By Kevin Tate/Outdoors writer
In the high heat of the summer, few methods can compare with trotlines for consistently bringing in catfish. It’s a method that puts fish in the freezer while challenging a fisherman’s skill in a number of unique ways.
The trotline recipe calls for a spool of waxed nylon line, a bag of barrel swivels and a box of hooks. A Styrofoam bucket or cooler is ideal for storage and transport, and that’s about it.
State law requires hooks on trotlines to be tied at least two feet apart, and each licensed fisherman may have up to 100 hooks in use at a time.
To begin the trotline build, a process best addressed in the comfort of home, thread as many swivels onto the loose end of a spool of waxed nylon line as you’ll want your trotline to have.
hooks, line, sinker
A hook will ultimately be tied to each swivel when the trotline is complete. Pull several feet of line through the string of swivels so you’ll have some slack for attaching the line to a fixed point for fishing later on, then begin fixing the swivels in place one at a time. At the spot you’ll want your first swivel, tie a knot in the line, pull the knot tight, slide a swivel next to it, tie another knot an inch or two on the other side of the swivel pulling it tight as well and you’ve secured the swivel in place, leaving it enough freedom to do its job.
Built from scratch
Pull another three feet or so of main line through the swivel collection, repeat the knot-swivel-knot process and you’ve secured another swivel. Repeat this process until all the swivels are secured. Pull several more feet of slack line free of the spool as you did for the beginning and cut it free. The backbone of the trotline is now complete.
The short segments of line that will run between the swivels and hooks, called drops, can be attached now, along with the hooks. Ideally the drops should be 12 to 18 inches long. These can be simply made with sections of line twice the desired drop length, threading on a hook, sending one end of the line through the free side of a swivel on the main line and knotting the loop. If you’ll be using hooks with eyes large enough to accommodate a doubled section of nylon line, you can tie the drops on without hooks, then loop the hooks on later.
Keep it neat
To store and transport the line without tangles, the bane of any trotliner’s existence, as you are mounting the hooks, coil one free end of the main line into the bottom of a Styrofoam box then, as each hook is mounted, bring that portion of the line into the box, sticking the hook into the box’s top edge. As each hook is added, another three feet of trotline go into the box and another hook is stuck into the top edge, progressing around the rim of the box so that the hooks are safely secured in sequence, preventing all but the simplest of tangles.
Experimentation on where to place trotlines and when to run them is a big part of the game, though shallow flats where catfish feed are good places to start. Natural baits like shad, minnows and goldfish will work, although the caterpillars found on catalpa trees this time of year are very hard to beat.