Fall and winter are one of my favorite times to catch catfish (and also one of the best times) so I get pretty excited this time of year.
I always take a break from guided catfish trips in October and do a “reset”. I prepare my boat, catfish rods and reels, and all of my gear for a busy fall, winter, and spring. This means doing reel cleaning and repairs, repairs to the boat, spooling all my catfish reels with new fishing line, and making up a BUNCH of catfish rigs for fall and winter.
This year I’ve shared some photos while doing this on and received a ton of questions and most of them have been about my catfishing tackle and gear and the catfish rigs I use for fall and winter.
Today I’ll cover everything you need to know about catfish rigs for fall and winter and my best catfish rigs for big catfish (but you can catch smaller catfish with them also with a hook change.
I’ve tweaked my catfish rigs and the tackle I use for these rigs over the years and created what I consider to be not only a highly effective catfish rigs but a very versatile system that allows me to adjust my catfishing techniques or the size of catfish I’m targeting quickly and easily without cutting and tieing all-new catfish rigs.
These have proven themself to be the best catfish rigs for big catfish on my guide boat day in and out for many years now.
Here’s The Video
Here’s everything you need to know in a video. This is a lot of detailed information to cover with an article so I’ve included an in depth video with the article.
Fall and Winter Catfishing Techniques
Before I get too deep into these catfish rigs and why they’re the best rigs for big catfish lets talk about the catfishing techniques I’m using in the Fall and Winter to target big trophy blue catfish, where I’m fishing, and why that’s important when considering these catfish rigs.
I’m fishing in lakes and reservoirs with no current. Not in rivers or reservoirs with current. It’s rare we have any significant current in our reservoirs. That being said, I’ve used these catfish rigs in reservoirs with current and they’ve been equally effective.
I spend the majority of my time in the fall and winter targeting big trophy blue catfish on rod and reel. I shake things up some and do some splat fishing or mix in some other techniques to catch some smaller blue catfish but it’s minimal so the rigs I’ll cover here work for me 99% of the time and will work for almost every technique I use whether fishing for big or small blue catfish either one.
During the fall and winter, I spend a LOT of time drift fishing or fishing “mobile” (with the boat moving) and not on anchor. That being said if I do decide to switch to fishing in anchor (which happens) I can make a quick change of my sinkers and fish on anchor and not have to tie new rigs. These “mobile” techniques include traditional drift fishing (drifting with the wind) and trolling or “dragging”, using the trolling motor to move the boat and drag baits (with or without planer boards) as well as suspend drifting.
Best Catfish Rigs For Drift Fishing or Dragging
The first catfish rig (which is my “go-to” rig) is a Santee rig in its basic form but it includes a bunch of tweaks to not only make it more durable, more effective, and more versatile.
Rather than using a traditional Santee rig (like shown here) which is a traditional slip sinker rig with a float added to the leader I’ve amped it up and put it on steroids.
I’m using a few Whisker Seeker Tackle catfish rigs as the float on these rigs. These “floats” or rigs are made from EVA foam so they’re much more durable than traditional foam peg floats. They also come in different sizes for floating different size baits (including BIG pieces of cut bait) and include a speed clip which makes swapping hook sizes quick and easy with no cutting or tieing new rigs.
The three Whisker Seeker floats I use are the XL Rattler, the Big Bertha, and the Black Mamba. The XL Rattler is great for floating small to medium-large baits and the Big Bertha and Black Mamba are BIG floats and will float the biggest pieces of cut bait out there. The Big Bertha and Black Mamba are the same sizes with the difference being the Black Mamba is a double hook rig.
I run a small piece of sixty-pound monofilament fishing line from the Whisker Seeker catfish rig to a ball chain swivel. The ball chain swivel reduces line twist and increases the action of the bait. Above the ball chain swivel, I add an additional leader line running to the main swivel which includes a bead and chrome versa rattle catfish rig rattle.
On the mainline (above the swivel I add a bead and a Whisker Seeker sinker slide. The sinker slide allows me to use drift fishing sinkers when drifting or dragging and coin sinkers when fishing on anchor and I can swap them quickly and easily when I need to change my catfishing techniques. I typically use 2–3 ounces when dragging or drifting and 3 ounces when fishing on anchor. I’ll follow up with a new video on how to make drift fishing sinkers soon but you can find an older video on the Catfish Edge Youtube channel.
I typically start fishing with a mixture of catfish rig lengths with some of them 24“ from the weight to the hook and some 36”. Most often the length of the rig doesn’t matter but there are days where the catfish will prefer (bite better) on one or the other. If I begin to see a preference (pattern) with one length I’ll switch rods so I can adjust all of my rigs to that length.
I primarily use the 7’6 Heavy Power Whisker Seeker Catfish rods in my Chad Ferguson Signature Series for these dragging techniques.
Suspend Drifting For Catfish
The suspend drifting catfish rig I use is a little different. There are times where I’ll only suspend drift for catfish but the vast majority of the time I’ll drift with the wind or using the trolling motor and add in some suspend drift rods in addition to the rods and catfish rigs I’m dragging on the bottom.
Suspend drifting is a great way to target blue catfish (or any other catfish species really) when the fish are not on the bottom and suspending more than 3–4 feet off the bottom. It’s also a great way to cover more water and help eliminate some problems when drifting or trolling.
Suspend drift rods (also commonly called “down rods”) serve a few purposes when used in conjunction with dragging rods (again regardless of how you’re drifting or dragging).
- Allow you to suspend baits anywhere in the water column.
- Allow you to cover water directly below the boat.
- Allow you to help avoid snagging multiple rods.
When I’m dragging baits with my trolling motor I put two down rods on the front of the boat. I’m pulling baits off the back (with or without planers) and have one down rod on each side of the boat in the front. I typically suspend the bait two to three feet off the bottom (line counter fishing reels help with this).
Not only do I catch a LOT of fish with the down rods but if I’m dragging 6 baits off the back of the boat and my down rods in the front all of the sudden snag I’ve got a good indication I need to adjust my path or pull the back rods up. This helps me avoid snagging all of my rods and creating a big mess to cut and rig again and helps keep baits in the water.
The same goes for drifting with the wind. If you’re dragging rods on one side of the boat and moving with the wind adding a couple of down rods on the opposite side of the boat helps with avoiding snags and breaking off all your catfish rigs.
Best Catfish Rig For Suspend Drifting
My catfish rig for suspend drifting or “down rods” is a modified slip sinker rig.
I use the 8/0 or 10/0 Whisker Seeker Triple Threat Hook with 60-pound leader line. The hook is snelled using my easy snell knot. Rather than running a single mainline to the barrel swivel, I add a ball chain swivel in the middle with a bead and chrome versa rattle catfish rig rattle above the ball chain swivel. This not only holds the rattle up away from the hook but the ball chain swivel helps with the action of the bait and completely eliminates line twist. The whole rig is finished out with a barrel swivel.
I attach the rig to my mainline (coming from the reel) with a bead and 5 to 6-ounce egg sinker above the bead. The heavier weight helps keep the line in position when moving through the water. If your boat is moving master than .5 miles per hour or you have current present you may need to use a larger sinker.
Braided fishing line for your mainline also helps as the braid is a smaller diameter than monofilament so you have significantly less drag in the water.
I use the 7’6“ MH Whisker Seeker Rod in my Chad Ferguson Signature Series with this technique for my ”down rods”. The reason being is I’ve found I catch far more fish when using a rod that’s lighter and more flexible. With a heavier or stiffer rod, the fish will often grab the suspend rigs (down rods) pull, and then quickly let go. I catch more fish with a softer rod. The heavy power rod will work as well but the MH is my preference in most cases for down rods.
Catching Trophy Catfish in Fall and Winter
Fall and winter are hands down my favorite time for catching catfish. The blue catfish bite is amazing and we catch excellent numbers of big trophy blue catfish (all big fish are released). These rigs are my preference following many years of trial, error, and tweaking and they catch fish for me and increase my productive time on the water.
They’re not just for big trophy catfish though, you can adjust the hook size and the size of your catfish bait and use these same rigs for targeting smaller blue and channel catfish and even flatheads if you prefer.
There’s a lot of detail covered in this article that makes it difficult to cover so be sure to watch the full video for everything you need to know about my top catfish rigs for catching BIG blue catfish!
You can find all of the catfish tackle items covered in this article and video on the Whisker Seeker Tackle website.