of the people that think they need to actually do) and it should always be used as a last resort.
Braided fishing line is very expensive, and you can easily pay 2-3 times more for braided line over monofilament.
Braided line has no stretch, so it is very hard on fishing reels and if you are not careful you can damage your reels when trying to break the fishing line or free from a snag.
Continued heavy long term use of braided line will also damage fishing rods. I threw away a dozen fishing rods because the braided line had worn a groove into the rod eyes which caused the line to snap every time I set the hook on a fish. That “groove” in the eyes was like a razor when it came in contact with the fishing line.
Last but not least, braid does not cast or perform as well as monofilament.
Specific to fishing in lakes, reservoirs, creeks, small rivers and ponds, monofilament fishing line will work best for most anglers. If you are targeting catfish in big rivers with heavy current many anglers use braid and monofilament. The best advice I can offer is to experiment and decide what works best for you.
Channel Catfish Fishing Line
For channel catfish I use 12 lb test fishing line. I like this because it is heavy enough that it can handle the biggest channel catfish we generally catch plus gives me some extra cushion.
This 12 lb test line is heavy enough it doesn’t snap easily and still small enough in diameter that I can still fill my 5500C3 fishing reel with a good amount of fishing line.
Near 100% of the fishing I do for channel catfish is done with a rig I call the Secret Catfish Rig. I use this rig because it is more sensitive than any other rig and it allows me to do what I call “finesse fishing” for channel catfish. When “finesse fishing” I rely on being able to get baits in very particular areas to produce fish and the 12 lb test fishing line provides a good balance between strength and casting ability.
I prefer high visibility fishing line like bright yellow or bright green. Catfish are not “line shy” like many other fish so line color is of little concern and the high visibility fishing line allows me to see where my baits are and where my line is at any given time.
More important than a particular brand, is just sticking with a good brand fishing line that will hold up well. Fishing line is not an area you want to try to save money on and pinch pennies if possible.
You can certainly use heavier fishing line than 12 lb test for channel catfish but I have never found a need to. This heavier line also does not fit into the techniques I use finesse fishing for channel catfish with the Secret Catfish Rig.
Blue and Flathead Catfish Fishing Line
My fishing for blue catfish ranges from targeting fish from 1 to 10 lbs to targeting trophy class fish. When fishing for flathead catfish I am typically catching trophy class fish exclusively as well.
When you target and hook big catfish, fishing line is critical. Don’t get me wrong, it’s important when fishing for smaller fish but when it comes to big trophy class fish, fishing line is critical to landing big catfish.
I use 20 lb test monofilament and every single one of the guides and experienced catfish anglers I know I know use 20 or 30 lb test monofilament as well with the exception of the big river anglers who use braid.
I prefer 20 lb test fishing line for catfish because it casts better than 30 lb test (due to the smaller line diameter) but I also find that 30 lb test fishing line is just too difficult to break when I get hung up. For some reason the jump from 20 lb to 30 lb makes a huge difference and the 30 lb test line causes more problems than the additional 10 lbs of break strength is worth.
This is especially true when drift fishing. I find that when drift fishing for catfish the 30 lb test line creates significantly more problems than 20 lb test line does.
I have caught (and watched my clients catch) countless numbers of trophy blue catfish over the years and have never once had the fishing line snap while reeling a big catfish in. The line breaking with 20 lb test is not a problem as long as you have the drag set properly on the fishing reel.
The High Vis Advantage
The fishing line color is equally important as choosing the right size fishing line. I prefer high visibility fishing line. My preference is bright yellow and bright green is my second choice.
When fishing for blue and flathead catfish it is common practice to fish with multiple rods at one time. I will often have as many as 9-10 fishing rods in the water at one time depending on what techniques I am using and how many clients I have in the boat with me.
When you have multiple rods in the water it’s important to understand where the lines are at all times, and understand where they are in relation to each other, it doesn’t matter if you are drift fishing or anchored and catching catfish.
In an ideal world, all catfish would take the bait and swim directly away from the fishing rod in a straight line but that happens a small portion of the time.
Successful anglers understand this and use high visibility fishing line to their advantage. Hi vis fishing line for catfish has nothing at all to do with looking cool or keeping up with the latest fad, it’s all about function.
It’s common for catfish to take the bait and run in any direction including sideways and towards the fishing rod so being able to clearly see the fishing line and what is taking place is critical. If the line suddenly goes slack, it’s a good indication that something has hit, or something has hit and is moving towards the fishing rod.
If a line moves left or right, something has hit and is swimming sideways with the bait. Often times the only way to tell this is by seeing the line in relation to other lines in the water.
In addition, keeping a tight line can be critical, especially if fishing with circle hooks or relying on a bait clicker to alert you. With high visibility fishing line you can easily see your lines and constantly monitor them, not only for a tight line but also for an alert that will help you land your next fish.
When you start using fishing line that you can really see well and start learning to read the fishing line, recognizing the variances in bites and understanding that not all fish grab your catfish bait and run away from you, you will become a more successful angler and you will start catching more catfish.
Leader Line For Catfish
Most of the catfish rigs you use will involve the use of a leader line.
I rarely use a leader line for channel catfish but when fishing for blue catfish and flathead catfish I always use a leader line.
Leader line is traditionally a piece of monofilament fishing line that is heavier than your main line and it’s traditionally clear fishing line.
The purpose of leader line is (in no particular order):
1. To have a clear piece of monofilament fishing line on the end of your high visibility line.
2. Serve as a “shock absorber” for the fishing line. The use of heavier leader line (and a properly set drag) allows you to land fish that are much heavier than the break strength of your main fishing line).
3. Provide additional abrasion resistance so the line doesn’t break. The inside of the mouth on a catfish is very rough (like sand paper) and the mouth rubbing up against light weight fishing line can cause the line to snap.
4. Connect the hook to the swivel. Without the use of a swivel the fish can “roll” the line up putting it under tension, causing it to snap.
I fish with a 20 lb mainline and generally use either 40lb test or 50lb test clear monofilament fishing line for my leader. This is a good balance of line when fishing for blue catfish and flathead catfish.
In all the years I have been catfishing I have never had a leader line break on me and I see no need to use anything heavier than 50 lb test in most applications.
Just like with main line fishing line I have never had a leader snap in the process of landing fish, but it’s all about a good smooth drag system on your fishing reel and having the drag set correctly.
Gearing up with the right catfish tackle is important to your success catching catfish. With the right fishing line on your reels and the right catfish rods your time on the water will be more productive and it will certainly aid in helping you catch more fish.
To get more in depth information on catfish tackle and gear checkout the free Catfish Tackle 101 and Catfish Gear 101 ebooks from Learn To Catch Catfish. These free guides cover everything you need to know about rods, reels and tackle for fishing for catfish and help you catch more and bigger catfish.