Trotlining 101

Discussion in 'Catfishing Library' started by Whistler, Aug 30, 2005.

  1. Whistler

    Whistler Well-Known Member

    Messages:
    3,084
    State:
    TN
    Original posts made by Jerry Trew(Jtrew) on November 14, 2002




    [size=+1]TROTLINING 101[/size]​



    As the title indicates, this is an attempt to give newcomers to trotlining enough knowledge to at least get started. Here are a few tidbits to keep in mind. First, of course, read the regs on trotlining in your state, and in the specific waters where you plan to set the trotlines. Many states have such regs as a limit on the total number of hooks you may use overall, or on a line; how far apart the droppers have to be; how often they must be run; how they must be marked (such as name & address); and Arkansas even specifies that trotlines must be anchored with cotton line. Second, when trotlining, just as when using rod & reel, keep an open mind, and be ready to try something new. What works in one situation may or may not work in a different situation. Last, and most important, is safety. Trotlining is dangerous! A moderate breeze of a large fish means that you are handling a stretchy nylon line full of large, sharp hooks. I speak from experience when I say that a moment’s inattention or a simple action taken without full thought of the consequences can put you in a lift-threatening situation in less than a heartbeat. For instance, a sharp knife is great in an emergency, but what if it’s on your right hip and you have a hook in your right hand, and can’t reach the knife? Personally, I think that trotlining is something best done with a partner. It’s not only safer, it’s more fun!

    In an attempt to get this information all in one location, I copied some of my previous posts. Some of these were rewritten, and some weren’t.

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    Trotlining 101
    Chapter 1
    Making Your Own Trotlines



    While you can buy trotlines already made, I've always made my own, not only because it’s cheaper that way, but I can customize the line to get the quality, spacing, and number & size of hooks I want on that particular line. I have used hooks as small as 3/0 on a trotline, and as large as 12/0. (And I had one of the 12/0 hooks get straightened out for me.) The mainline is heavy nylon twine, 350#-450# test. The mainline only continues past the hooks for 6' or so on each end, but has a loop in it so I can fasten two or more trotlines together, and/or add as much line as I need to position the trotline where I want it. On occasion, I have used as much as a couple of hundred feet of line to reach a stump, tree, or such to tie onto. Sometimes, I'd rather do that than mess with trying to use an anchor. Sometimes, I use short trotlines, particularly if I'm going to be fishing in the middle of a bunch of structure, but my normal line has 50 hooks on it. To make a 50-hook trotline, you will need 50 large swivels. The eye should be just large enough to be able to move freely on the mainline but not so large that they will go over a knot tied in the mainline. If you get them that large, they will not stay in place! I work left to right, so you may want to reverse the directions on which hand to use for something. Thread all 50 swivels onto the end of the line, then tie a loop in the end, using a double overhand (surgeon’s) knot. Measure off 6' and tie one single overhand knot. Unwind another foot or so of line, slide 49 of the swivels up against the spool of line, and wind the foot of line back on the spool, WITH THE 49 SWIVELS, so that they are trapped on the spool. Slide the loose swivel down against the knot, then tie another single overhand knot about 1"-1 1/2" away from the first, trapping the swivel in between the knots. Check your state regs to see how far apart the drops must be. Arkansas requires them to be at least 24" apart, but I generally make mine 30" apart, sometimes 36". Anyway, measure off 30" (or whatever you want), sliding the swivels toward the spool of line. You may find it helpful to mark that spot with something. Unwind another foot or so of line, slide 48 of the swivels up against the spool, and wind the line around the spool a couple of times to trap the swivels. Make a single overhand knot where you made the mark, being careful to keep the loose swivel on the spool side of the knot. Slide the swivel up against the knot, and make another knot 1"-1 1/2" away from the first, trapping the loost swivel between the knots. Continue until you have trapped the last swivel between 2 knots, measure off 6' of line, cut it, and tie a loop in the end, using a double overhand (surgeon’s) knot. I use double overhand knots in the ends, rather than single, because they hold better. For droppers, I only use braided line of at least 100# test, because a spinning cat will totally destroy twisted line. Different people like different length drops, but I like mine about 12" long. I use a 24" length of line with the ends tied together with a double overhand knot. The loop allows me to attach the dropper to the swivel and hook without using a knot.

    I do one other thing that I didn’t mention above, because I only do it to comply with Arkansas regs, which require that trotlines be attached with cotton line. I take heavy cotton line or light cotton rope and tie it to form a small loop. When I make the loops in the ends of the trotline, I slip one of these cotton loops on the line first, so that I can then tie an extension line (without hooks) onto the cotton loop. That way, the trotline itself is attached with cotton line, as the regs require.

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    Trotlining 101
    Chapter 2
    Basic Rigs


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    Trotlining 101
    Chapter 3
    Picking A Spot


    Before you do anything else, you need to make a map of the section of river you are going to fish. It doesn't matter whether you do it on paper or in your head...the idea is to know where the deeper holes are at, where the undercut banks are at, where the channel is, where the structure is, and where the currents and eddys are. A fishfinder/graph is really helpful here, but if you don't have one, tie a 1 oz (or heavier) sinker on your rod and reel and spend some time dredging the water with it. You may want to have a float, too, so you can more accurately tell the depth. Sometimes, if cover is particularly scarce, a ditch or channel only a couple of feet deep will be a big attraction.

    You also need to consider the type and size of catfish you are targeting, and the time of year. I won’t attempt to cover all the possibilities here, because where to find catfish at different times of the year is a subject all its own. Generally speaking, though, flatheads prefer woody cover, but will use rocky cover when that’s all that’s available. In the spring of the year, I like large coves with a fairly deep channel with some flats off the channel. If there are some stumps on the flats, or along the channel, I set my trotline next to, or even right in the stumps, and do very well with blues. Use whatever length lines seem appropriate, as long as they're legal. Remember that the longer the line, the more play its going to have in the middle, so you can't use a long line among a bunch of snags without getting hung up. You're going to get your trotlines hung up enough without asking for trouble. I've fished as few as 7 hooks on a line, and as many as 200. Some other good spots to try are: the deeper holes, especially if the hole is in an eddy next to relatively fast current: channels and drop-offs, especially if there are stumps, snags, etc. along the edge of the drop-off. Yes, if the snags come to the surface, you will have your line running right down the middle of them, and yes, you will get hung up. My best trotlining spot is like that...I've NEVER run it without it being hung up. I've also taken up to 15 cats between 4# and 10# off it at one time (one running). Also, get right in next to the logjams and such. Sometimes, if they are fairly close together, you can run a short line from a snag in one pile to a snag in another. Run lines along undercut banks, and along the dropoff between submerged sandbars and channels. Again, I can't recommend using a graph too much. If you don't have one, it's a good investment. An excellent spot for channels is where the bank is riprapped, because the channels like the rocks. If I’m planning to do much trotlining of riprap, I like to make up several 25-hook trotlines and run them straight out from the bank. When I do use a 50-hook trotline in such a situation, it seems like most of the channels are caught on the half of the trotline nearest the bank, so half the trotline isn’t doing much good. This is a great place to use a Louisiana jump box, because you can set the lines out so quickly with it.

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    Trotlining 101
    Chapter 4
    Depth


    While I know trotliners who have had success setting their lines as shallow as 1'-2', I always have to contend with bass fishermen and outboard motors, so I've never set my lines shallower than about 6'. My wife’s uncle swears that he does best by setting his lines abut 1’ deep about 3’ from shore, running parallel with the shore, but he fishes waters where there are practically no bass fishermen. You probably won't have to worry about setting your lines shallow if you are fishing some small stream. I never like to set my lines on the bottom, although I have when fishing riprap along the riverbank. When I want to fish near the bottom, I attach floats along the trotline, and I also attach weights heavy enough to hold down the floats. If I want to fish just off the bottom, I attach the weights with 3' of line. Since the droppers are 12", the weights are on the bottom, and the floats are holding the line 3' above the weights, the hooks are 24" off the bottom. By the same token, if I want to fish just above a bunch of submerged brush or timber, I can put some smaller weights along the line, and attach some larger floats with the desired length of line. In this case, the weights don't pull the floats under, so attaching the floats with a 6' length of line will cause the trotline to be 6' under the water, with the hooks 18" below that. I find that using a heavy weight at each end of the line helps to keep it taut so that fish aren't as likely to drag it into the snags...or as deep into them. Here are a couple of sketches to show what I’m talking about. If you try to read all you can find written about trotlining, you have probably seen diagrams of trotlines set in a zigzag, or ‘W’ pattern. While this sounds good on paper, I’ve found it to be much more trouble than it’s worth to try to use such an involved pattern. On the few occasions when I do want to try different levels, I simply set the trotline at an angle, running from shallow to deep, in a straight line.


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    Trotlining 101
    Chapter 5
    Baits


    Again, this subject could fill a book, and there’s no problem getting ideas on different things to try for bait. What is vital is that you understand that you are going to have to determine just what works best for you. And that can change if you move your lines to different waters, if the season changes, or maybe just the mood of the fish. What do I look for in a bait? Obviously, it’s got to be attractive to the fish, but there are a couple of other things you may want to consider. I want a bait to be cheap, or at least affordable. Fresh shrimp, goldfish, or brooder minnows may work, but if I have several lines out, I don’t want to spend $20 every time I bait up my lines. How well does it last on the trotline? While worms may be attractive to the catfish, it doesn’t do much good to bait up with them if fiddlers and bream immediately eat them off the hook. If I buy or gather some bait, how many days can I expect it to last, and how much trouble is it to keep it? If I net a bunch of shad and keep them iced down, I can expect them to last about three days. On the Arkansas River system, I have found nothing to beat cut shad or skipjack for blues. For big blues, a big skipjack head can’t be beat. Fishing shallow stump-filled coves on Lake Ouchita, a deep, clear mountain lake, cut shad produced very poorly, while chicken livers did very good. On a small, shallow lake, live minnows worked best. Ivory soap has worked well for me on the Tennessee River, but nowhere else. Spraying a bait with Wal-Mart's Catfish Attractor insures that I'll never have to change that bait, because nothing is going to touch it, not even gar or turtles. Experiment to find out what works best where you are fishing. You may want to mark your dropper lines with different color permanent markers, and use specific baits for specific colors, so when you catch fish, you know what bait was used on that hook. If you are bothered by turtles, bait your lines late in the afternoon or early in the evening and immediately run and rebait them again. Repeat the process until you have filled up all the turtles. Then you can start to catch some fish.

    I guess the one thing about baits that always holds true is that live bait works best for flatheads. While some folks feel that an ‘out of place’ bait, like a goldfish, will attract more attention, and thus be a better bait, most feel that baits from the water you are fishing work best. In the south, it’s hard to beat a live bream. In a current, I hook them through the lips; fishing near the bottom, I like to hook them on the bottom, between the anal fin and the tail; fishing near the top, I like to hook them on top, between the dorsal fin and the tail. Cut part of the tail off to make it swim so as to give off ‘distressed’ vibrations. You may also want to scrape off a few scales to help get some scent in the water. Another trick is to carefully open a small hole in the belly and gently pull out about an inch of intestine so that it hangs down.

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    Editors Note :
    This article was originally "Posted on Thursday, November 14, 2002 - 4:25 pm:". It has been reposted to combine the original 5 shorter posts into one for clarity........Cornhusker