Trotlining

Definition

A trotline is usually a long, braided high-test line (typically 150 feet in length) that has shorter lines called "drops" or "leaders" tied onto it via quick-release clamps or barrel swivels. State regulations will determine how the trotline is to be marked, how many hooks are allowed, and the minimal spacing requirements between each hook. The trotline is composed of four basic parts - the trotline, the drops, the hooks, and the weights (or anchors).

Materials Used

  • Braided line - one can either buy a trotline set or make their own. If you're going after the big monsters, build your own trotlines; but if you're going for regular-sized catfish, buying one already rigged up is your best bet. The reason for this is (1) cost; (2) already set up; and (3) requires minimal assembly [attaching the drops and hooks to the trotline].
  • Leader (or drop) lines
  • Hooks - for small bait, use No. 4 or 5 Mustad circle hooks; for live bait, use No. 10 or 12 Mustad circle hooks.
  • Anchors - the type of anchors needed will depend on where you are setting your lines. If running from the shore, then you'll only need one anchor on the other end (also called the "wet" end). If running offshore, you'll need anchors on both ends of the trotline. Check under the TIPS section below for items of interest regarding anchors.
  • Floats (optional; unless required by state regulations)

Stages

Setting
Running
Checking
If you find that there is a fish on the line, keep the fish in the water. Don't pull the line and fish up out of the water. Get the net under the fish and then use the net to pull the fish and line into the boat. That way you don't risk losing the fish! After removing the fish, re-bait the hook and keep moving down the line until all hooks have been checked. Keep only the fish you are going to eat. If the fish is small, toss it back so that it can grow larger. Make any necessary repairs as you check your lines. You may find that you have missing hooks or missing leaders. Those were most likely good-sized catfish that got away. Put on new hooks or leaders and hooks and then re-bait and move on.
If you decide that you don't want to check your lines for any lengthy period of time or you decide to leave the site, pull up the line and anchors (refer to the Storage section below for further details). Don't just leave the line there for it will still catch fish. Even if there's not any bait, there's still enough scent to draw in a curious fish or a fish might simply get snagged on the hooks as it passes by.

Storage

For me, this is the most important step that most tend to overlook. Well, they overlook it until it's time to set out the lines again and find a tangled mass that has Tylenol Tension Headache written all over it! Follow these suggestions and your next venture in trotlining will go smoothly...

  • NEVER leave your drops/leaders and hooks on the trotline when storing.
  • One method of storing the leaders and hooks is to run the hooks into a foam board and then use a rubber band to bound the loose ends of the leaders.
  • Another method of storing the leaders and hooks is to run the hooks into a long piece of inner tube.
  • A handy way of running and retrieving your trotline is to use one of those extension cords reels. When running the lines, simply tie-off your lie and then mount the reel somehow on the boat so that you can slowly troll out to deeper water and the line will slowly feed out. This will allow you to clamp on the hooks and bait them as you go along. The same method applies to when you are retrieving your trotline. Clamp it down and reel in the trotline and remove your drops and hooks as you move in. This method of storage is especially helpful when you're working alone.

Tips

  • Follow your state's trotline regulations to the letter. If you don't understand them, contact the game warden for the county that you will be fishing; or contact your state's department of wildlife for further explanations.
  • You should check the line every 4-6 hours. Checking the lines often will help ensure that you don't lose as many fish, it's also more humane to the fish, and you can re-bait those hooks that have lost their bait.
  • Only catch as many fish as you will eat. Just because there's a limit doesn't mean you should catch that many on each outing.
  • Take a friend with you when running your lines. There's no telling what might happen and if you'll need someone's help.
  • The best seasons for trotlining are spring and fall. You can run lines during the summer but you'll need to run them shallow (5 to 10 feet) because of the lack of oxygen in the deeper levels.
  • Choose sturdy hooks and keep them sharp!! If the hooks begin to show defects (breaks, rust, etc.), replace them and throw the bad one away (in the trash can, not in the water!!!).
  • Use gloves when setting, running and checking your trotlines.
  • Chumming - The process of chumming will enhance your catching abilities immensely!! Most people are immediately turned off by chumming because of one simple fact... IT STINKS!!! Chumming involves either products you have purchased that are pre-mixed and ready to use; or you can make your own. WARNING: If you make your own, and live in the city, you're going to have some upset neighbors in most cases!!! To make your own chum, most fishermen prefer to use maize, chicken scratch, or milo. You can also use range cubes (usually purchased from a cattle feed store). Get a 5-gallon bucket that has a lid that will snap on tightly. Fill the bucket about three-quarters full of the grain and then add enough water so that the water level is a couple of inches above the level of the grain. Get some cheap beer and add a couple of cans. Seal the container and set it out in the sun. Periodically check the mixture to ensure that the water is not completely absorbed. Keep an adequate amount of water at all times. This mixture will be ripe within a week; and more than extra-ripe in a couple of weeks! When using the chum mixture (whether it's some that you've made or some that you've bought).... USE IT SPARINGLY!!! Use about 1 or 2 pounds of the mixture so that it entices the fish into a feeding frenzy; not to feed them! Scatter the grain the length of the boat if you are fishing from a boat. Catfish go by smell so when this mixture hits the water, they will respond rather quickly. You should start fishing after about 15 minutes if you're using a rod-and-reel to fish. Once the action slows down (or becomes nonexistent), move on to another location and starting chumming again. Some fishermen will pick three or four spots. They will start with the first spot and chum it. Then they will move on to the next spot and chum it... so forth and so on. After the last spot is chummed, they return to the first spot and start fishing it and then they move on to the next spot in succession.
  • Anchors - There are many options when it comes to anchors. And like chum, you can opt to buy them or make them. I prefer to make them because they are much cheaper overall. I use buckets or restaurant-sized cans filled with concrete and an eye bolt (or bend coat hangers) in the middle. The key to the anchor is weight. You want something very heavy to hold that line in place and to keep that line straight.
  • Bait - the best bait by far is shad from the area you are fishing in. The problem with shad is that they die quickly; therefore you need to take precautions to help keep them alive and well to be useful on the hooks. Once you catch the shad, you need to quickly get them into an aerated livewell. You can also purchase bait (minnows, goldfish, worms, liver, gizzards, shrimp, stink baits, etc.). If using live bait, attach them to the hook so that they remain alive for as long as possible. You want the fish to swim about erratically so that it draws the attention of the bigger predator fish. Hook the live fish via several methods (through the lower lip and head; through the back; just below and right behind the dorsal fin; and even through the tail). Just a note... when hooking through the tail, don't run the hook through the actual tail!!! (Can you say, "fishing for free"??!!)... That fish will get off and be on it's way in no time! You need to run that hook through the meaty portion of the tail section. Regardless of which bait you use, it must stay on the hook in order to work!! Don't use baits that will easily come off of the hook.