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Trotline Fishing – Trotlines For Catfish

Trotline and Trotlines

Running a Trotline For Catfish

This is the landing page for trotline fishing and trotlines for catfish. Like many of the other articlesI have created this is a central point where I will try to keep updated information on trotlines and add links on articles I write on this subject etc as my blog continues to grow. You can learn more information about me by reading my about page.

The trotline pages on most of my websites are some of the most popular pages I have created and I have only shared small pieces of information on trotline fishing for catfish. I have a bunch of articles that I will be adding, so you can always refer back to this page for more information. You can also search articles by trotline here or view articles tagged with trotline or trotlines here.

Being a guide, manufacturer of bait for jug fishing and trotlines and one of the early promoters of catch and release of big catfish, I have received some criticism over the years not only for my use but promotion of trotlines. Like I mentioned on my jug fishing page it is unfortunate that a few irresponsible people can give an entire group of anglers a bad reputation, but my belief is that people can enjoy trotline fishing and can do so in a responsible manner. I will cover some more on this subject later.

The other thing I want to say is the correct pronunciation and spelling is trotline, or trotlines. I have no idea what a trout line is but I get a number of questions each week through the ask a question page where people are asking about troutlines.

Catching catfish with in this manner has been a common form of fishing for years, and trotlines are used widely in many different parts of the United States and are especially popular in the South. They are used in rivers, lakes, reservoirs and streams.

Fishing with this method has declined some in popularity over the last ten years or so as jug fishing has gained so much popularity. Jug fishing is preferred by many fishermen because they are so much more portable. Even though jug fishing has gained so much popularity, this method is still a very effective and simple means to fish, and still something I really enjoy doing when I have an opportunity to do so.

Trotline fishing can be an effective means for catching quite a few fish in a very short period of time. They can also be very effective at catching big fish and are very often used to target big flathead catfish with great success. It does take some preparation and planning to get them built and set in the water but the payoff can be great.

I wouldn’t suggest trotline fishing for a beginner because they can be dangerous and if you do decide to use them, always make sure you use safety precautions and make sure you are compliant with all of your state and local laws in regards to fishing with setlines.

You can buy commercially manufactured trotlines at many retail outlets and these are more than enough for fishing for smaller “eating sized” fish but if you are going to go after trophy fish, big fish or plan on leaving them in the water for extended periods of time you probably want to plan on building your own lines but picking up some trotline supplies. Commercially manufactured trotlines typically have everything you need in one package to get started fishing you just usually have to assemble the parts yourself.

Basics – Parts Of A Trotline

As previously mentioned, you can build your own line or buy commercially manufactured trotlines that are ready to fish as well.  Before you buy or build your own trotline you need to research and make sure that you are following all state and local laws.

Generally if you plan to fish for smaller catfish then a commercially manufactured trotline like the Bass Pro Shops Deluxe Trotline or the Bass Pro Shops Nylon Trotline will work just fine. If you plan on fishing for bigger catfish like using your lines for big blue catfish or flathead catfish exclusively then you will probably want to make your own heavy duty trotline. There used to be some companies that manufactured heavy duty trotlines but in recent years they seem to have disappeared, you can occasionally find some heavy duty trotlines on ebay where people build them and sell the heavy duty trotlines on ebay, otherwise you need to build one yourself.

Mainline - Typically a mainline will be 50-100 feet in length and will be made of braided nylon twine. Twisted nylon twine can be used as well but braided line will last longer. I like to use #36 braided nylon twine for my main line and use Mariner Green Braided Nylon Twine.

Barrel Swivels - Any brass barrel swivels can be used. You just need to make sure the eye of the swivel is large enough to fit over the main line. I typically use size 1/0
Bass Pro Shops Barrel Swivel

Brads – Trotline brads are used by crimping them on the line. These keep the swivels from moving up and down the main line when you set your line. If you are targeting big fish with your lines you will want to forgo the brads and use knots on either side of your swivels, but this is a time consuming process. You can also use hot glue rolled around the mainline on either side of the swivel instead of brads but this is again a time consuming process and something that should be reserved to only if you are targeting big catfish. I will go into more details on trotline brads, making trotlines with hot glue and using knots instead of both in future articles.

Leaders - Leaders are typically made of #9 braided nylon that has been doubled and length is typically from 8 inches to 12 inches but varies. I prefer to use the Mariner Green Braided Nylon Twine for my leaders but have also used the Mariner Tarred Twisted Nylon Twine as my trotline drops or leaders. I prefer the braided nylon twine over the tarred because the braided nylon twine seems to last longer and is not near as messy to work with as the tarred.

Hooks -Many different hooks are commonly used, the biggest problem is finding hooks that have a large enough eye to get the braided nylon leader line through when doubled. It is for this reason that large circle hooks and j-hooks are often used. You can use any hook as long as the eye is large enough to get the leader line through. There is a trick to using hooks with an eye that is too small but that is a lengthy post that I will have to add at a later time. I like to use Eagle Claw Lazer Sharp Circle Sea Offset Circle Hooks – Model L197 for smaller catfish although they are capable of catching a big catfish. If I am targeting big catfish with a trotline (which I rarely do) I will use the Mustad Demon Circle In-Line Hooks – Model 39951BLN or the Daiichi Bleeding Bait In-line Circle Chunk Light with Stop Gap Saltwater Hooks. These are the same hooks I use on my rod and reel guided fishing trips for trophy catfish. They are however pretty expensive to use on a catfish trotline.  I used stainless steel j-hooks for my trotline hooks for years but after using circle hooks I really prefer circle hooks as the catch ratio has increased drastically.  I have also used another popular catfishing hook the Eagle Claw Kahle Hook but they are difficult rig on the drops because the #9 braided nylon twine will not fit easily through the eye of the hook when doubled.

Again, unless you are going to set your trotline to exclusively try to catch big catfish, I would just buy the Bass Pro Shops Deluxe Trotline or the Bass Pro Shops Nylon Trotline and start catfishing with those because you get everything on one package it is precut and ready to put together and start fishing with.


Hooks/Leaders are generally spaced from 12-24″ apart on the mainline of the trotline, 24″ is most common because many states consider trotlines with hooks less than 24″ apart to be snaglines. Traditionally a long length of line anywhere from four to ten feet is left at each end of the mainline to allow plenty of length to tie the line. Again, you need to make sure you are in compliance with local laws.

Basics Of Setting Trotlines

There a number of ways to set a trotline and this really varies greatly depending on where you are fishing and where the fish are holding at that time of the year. There are really endless possibilities to set them. Setting trotlines for shallow water or shallow water to deep water is one of the more common ways of setting them. By this I mean setting one end in very shallow water and running it into water that gets progressively deep so one end is in much deeper water. They can also be set in shallow water only, in deep water only, across channels. Once of my favorite places to set them is on shallow mud flats.

When you set your trotline you need to tie one end to a fixture in the water like a stump or tree and begin feeding the line into the water, keeping tension on it. When doing this you need to be very carful not to hook yourself, as this is a common occurrence. Continue feeding the line until you get to the end you need to tie the other end off to another fixture pulling it tight in the process. Not having too much slack in the line or too much tension in the line is a key to being successful catching catfish.

In the absence of a fixture to tie your lines off (like a stump, tree or boat dock) you can use weights on either end but this gets a little more tricky to set and requires a higher degree of skill to set the line and to check it and remove fish. You can also use poles driven into the ground but this is again a lengthy process and we will go into that more in a future article (often called a pole line).

Many anglers prefer to add weight to their trotline, and the amount of weight varies. Adding weight can be critical because it helps prevent the fish from shaking the line and throwing off your baits or moving the line if you catch a big catfish on your setline. Types of weights varies but concrete cinder blocks (or parts of them) are very common as are old window weights. Some people will even make their own weights. My advice is to place at least two weights on the mainline about 1/4 down from where you tied the end of the line (on each end)

In addition to adding weights to your lines, it may also be necessary to add floats as well like an old bleach bottle or laundry detergent bottle. This is a requirement in some states and may also be required depending on how you set your lines (like if you use weights on each end instead of tying them to a permanent fixture).

Once you have your lines set you may need to add a tag or gear tag to your trotlines, as this is a requirement in most states. It is most often required that you add your name, address and phone number to your gear tag. You can make these from a piece cut from a plastic bottle writing your information on them with a sharpie marker, but there are a number of options to use. Some anglers will simply just write the information on their floats.

Once you have your lines set all that is left is to add your bait and wait for the fish. You can use a manufactured bait for trotlines and jug fishing like Redneck’s Catfish Bait Soap or other baits like threadfin shad, gizzard shad when fishing for blue cats or channels. If fishing for flathead catfish you will want to use a live bait like perch, bluegill or mud cats.

If you decide that you are going to fish using these methods, make sure you act responsibly. You need to follow the correct safety precautions, make sure you follow all state and local laws, and also make sure you are fishing in an ethical manner (like making sure that you check your lines daily at a minimum when they are baited and making sure you remove them from the water when you are done fishing with them). A few careless fishermen can give a whole group of anglers a bad reputation by not acting responsibly and ethically. Remember also to throw the big catfish back and only keep what you need. There is no sense in hauling in loads of catfish just for the sake of doing so.

I will be adding more information on trotlines and jug fishing and all other forms of fishing with setlines (like limb lines, bank lines, pole lines etc) and also adding information on how to build them, how to fish with them etc and will be including catfishing how to videos and more, so make sure you check back often. We have a ton of information available. Make sure you also check out home page where you can view all of our articles and information.

If you cannot find what you are looking for feel free to ask a question.

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Related Articles On Trotline Fishing

How To Cut Catfish Bait Soap

Catfish Bait That Stays On The Hook

Catfish Bait Soap History

Using Shad On Trotlines For Flathead Catfish

Ultimate List Catfishing Tips


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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. Steve Nichols says:

    I have fished trotlines since i was a kid, and I am 56 now……..mostly on smaller rivers……….I normally go from bank to sandbar. Illegal to go bank to bank here in Iowa. I use a 6 foot piece of 3/4 inch rebar shoved deep into the sloping edge of the sandbar. I always seine for my bait, outta smaller streams. Minnows, crawdaddys, what ever we dredge up. I also use reg. 4×8 brick, one at each end of the line…..well not at the END…..but far enuff in, to get the main line on the bottom. We run these lines from a small john boat. I also do a kinda chum, using chicken guts in a plastic jug……..thats for another time……….


    • Steve, Ever tried PVC instead of rebar? It works well and will not damage a boat if someone hits it! Just something to consider.

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