This rigging gained the name “Santee Rig” due to its popularity with catfish anglers on the famous Santee Cooper catfish lakes in the Carolina’s.
This Santee Cooper Rig is one of the catfish rigs that’s a favorite among anglers who target blue and channel catfish but can also be used to target flathead catfish as well. It can be used for any of the three primary species of catfish that anglers target.
It’s popular for drift fishing and anchored fishing as well and can be used when fishing from a boat or from the shore and using a variety of different catfishing techniques.
Part of the popularity of this type of rigging comes from it being very effective for both anchored fishing and drift fishing and a known way of producing both numbers and size when fishing for catfish by lifting baits off the bottom of the lake or river.
The Santee Rig is a slight variation of one of the most basic and well-known catfish rigs, the slip sinker rig, and that slight variation can often make a big difference when it comes to putting fish in the boat.
Why Use The Santee Cooper Rig For Catfish?
Part of the effectiveness of the Santee rig comes from its simplicity. The rig is easy to tie and easy to cast but the secret to success is in the peg float or cigar float added to the leader.
By adding the peg float you lift the bait up off the bottom of the lake or river.
Where Do Catfish Feed? Is It Only On The Bottom?
Catfish are very misunderstood by many.
They’re often perceived as bottom-dwelling fish that spend their time feeding in the mud laying on the bottom of a lake or reservoir.
Savvy catfish anglers know better though…..
Catfish do often feed on or near the bottom but they also feed in all parts of the water column as well. This includes everywhere from close or near the bottom all the way through the water column including on top of the water. They’ll feed where they’re comfortable and where the food is.
In addition to not strictly feeding on or near the bottom, there’s the matter of anatomy. They’re skilled feeders that can and will pick food up off the bottom but if you look at the anatomy of a catfish it only makes sense that it’s almost natural for a catfish to feed up or lateral than it is down.
Their “bite” and the shape of their mouth alone give you some valuable clues especially when you look at the blue and channel cats.
Now move on to the eyes…..
The eyes of a catfish are located on the top of its head.
While it’s often thought that catfish feed solely on smell yet again savvy catfish anglers know better. Catfish feed based on a combination of a number of factors including smell, sight, sound, and by sensing vibrations. They can see much better than most give them credit for as well.
Look at the eyes, where they’re located on the head. They’re on the top and located outward on the head. Think about a large catfish swimming along hugging the bottom and a bait laying directly on the bottom. Even a large catfish is not going to see a bait laying down in sediment or vegetation when moving in a natural state.
That’s not to say they won’t sense a bait through smell or their other senses, lock in on it and feed. Many hardcore cat anglers believe that their best activity and the most bites come when baits are off the bottom and in the line of sight of catfish.
How Does The Santee Rig Work
One of the advantages of the Santee Rig is the ability to get the bait in front of the fish regardless of where they’re feeding in the water column.
Using the bottom as a reference you can get the baits up off the bottom and into the strike zone where the fish are.
There are many ways to get your baits into the right part of the water column and in front of the feeding fish and the Santee Cooper Rig is one of them.
If the fish are holding 2–3 feet off the bottom then use a 24″ to 36” leader and get the bait into the right part of the water column. With a shorter leader in this scenario, you’d very well be placing baits underneath the fish.
The leader length can be adjusted based on where the fish are holding or feeding and there’s really no limit to where you can target fish (within reason). I’ve used this catfish rig to target fish as far as eight to ten feet from the bottom by simply adjusting the leader length and getting the baits in the right area.
The addition of the float to the leader of the catfish rig gets the bait off the bottom and into the line of sight of the catfish.
Tackle Needed For The Santee Cooper Rig
To tie this catfishing rig you’re using a slip sinker setup. The leader may be longer than a traditional slip sinker rig though.
The biggest difference comes from and adding the float a few inches below the hook on the leader line.
There’s a number of different variations of this rig that can be used to adjust to different techniques.
Here’s what you need to know to use this rig for both anchored fishing and drift fishing.
Leader Line: 40 to 50 Lb clear monofilament leader or fluorocarbon leader. The heavier weight leader line helps serve as a shock absorber during aggressive strikes as well as additional abrasion resistance for the rough mouth of a catfish.
Hook: Any hook will work for the most part so you’re preferred option is fine. Popular circle hook options are the Team Catfish Double Action Circle Hook in size 5/0 or 8/0. If you prefer an octopus-style circle hook check out the Whisker Seeker Octo-Circle.
Swivel: There are many sizes and styles of barrel swivels that will work. You can use the basic brass barrel swivel or for extra performance try something like a ball bearing swivel or crane swivel. Popular sizes are size 1/0 and size three. Just tailor the swivel size to the size catfish you’ll be targeting.
Sinker/Weight: Egg sinkers or no roll sinkers are preferred by most catfish anglers when fishing on anchor and can be used for drift fishing as well. Many anglers prefer to use a snagless drift fishing sinker like the Team Catfish Smooth Operator Sinker when drift fishing though to help reduce snags.
The amount of weight to use depends on how deep you are fishing, the amount of current, wind etc. There is really no “magic number” when it comes to how much weight to use.
If fishing in lakes or reservoirs two to three ounces are more than enough for most applications and you might be able to use as little as one ounce of weight.
If fishing in rivers you’ll need to adjust the amount of weight you’re using to the current to keep your baits in place.
Peg Floats: Peg floats or cigar floats that are 2“ or 3” long are commonly used for the Santee Rig. Slotted foam peg floats are also popular as they allow for quick and easy replacement of the floats without having to cut line or tie new knots. For a tougher more durable float the Whisker Seeker Tackle EVA Foam Peg Floats offer much more durability and will stand up to the abuse that would destroy typical foam floats.
For more in-depth information on the catfishing gear needed for this rig and more be sure to check out the Ultimate Guide To Catfishing Gear.
How To Tie The Santee Cooper Rig
Weight: Slide your weight on the “mainline” that runs to the fishing reel.
Bead or Bumper: If you’re concerned about your sinker weakening the knot you can add a bead or Team Catfish Sinker Bumper to protect the knot from the sinker. You’ll slide this on the mainline after the sinker.
Swivel: Tie your preferred swivel onto the mainline following the sinker and bead using a Palomar knot.
Leader: Cut a length of 40–50 pound monofilament leader line adjusting the length to where you want the baits to sit in the water column. If you’re not sure where to start try a leader length of 24 to 36 inches and experiment from there.
Hook: Tie your hook on the leader line using the easy snell knot.
Peg Float: Slide the peg float onto the leader line and insert the pegs. Place the peg float 2″ to 3” down the leader line from the hook.
Tie The Leader: Attach the leader to the barrel swivel using a Trilene knot.
Always make sure you’re using good strong fishing knots that will stand up to abuse like those covered in the simple fishing knots every catfish angler should know.
The Santee Rig For Drift Fishing
You can use the same rigging for anchored fishing or drift fishing by using a no-roll sinker or egg sinker.
Another option is making some minor changes to reduce the number of “snags” or hang-ups. Instead of using an egg or no roll sinker consider using a snagless drift fishing sinker like the Team Catfish Smooth Operator Sinker or a homemade snagless sinker attached to the mainline with a sinker slide.
The use of these style sinkers when drift fishing will often help reduce the amount of “snags” or hang-ups when you’re drift fishing.
It won’t completely eliminate the problem but it will help to reduce the snags and break-offs.
Santee Cooper Rig Instructional Video
For more details on this way of rigging for cats check out the video below that walks you through the details of setting up and using this for catching catfish.
If you’re fishing with circle hooks like we suggest make sure you’re using a catfish rod that’s built to perform well with circle hooks and made for catching catfish of all sizes like my Chad Ferguson Signature Series Catfish Rod.
To get on the fast track to catching more catfish check out the Catfish Edge products. These in-depth guides are meant to help provide all the details you need for catching catfish using different techniques or during different seasons. They’re like a guided fishing trip at a fraction of the cost of being on the water.
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 catfishing rigs page.
Updated December 8th, 2021