For effectiveness in catching catfish, it’s hard to beat trotlining. Multiple hooks baited and in the water are the basics.
Trotlines catch fish. They usually catch catfish, but crappie, carp, drum and an occasional bass may be hooked.
Not everyone is in agreement on their use or it being classified as sport fishing, but trotlines are popular in Arkansas, and an experienced user can come home with a good supply of meat for the freezer.
The term for this method is trotline – not troutline, not trot line. You see both used improperly.
A trotline is a long and strong cord with other lines called droplines fastened at intervals. The droplines have hooks at their end, and bait can be a wide variety of food items, but large minnows are popular and readily available. So is prepared catfish bait – homemade or store-bought.
Arkansas Game and Fish Commission regulations specify that the droplines must be at least two feet apart. Some trotliners prefer wider spacing, up to four feet, but this partly depends on the water being worked.
Ready-to-use trotlines can be bought at sporting goods outlets, and fishermen can make their own. The rigs usually include something on each side of the droplines to keep them in place. A large split shot will work. The droplines are usually attached to the main line with brass swivels to prevent a hooked fish from winding up the line tightly so it breaks off.
In practice, the trotlines are tied securely to a tree or other stationary object at each end, weighted in the middle to get the line deep enough and out of the way of boat traffic then baited. The fisherman then goes about other activities and returns later to “run” the line to remove hooked fish and to re-bait.
Most anything can be used for the weight, but trotliners keep in mind this weight has to be lifted repeatedly when they run the line. A brick with a hole in the center can be used. So can any chunk of metal that weighs a couple of pounds. Some trotliners take an empty No. 10 can, about a gallon in size, fill it with a concrete mixture then put a coat hanger in the middle before the concrete hardens.
Some trotlining is on a before-work, after-work schedule. Some lines are put out at night then checked the next morning. AGFC requirements say the catches on trotlines must be removed daily and that the angler’s name or ID number is on each end of the main line. Trotline fishermen may put the lines out, go to a nearby camp or picnic spot and spend the day – or night – enjoying stories and food and running the lines every couple of hours.
Trotlining has its dangers, and two people working together are suggested. If a trotliner is careless, the cord can get tangled in an outboard motor propeller, or the line can slide over the side of the boat and put a sharp hook in a forearm.
To a trotliner, an enjoyable moment is when the line is lifted to the side of the boat, and there is a distinct tug-tug down below – fish on the line.
For any trotliner, a problem that must be solved is how to store the line so it can be taken in and put out the next time with relative ease. Many fishermen use or build a wooden square box of plywood or 1x6 lumber. Multiple slots are cut in the four sides for the hooks. The main line is coiled in the bottom of the box with a hook dropped into a slot in rotation as the line is wound in.
Take any remaining bait off the hooks when finishing up, of course. A trotline box with leftover bait in warm weather isn’t appealing to the nostrils.
"Thomas Jefferson said I had a God-given right to pursue happiness. What makes me happy is to take a mallard's head smooth off at about 20 feet.
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