Being a catfish guide doesn’t allow me much opportunity to “just go fishing” anymore and while I do occasionally still do some jug fishing with my son I never fish with trotlines anymore. That being said I have put in more time building and fishing with trotlines that most people out there. There is a major convenience jug fishing has over fishing with trotlines so that is my preferred method of setline fishing over catfishing with a trotline or even limb lines.
Being the manufacturer of Redneck’s Catfish Bait Soap people are constantly asking me questions about setline fishing and although I have touched on some basics of trotline fishing here in the past I have never gone into much depth covering this topic so I wanted to create some new reference to send everyone to that is always asking me for this information.
In this article I will cover the basics of how to build a trotline in and then in future articles I will go further into setting them and catfishing with them.
Trotline Fishing Ethics
Before I go any further I want to say a few things. Fishing with trotlines is a highly debated topic and this is mostly because of some irresponsible people who don’t think through what they are doing and where they are setting their lines. I covered this extensively in ethical fishing with setlines and suggest you read that article.
I am also an active supporter in the trophy catch and release of blue catfish and flathead catfish over 10 lbs, regardless of how they are caught. Please practice catch and release of these big fish. Listen to our Catfishing Radio podcast on catfish conservation for more information on this.
Before building or fishing with a trotline you should research your state and local laws. This is not legal in all areas and some areas have specific legal requirements regarding length, hook spacing, number of hooks etc.
Making A Trotline Vs’ Buying One
You can go into just about any sporting goods store or bait and tackle shop and find a trotline. THEY ARE JUNK. I have yet to see a commercially manufactured trotline that is worth a flip. I am not saying there are not any out there I am just saying that you will get a far better product for the same price if you just build it yourself. In addition by the time you assemble a store bought line you really are not saving much time at all in buying one and when you build a trotline yourself correctly you will save a lot of time and frustration when you are setting it and fishing with it.
How To Build A Trotline
You are going to need the following materials to get started building your trotline.
There are no special clips, deployment devices or any other special pieces of catfish tackle or gear involved with how I build, set or fish with a trotline. There are many of these so called devices on the market and they are in my opinion a total waste of money. I am not saying they don’t work, I am just saying they are not needed and simplicity is always better in my opinion.
Here’s what you need to build a trotline. All of these items are available through the links below.
Mainline – Mariner Green Braided Nylon Twine – Either #36 or #48 braided nylon twine. It must be braided, do not use twisted nylon twine. There is no need to use anything heavier.
Dropper Lines – Use #9 braided nylon twine. Again, do not use twisted nylon twine. I prefer the dropper twine to be a different color than the mainline.
Swivels – 1/0 brass barrel swivels. You don’t need anything fancy or expensive. The expensive swivels will not do anything for you that the cheap swivels won’t do.
Trotline Brads (Optional) – You can opt to use brads or use one of the alternate methods below. Brads can be hard to find, if you cannot find them contact Olsen’s Pro Am Fishing Shop.
Hooks – Eagle Claw Lazer Sharp Circle Sea Offset Circle Hooks – Model L197 ** There are better catfish hooks out there for rod and reel fishing but they would break the bank and not be affordable in the numbers needed for a trotline.
Scissors – For cutting the lines.
Cigarette Lighter – For melting the lines.
Ruler or Tape Measure – For measuring length and spacing.
Assembling The Mainline
This is the main part of the trotline that holds everything together, your #36 or #48 braided nylon twine. Again, you need to check your state and local laws before you proceed as there may be specific requirements for length, number of hooks, hook spacing etc.
Here in Texas the mainline cannot exceed 600 feet and there can be no more than 50 hooks. The hooks also cannot be less than 3 feet part.
For these purposes I am going to build a 50 hook line so to comply with the three foot spacing that is 150 feet long. I also want an extra 25 feet on either end of my line so I have excess line to work with when setting the line. You can always make the line shorter or tie off the excess but if you make the line too short you will have a weaker line by having to knot the lines together.
With all this in mind I am going to cut the main line to 200 feet long.
After I make the cuts I melt both ends with the lighter to keep them from fraying.
Next we need to add swivels to our mainline. I am going to use 3 foot spacing for my swivels and since I have 25 feet of spare line on each end I will place the first swivel at 25’ from the end.
There are several methods for attaching swivels.
Good – Trotline Brads or Hot Glue
Best – Knots
Trotline brads will work for most applications. This is the fastest way to build a trotline and is easy to do. The downside is that a big fish can pull the brads loose but it is a quick and simple repair. Since we are going to release any catfish we catch that are over 10 lbs, this method should be more than sufficient because we are not going to worry about losing big fish.
Hot Glue – is another alternative. You basically put a lump of hot glue on the mainline and use it as a stopper. It works but is a total pain in the rear to do and I hate working with hot glue.
Knots – This method is to tie an overhand knot in the mainline on either side of the swivel. This is the most time consuming way to build a trotline but is also by far the most durable.
Assembling The Dropper Lines
The next step is cutting the dropper lines. These are the lines that come down from the mainline, attach to the swivels and have the hooks on them. I like to make these 12” long and double them for both durability and ease of tying them. To save time, I cut all of my dropper lines at one time by cutting a section of cardboard 12” long wrapping the line around the cardboard repeatedly and then cut one end of the lines.
After making the cuts I melt both ends of each dropper with your lighter to keep them from fraying.
The reason behind using a different colored dropper from the mainline is to make it easier to identify and remove tangles.
Now, pull the two ends of each dropper together even and tie them together using an overhand knot.
Attaching Hooks To Drops
Once we have all of our materials cut we are going to attach the hooks to the drop lines. To do this we will insert the bottom of the doubled line through the eye of the hook and then pull the other portion of the doubled line through the center of that loop, and then pull it tight.
I like to attach all of the hooks to the lines at one time and insert the hooks into a piece of foam while I am doing this, to keep them from getting tangled.
Attaching Drops To Mainline
The last and final step is adding the drops to the mainline. There are a variety of ways to do this but my preference is to stretch the line out on an area where I can work with the line extended and as it will be set in the water. This has always been the easiest way to do this. Because you will have hooks dangling in the air, make sure you don’t have kids, livestock or pets running around in the area where you are working.
I simply work my way up and down the line and add the hooks one by one.
Trotline Gear Tags
Many states require the use of a gear tag on your trotline. Make sure you have these ready and available when you build your line but I prefer to attach the gear tags to my trotline when I set it in the water.
There are a variety of options on what to use for a gear tag. Over the years I used everything from a piece of a gallon milk jug with my information written in a permanent marker to a piece of an aluminum can. The aluminum can is far more durable. I would take a piece of coke can and cut a small section of it out and flatten it, and then cover all the edges with several layers of masking tape (so there are no sharp edges exposed) and punch a hole in it. I would then use a nail or an awl to write my information into the tag.
Every state has different requirements for gear tags so again, make sure you research your state and local laws.
Storing Your Trotline
There are a variety of options for storing a trotline and I have seen or used just about everything out there over the years. Many hardcore trotlines and commercial fisherman build a “jump box” from wood used to store and deploy trotlines but in my opinion a piece of Styrofoam or a Styrofoam ice chest will work just as good as anything else and is much cheaper and easier.
I do not suggest that you invest any money in any commercially manufactured storage devices or deployment devices. They are not going to save you any time, are expensive and certainly will not help you catch more catfish.
The styrofoam ice chest works well because you can put the lines down inside of it and it stores everything nice and neat. Just throw a brick down in the bottom of it so it doesn’t blow around in your catfish boat.
Other Supplies Needed To Make A Trotline
The only other items you need after you have built your line are a few spare pieces of twine to add weights, some weights, and some floats if you plan on floating the trotline.
You can use anything for weight and the amount of weight can vary. I prefer a couple of cinder blocks if I am catfishing with a trotline for bigger catfish but if I my intention is to catch smaller 1-10 lb catfish then bricks have always been more than sufficient and they are easy to get. I like to have about 8-10 bricks on hand for the line. I will cover some more on this when I talk about setting the trotline.
Floats are required in some states but are not in others. Some people add floats and some don’t. I have fished both ways and there are a variety of reasons why you would want to (or need to) add floats. If you are setting the line in deeper water then adding a float is necessary. The negative to adding floats is it makes the line very obvious and often times others will come and check them for you. Again, when I talk about setting and fishing with the lines I will cover some more information on this topic.
The best floats I have found are simple white bleach bottles. Just make sure you take the labels off of them before you use them so you don’t get trash in the lake or river.
These are the basic steps for how to build a trotline and the supplies needed. I will cover more on where to set your lines, how to set them and some of the basics of fishing for catfish with trotlines in a future article.
I have covered all of the basic steps of how to build a trotline in the video below as some of these steps are a little hard to explain, watching the video may help you understand the process better.