Balloon fishing has been a popular way of fishing for years. The balloon rig is commonly used by striper fishermen as well as many other freshwater and saltwater anglers for a variety of species of fish. It’s not a very well known or used rig for catching catfish among many circles.
Savvy catfish anglers know that there are times that using a balloon rig for catfish can make a big difference in landing fish. If you’re a shore fishing angler then the balloon rig could be a game changer for you when it comes to catching cats.
There are many different variations of the balloon rig and it can be used in a very simple form or with very complex variations.
I’ll cover some of the basics here to get you started with what you need to know for catfish.
This certainly isn’t a catfish rig you’ll use every time you’re catfishing and in every situation but there are times where rigging with a balloon rig might just outperform anything else.
It surprises me how few anglers use this technique because in the right situation it can be lethal for putting fish on the end of your line.
Why Use A Balloon Rig For Catfish?
The balloon can either be blown up partially or completely and functions just like a cork or bobber would holding the bait off the bottom of the lake or river.
Because the balloon is much larger than a cork or bobber (like a slip bobber), it has a much greater surface area, therefore the level of resistance is greater when a fish strikes which creates a better hookset. The other advantage is because the balloon is so large, it can be used to move the bait across the surface of the water.
Balloon fishing is also common because it makes it possible to suspend baits. For instance, if you’re in 50 feet of water and catfish are suspended at 25 feet, the aid of a balloon can allow you to fish multiple lines at a set depth and get the lines away from the boat or your shore location.
This isn’t a something that happens all the time but there are certain seasons when the catfish will suspend this way (like in the presence of a thermocline). When fish are suspended far from the bottom it doesn’t make sense to use the bottom as a reference point to bring the baits up. So you use the top of the water as a reference point to move the baits down to the target area.
In some instances when fishing from a boat it would be preferred to use something like a slip sinker rig in combination with a line counter fishing reel and simply lower the baits to the target depth. The need to get the baits away from the boat or the angler arises at times though and you can achieve this through the use of a balloon rig.
For instance, if you’re fishing in deep water and need to cover a large area suspending baits, you could do this with a balloon but couldn’t with a slip sinker rig hanging vertically from a boat. Allowing you to cover water you couldn’t normally get to or allowing you to drift water you couldn’t normally reach is one of the biggest advantages of balloon fishing.
The Bank Fishing Advantage For Catfish
A great use of balloon rigs for catfish is for those bank fishing on lakes, rivers and in dam tailraces.
Balloon fishing allows you to “float” baits out to different areas and cover more water. They have a much larger surface area than other bobbers and catch more wind, allowing it to drift further and faster. This allows shore anglers to fish in a manner similar to drift fishing from a boat.
KISS: Keep It Simple Stupid
Over the years I’ve seen some very extensive plans people use for balloon fishing but most often my preference is a very simple rig.
I’ve seen and heard it all over the years from a very simple rig that’s a slip sinker rig with a balloon tied on the line above the sinker to very advanced and complex rigs used like slip bobbers. You can rig the balloon rig like slip bobber as well if you prefer.
There’s so many variations it would be impossible to cover them all. Despite these variations the core of the balloon rig is using a balloon attached to the line to floar or drift a bait.
How To Tie The Balloon Rig
You’ll learn to tie this with a slip sinker rig but there are countless variations you could use. The use and applications of the balloon is more important than the actual rig.
I’ve traditionally used these techniques with a slip sinker rig (covered in more detail here).
After you tie the slip sinker rig (or your preferred fishing rig) you simply add a balloon to the mainline above the egg sinker. This can be done by simply tying the balloon to the main line or through the use of a sinker bumper, bobber stop and snap swivel (learn more in The Ultimate Guide To Catfishing Gear).
In deeper water using a bobber stop, sinker bumper and snap swivel is preferred.
The snap swivel is attached to the base of the balloon and the closed end of the swivel simple slides on the main line. The bobber stop and sinker bumper are used to set the depth of the balloon just like when fishing with a slip bobber.
This allows you to suspend baits in deeper water and with the use of a bobber stop you’ll have simple hassle free casting and retrieving.