Three Way Rig For Catfish, Traditional, Modified and More

Three Way Rig Catfish TraditionalThere’s many options when it comes to rigging for catfish or how you setup your catfishing rods and reels to catch fish.

Savvy catfish anglers know that the way you rig can make a big difference in catching cats and putting fish in the boat.

It doesn’t matter if you’re targeting big monster trophy class cats searching for the next world record or simply wanting to catch numbers of smaller fish, rigging and presentation make a big difference!

The three way rig is one of the most well known catfish rigs. If you ask around you’ll find that many people think it’s the only way to rig but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Popularity of the three way rig has a lot to do with misinformation passed around among anglers. It also doesn’t help that tackle shops push pre-tied three way rigs in areas where they’re selling manufactured catfish baits and other catfishing tackle and gear.

The traditional three way rig requires the use of three way swivels. It can be time consuming to tie because of the amount of knots involved but “traditional” three way rigs use three way swivels.

In addition to the traditional three way rig there’s many variations of this rig that eliminate the use of the 3-way swivel.

The three way rig will catch fish but it’s often used more than it should be, especially the traditional rig.

More experienced catfish anglers typically rely on other catfish rigs or more advanced variations of the three way rig. If you’re only going to learn or rely on one catfish rig then there’s a much better option that’s the essential “go to” catfish rig.

Below you’ll find more details on rigging the three way rig using both a traditional and modified version.

Just make sure you spend some time learning some of the other catfish rigs as you’ll likely find them to be more effective catching catfish in many situations.

When To Use The Three Way Rig

The three way rig is designed for situations where you need to keep your bait off of the bottom.

It can be used for anchored fishing or drift fishing and will work for all three species of catfish in lakes, reservoirs and rivers.

Tackle Needed

Here’s a basic list of terminal tackle needed.

For more in depth information check out the Ultimate Guide To Catfishing Gear.

  • Leader Line – Like Offshore Angler Tight Line – 1/2 lb. Spools in 40 Lb Test
  • Barrel Swivel
  • Three-Way Brass Swivel
  • Preferred Hook
  • Weight (Sinker)
  • Monofilament leader line

How To Tie The Three Way Rig

  • To tie this rig you need to first cut your leader line that will run from the bottom of the swivel to the weight (sinker).
  • Your line running from the bottom of it needs to be longer than the leader that will run from your hook to your swivel.
  • For this example we are going to cut the line from the swivel to the weight at eighteen inches. Attach the weight line to the bottom of the three way swivel on one end and then attach the sinker on the other end.
  • Now cut your leader line for your hook. For this purpose we are going to use a twelve inch line. Attach the leader line to the side of the three way swivel and then attach the hook to the opposite end of this line.

Tie your mainline to the top of the three way swivel.

There’s a variety of knots you can use. You can learn all the details on the best knots to use here.

Other Three Way Rig Options

Some anglers use a light weight line from running to the sinker. This is done so if the weight snags, the line can be broken easily sacrificing the weight but saving the rest of the catfish rig.

You can add a 2” split foam peg float to the leader line a few inches from the hook to help with bait presentation also. This is a common tackle item used in many catfish rigs like the Santee Rig.

If you’re drift fishing for catfish using this setup then another alternative is use a snagless drift fishing sinker instead of other traditional sinker types. The snagless drift fishing sinkers will usually help to greatly reduce the number of snags you encounter when drifting.

If you’d like to shorten your learning curve catching catfish when drift fishing, learn the best rigs to use and all of the essential keys to success then check this out.

Three Way Rig Catfish Rig Drift Fishing


Modified Three Way Rig: The Simpler Three Way Rig

The modified three way rig is a variation of the tradition rigging but eliminates the use of the three-way swivel.

The modified rig uses a dropper loop to form the leader.

Items Needed

  • Monofilament leader line
  • Hook
  • Barrel Swivel
  • Weight (Sinker) of preference

How To Tie The Modified Three Way Rig

If you’ll work from your spool of leader line it will simplify making this rig. Don’t cut the line from the spool until you finish tying your rig.

If you’ll use this leader line storage trick it will also make it much easier to tie and save you a lot of headaches when you’re leader line is in your tackle box or bag.

  • Tie your weight to the leader.
  • Measure length from the leader to the sinker, for this example we’ll say 2 feet long.
  • Hold your hand in the leader location and tie a dropper loop with 6 to twelve inches of line, this will form your leader.
  • Eight to twelve inches above the leader tie your barrel swivel on the modified three way rig.
  • Now go back to your leader that you made for your hook and insert this doubled leader through the eye and then pull the hook back through the leader, attaching the hook to the dropper loop.


Modified Three Way Rig Catfish

This setup is pretty unconventional to many anglers. I get some strange looks when I tie this and there’s a lot of naysayers out there that will say it won’t work because it doesn’t fit into conventional molds.

It works for me (though I rarely use three way rigs).

It greatly reduces the time and tackle required and I’ve never had the rig fail.

There’s a variety of other ways to tie three way rigs other than these listed but the traditional and modified three way rigs cover the essentials needed to get started and start catching catfish.

To get on the fast track to catching more catfish check out our in depth resources on catfishing techniques and tactics that cover everything you need to know based on seasonal patterns or tactics and even specialized catfishing rigs.

Want More On Catfish Rigs?

Check out all of our tutorials on catfish rigs covering everything you need to know and more. You’ll learn the essentials of rigging for different species of catfish and different catfishing techniques here at the catfish rigs page.

Summer Channel Catfish Techniques


  1. Damon says

    This reminds me of the deep sea fishing rigs for red snapper and trigger fish off the bottom with squid near wrecks and reefs. I had often wondered if that rig would work for freshwater. I’ve tried it for bluegill, and I’ve found it’s a good way to catch bluegill without a float.

  2. Todd says

    I use the standard wolf river rig,tied with unknots.
    Add a small slip bobber to the hook leader. The sinker leader I use 1oz bank sinkers.

    I do get a tight line,but I let slack out until that line dips a lil.

    I engage the bait clicker on my Abu,then push in the cast button.

    Mostly I slip bob fish for channels.

  3. Gary Barnett says

    I’ve used the modified three way rig my whole life. Just the way my grandfather taught me. Always works for me when I want to use a three way rig.

  4. joe says

    iltke to fish grand lake i live around 30 miles from it. i am 100 % disable vet. it is hard toget around ‘ think you joe

  5. Harvey says

    I use a double dropper variation of the three way.
    I don’t care at all for the hallowed slip rig…or any other rig with the weight above the hooks.
    The float added santee Cooper seems an awkward solution to a problem the bottom weight rig avoids from the start

  6. Dusty says

    Thanks for the tips on the three way rig. I have used the three ways rigs in Port Aransas surf, and they worked great. I know know that they work great for catfish as well, along with Secret 7 and Uncle Josh punch baits. I enjoy your website.

  7. Lloyd Vernon says

    Dear Chad; Order some peg floats from whisker seeker and (this is one of those question that some say is a no brainner but, I stood beside to many things that went boom in the night) so here it is how do you peg this type of float. The black peg that slides in the foam has holes in it but the line just slides back and forth. If you run line though the float and then insert the peg and a cat pulls hard enough won’t the peg come out and get lost. Lloyd

  8. Carl Austin says

    Great info.I am just starting to get back into fishing and learning a lot about all the different kinds of rigs that are out there. I remember as a young kid fishing on the little missouri for cat fish. Using a zebco closed reel, nuts, washers or what ever we could find for weights lol,and a big hook with liver on it. I am very interested in trying different rigs. I use a lot of Chad Ferguson’s ideas, seems he has some pretty good stuff, so thanks Chad. I fish only from the bank ,so will 3 way be effective?.

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