Trotline 101 Build a Trotline for Catfish Fishing Check the regulations concerning a trotline in your state, in particular, the maximum number of hooks and hook spacing. I like to stay clear of violations and miscounts by the ranger by simply making my trotlines hold fewer hooks than the maximum and space the hooks with a clear margin so that the ranger does not have to measure them, but can see that they are spaced farther apart than the minimum. Use a good tarred twisted nylon cord of at least 250 pound test for the mainline, plain swivels (no snaps) of an adequate size to slip over the mainline easily (Size 4 or larger), 150 pound test braided or twisted nylon for the drops and your favorite style hooks. To start, thread the proper number of swivels over the end of the mainline, using one three-way swivel on each end and in the middle. (Optionally, use 1 3-way swivel every 5th place for suspended operation) Slide all of the swivels down the mainline leaving the first 30 to 50 feet empty. With the line on the other side of the swivels still wound up, tie an overhand knot on both sides of the swivel nearest the 30-50 foot end. Continue extending the trotline and tying overhand knots on both sides of each swivel, maintaining a distance between each swivel longer than the minimum dimension required by your state's regulation (see Note 1 & Note 2). When finished, simply wind up the line on a spool similar to the wire spools that electrical building wire comes on. Next, using the 150 pound nylon line, make the proper number of droppers for the hooks. Measure and burn the line into 30 to 36" lengths over a candle, being careful of the molten ends until they cool off. Tie the ends of one piece together in an overhand knot then open the loop and pull the knot tight. Close the loop with the knot on the side and tie an overhand knot about 2 inches from either end to create end loops. Poke the loop through the eye of your favorite trotline hook from the side of the bend and then push the hook through the loop like a slipknot. Attach the line to the trotline swivel in the same manner. The three-way swivels were used to allow a place to tie a float with the required identification tag and to allow suspending the line at a chosen level, such as just above the thermocline, or just below the minimum depth. For instance, if the thermocline is at 20 feet, tie an 18 foot line between a float such as an empty 2-liter soda bottle and the third point of the swivel. This will suspend the hooks just above the thermocline. Always tie a small weight to the corresponding three-way to pull the line down to the chosen level. (Note 1) The minimum length between the swivels can easily be maintained by using a marked board or a yardstick on the worktable. (Note 2) This step can be modified by using crimp-on stops to either side of the swivel Chapter 2 Where to Set a Trotline Setting a successful trotline is a lot of work both before and during the actual process. Many people omit this step and spend their valuable time and effort running a non-productive trotline. To set a successful trotline, first, you have to know where catfish live or travel in the water body. The best way to find them is by fishing with a rod and reel. The next best way is to know that others have caught fish in the area. Next, you have to become intimately familiar with the water especially the bottom and structure present. Go over the area with a fish finder, noting depth and substructure. Get to know the area and the locations of its features, such as channels, drop-offs, brush piles, submerged logs, stumps, etc. The last step in selecting a place for setting a new trotline is to drag an anchor over the bottom to discover if there are other lines set in the area. If you set your line over another line, when the fisherman runs that lower line, he will raise yours and possibly run both lines. Worst case, your line will be cut and your hard work will be wasted. In the warmer months, most fishermen set trotlines in deep water, sometimes below the thermocline. A catfish will swim below the thermocline to feed, but if he cannot come up above the thermocline, it will die within minutes for lack of oxygen. Most catfish will roam in the shallow water actively feeding at night. I like to set my trotlines three feet deep (Oklahoma minimum depth) in four to five feet of water near structure, rocks, wood, or a creek channel, parallel to the bank or jetty. Be sure that the floats are readily visible in order to be sure the other fishermen can see them and not run over them. One simple thing learned over the years has increased my catch 10-fold. Simply be sure that your baits are not lying on the bottom. The crawfish and turtles will get the baits before the catfish can move in. Chapter 3 Set a Trotline Like a Pro Before the turn of the 20th century, the trotline was used for the market fisherman, catching commercial quantities of catfish for sale. It worked very well without incurring the expense of nets, opening the market for the everyday fisherman. Today, the market fisherman is almost extinct except for the few diehards that sell their catch to pay lakes. In most states it is illegal to sell the fish caught unless the fisherman has a commercial license. The one most important part of a trotline is the anchor. It has to be heavy enough to stay put in current, and with the stress of the line being pulled up when run. The line must remain taut (tight) after it has been released to prevent a large catfish from moving the line laterally into the ever present snags. Use two or more concrete blocks wired together or something of similar weight such as truck wheels or scrap metal for the end anchors. Provide a tie point to the first anchor that will not cut the mainline, such as a cable or a deflated bicycle inner-tube. In addition to the tie point, tie a substantial rope of a length greater than the depth of the water with a marker float to show location of the anchor. Tie one end of the mainline to the first anchor and place it in the water at the location you choose. (A tree, rock, or other permanent bank fixture can be used.) Extend the trotline in the desired direction and tie on a float at every three-way swivel to suspend the trotline at the chosen depth. Tie the end of the mainline to the second anchor's tie point (bicycle inner-tube) and drop the second anchor in the water, leaving the marker rope tied to the boat. Note: The distance from the first hook to the end of the trotline must be at least three times the depth of the water at the anchor to prevent movement of the anchor when running the line. Now, using the boat's engine, pull the marker rope to tighten the trotline until all the slack is out. Drop the rope, allowing the anchor to fall to the bottom. Place an anchor marker float on the rope to mark it. Dont forget to tag the floats with required information. Pick up the line at the end float and begin looping the dropper hook assemblies onto the swivels, baiting the hooks as you go. Be sure that the lines to the floats are the proper length to suspend the hooks above the bottom or the thermocline. Hooks lying on the bottom are often stripped by crayfish before a catfish has a chance to find the bait. For safetys sake, keep a very sharp knife handy just in case you are accidentally hooked. If the trotline is set properly, it could pull a man out of the boat and hold him under water. Wear no loose fitting clothing or gloves when running a trotline. Always use a net to bring a fish in the boat from a trotline. If the hook was to slip out of the fish and into your forearm, the momentum of the boat combined with the weight on the line could drag a man over the side. Chapter 4 Catfish Bait For a Trotline Preferred catfish trotline baits are as varied as the catfish fishermen that use them. For channel and blue catfish, many different baits are available for the trotline. The bait must be tough, but easily available. Chicken livers are too tender for the trotline, but beef liver cut into cubes works very well. Beef livers, cut into cubes and dried for a few hours... just long enough to turn black, becomes exceedingly tough and very attractive to the channel and blue catfish. Turkey hearts and gizzards make equally tough and attractive baits. My favorite trotline bait is cut dead perch and whole, live perch. The flathead will take the live bait while all species of catfish will take cut bait at times. Blue catfish especially like cut bait. Carp, Drum (Gasper Gough), Skipjack herring, catfish gut, striper rib cages and striper livers make excellent cutbait. (Even though shad is an excellent catfish bait, it is not recommended because it is very tender and is easily stripped by non-target fish.) The tough white meat from the sides of a gar also makes excellent trotline bait, although getting it from the gar is a rather daunting task. First, you catch a gar. Open the shell behind the head with a sharp blow from a hand axe at right angles to the body. Then, using the hand axe or heavy knife, cut the shell lengthwise from behind the head to the tail. Filet the meat away from the shell on both sides, exposing the meat. Cut down the backbone and remove the filets. Cut the meat into cubes and use fresh or frozen for catfish bait. There are many tried and true baits for trotline use including chunks of Zote or Ivory soap, and hundreds of regional favorites. What ever one chooses to use for bait, the real challenge is to have enough of it on hand to keep the line baited. I have found that a catfish will tear the hook from his jaw in as little as two hours, so I make a point of running my trotline every two hours as a minimum. I lose fewer fish and keeping the hooks baited causes the line to be more productive. Trotlining is not an easy task. It is work. The greater preparation that is put into the set provides a better return on the efforts.