Limb Lines For Catfish – The Complete Guide

Video limb lines for catfish

Limb lines are an extremely effective and simple method of catfishing. Typical limb lines for catfish setups involve nothing more than stout twine, a heavy sinker, a strong swivel, a sharp hook, and a tasty piece of bait. Instead of attaching this to a fishing pole, you tie it to a supple green limb overhanging the water and motor away to go do other things. In your absence, the limb fights the fish. Clever anglers may set a dozen or more of these lines, and let them “soak” for a couple of hours while they fish with a rod and reel nearby. If they’re lucky, they’ll soon be blessed with a “tree shaker,” a catfish so big it makes the whole tree sway as it struggles to return to deeper water!

Are Limb Lines Legal?

In most cases, yes! Most states allow limb lining in one form or another. In places where catfish are plentiful (throughout most of the southern and midwestern United States) regulations generally permit limb lines, trotlines, and other forms of setlining. Some states may have restrictions on the number of lines or hooks you can have out at once, and most require that the lines be tagged with the owner’s information. It’s important that you read up on your state’s regulations and clarify any questions with local authorities before you begin setting limb lines for catfish.

Limb Line Fishing

Some catfishermen look down upon limb lines, claiming that they don’t require any skill. It’s true that limb lines do set the hook and play the fish for you. But limb lines are to rod and reel fishing what trapping is to hunting. It’s a different way to accomplish the same goal, and you put in all of the hard work and planning on the front end of the project. There is definitely an art to setting limb lines.

limb lines for catfish
Look for banks with a lot of overhanging brush on them when you are setting your limb lines.

For this article, we were lucky enough to be able to interview Art Preller. Art is a longtime limb line fisherman on the White River and the inventor of the Port Arthur Limb Line.

How Deep To Set Limb Lines For Catfish

While many fishermen conceptualize catfish as deep water bottom dwellers, Art knows different. “Catfish are edge dwellers,” he says. “They’ll run the bank edge at night, and you don’t need a whole lot of water to catch them in. I’ve got a three foot paddle on my boat, and if I see a limb that looks good I’ll go over and stick that paddle in the water. If it’s got three feet then I’ll go ahead and set a line. I don’t usually fish all the way on the bottom. I’ll drop the bait down to the bottom and then come up about six inches.”

Setting Catfish Lines – Where To Put Them

We asked Art if he had any advice on what stretches of the bank were good candidates for limb line fishing.

“It depends on what you’re fishing for,” Art replied. “If you’re fishing for flatheads, bluff banks are best. If you’re fishing for channel cats or blue cats, you can really catch them almost anywhere. I like to look for banks with a lot of overhanging brush on them. And the more structure you have around on the edge of the bank, the better.”

Catfish Bank Poles/Diddy Poles – An Option When You Don’t Have A Limb

Sometimes, there just isn’t a limb handy where you want to set a hook. Art keeps a few pvc poles in his boat that can be driven into eroded bluff banks. Referred to as “bank poles” “ditty poles” or “diddy poles,” these simple devices can make you a more versatile fisherman.

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Diddy poles can be made from pvc, bamboo, cane, or green willow shoots. Anglers can also purchase premade diddy poles made from fiberglass. These poles are small enough in diameter that they can be set on sunken timber with the aid of the appropriately sized drill bit. If you’re looking to purchase some premade diddy poles, Catfish Getters offers them in several sizes and configurations.

Limb Lines On The River

When setting limb lines on the river, look for breaks in the current. If there’s a seam line in the current, catfish will lurk in the low-flow areas and wait to ambush food swept downstream. The mouth of creeks and sloughs off of the main channel can be productive areas.

setting a limb lines for catfish
If you can’t find any limbs overhanging the bank, you can attach your limb line to a diddy pole on the bank.

Structure can also provide an easy place for catfish to rest and wait for prey. Old docks, fallen down trees, and sunken houseboats or derelict vessels on the bank can be productive places.

How To Set Limb Lines For Flatheads

Flathead catfish are highly regarded by serious catfishermen. “Flatheads are kinda like the crappie of the catfish family,” Art explains. “They have a very white, clean meat because they hunt live bait; they’re not scavengers like the other species.”

So how can a catfisherman target flatheads with his limb lines?

“You’ll definitely catch more flatheads with live bait,” he said. “Down here, we like to use goldfish or rice slicks.” (Editor’s note: “rice slicks” is a colloquial term for Green Sunfish (Lepomis cyanellus). “June is usually the most productive month because they’re spawning. Right now, if we set hooks with live bait, we’re running around a 25% hookup rate for flatheads.”

Best Bait For Limb Lines

What about other species? What’s the best bait for channel catfish and blue catfish?

“Nightcrawlers are always a good go-getter,” says Art. “You’ll mainly catch channel cats on them, but you can catch blues and even flatheads occasionally. You just have to be careful how you run your lines. If you’re using nightcrawlers, wait until sunset to bait your hooks. Otherwise bait-stealers like bream and gar will clean your hooks before catfish can find them.”

“As far as blues go, if you can catch a few skipjack or freshwater drum, you can cut those up and that’s a really good bait for blue cats,” Art explains. “We were out just last week and caught a 22lb blue on a piece of cut drum.”

Best Hooks For Limb Lines

Hook selection is a very important part of your limb line strategy. Catfish run the gamut from 2lb “eatin’-sized” channel cats all the way to trophy-class blue cats that can break the hundred pound mark. You’ll want to match your hook to your target fish’s size.

“I’m not really a trophy catfisherman,” says Art. “I’m just out to fill my freezer. My general rule is if a fish is too big for my filet knife, I’ll let him go. You need big fish in your water to replenish what you catch. So with that in mind, I consider a size two to size four j-hook to be about right for what I’m targeting.”

Choose your hook size based on the size of catfish you are looking to catch.

What about trophy catifsh?

“If you’re going for the big fish, those 50-80lb trophy fish, then you’ll want something bigger. I’d say a 7/0 circle hook would be about right for big fish. You’ll also want to get some bigger swivels. Big catfish are tough on your tackle.”

Best Knot For Limb Lines

For your connections to the swivel and hook, a good, no-slip knot with high break strength such as a Palomar knot is ideal. For your attachment to the limb, a good slip-knot will hold even the largest catfish, but come loose quickly and easily with a tug of the tag end when it’s time to gather your lines back up.

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Best Time To Set Limb Lines

Limb lines are usually set at night during the spring and summer months. During this time, catfish feed more heavily at night as the water temperatures cool off. They’ll transition from deep, cool holes to the shallows along the shoreline in search of prey such as shad, bluegill, skipjack, crawfish, and insects.

Fishing at night also ensures that you are avoiding the “bait stealers” Art mentions. If you try to run lines during the day, you’ll have to fight with bream, gar, choupique, and even hungry turtles!

Limb Line String

Catfish are not line-shy. Heavy-duty, tarred trotline cord is strong and holds knots well, two features crucial in limb line string. Art’s premade limb lines come standard with tarred cord rated to 170lbs, plenty strong enough for even the biggest trophy catfish.

Limb Line Weights

When selecting weights for limb lines used in catfishing, it is essential to consider the size and behavior of the catfish species you are targeting. Generally, heavier weights are preferred to keep the line securely anchored to the limb or structure. The weight should be sufficient to counteract the fish’s strength and prevent it from easily breaking free. Depending on the water current and depth, weights ranging from 2 to 8 ounces or more may be suitable. It’s important to experiment and adjust the weight based on the specific fishing conditions to ensure the limb line remains stable and effective in attracting and catching catfish.

How To Make A Limb Line

Limb Line Setup

If you’d like to make your own limbline, start by gathering your materials. You’ll need heavy cord, strong swivels, sharp hooks, and some ½-4oz egg weights.

Start by cutting 2 lengths of cord; a 6-10ft main line and an approximately 2ft leader. Tie a heavy-duty swivel on one end of the main line using an improved clinch knot or palomar knot and thread an egg weight on. In heavy current, you’ll need a heavy sinker to keep your bait submerged. In slack water, use a lighter sinker.

Once the sinker is threaded, prevent it from coming off by tying a simple overhand knot on the opposite end of the line from the sinker. Then, tie a hook to your leader line. Straight-shank hooks can be attached with an improved clinch knot or similar. Circle hooks perform better when snelled. Be sure to use a hook size appropriate for the size fish you are after.

Once this is done, tie the hook and leader to the swivel on your main line. Add a tag in compliance with local regs to your main line, and your line is ready for the water!

Limb Line Rigs

It may not occur to most fishermen, but there is more than one way to rig a limb line. Most anglers will stick with the tried-and-tested Carolina and split shot rigs for limb lines. But there’s nothing stopping you from experimenting! Any live or cut bait rig that you would tie on the end of a rod-n-reel can be duplicated on a limb line. A dropshot rig is a good way to suspend bait off of the bottom, and you can experiment with multiple hooks by mimicking a high-low rig.

Catfish Limb Lines For Sale

While limb lines are simple to make, they do take up a lot of time. And if you don’t already have the hardware on-hand, it can be surprisingly expensive by the time you add up all of the materials plus time and gas to acquire them. Pre-made limb lines are an excellent option for fishermen who are short on time, or who just want to try a couple out on their next fishing trip.

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Art Preller’s Port Arthur Limb Lines are an innovative take on limb lines. They incorporate a hi-vis, reflective flagging device that serves as a fish indicator, tag, and storage device. According to Art, “You can put fifty of them in a five gallon bucket and they’re all organized. And when you’re done fishing, they’re easy to pull off of the river so that you aren’t losing equipment or littering the environment.”

limb lines for catfish
Trophy sized catfish can definitely be caught on the proper limb line setup.

Limb Line Safety

Unfortunately, some fishermen give limb-lining a bad name and abandon their lines or leave them unattended for too long. This can be dangerous to wildlife and even people, especially when water levels fall and leave the hooks exposed. Animals and boaters can become hooked or entangled in an abandoned limb line, so always be sure to remove your lines when you are done with them!

Limb Line Lights

Some anglers go so far as to mark their limb lines to make them more visible. A chemical glow stick or inexpensive clip-on light can make it easier for you or unwary boaters to locate your lines in the dark. Reflective tape and hi-vis yellow, orange, or pink lines can also make it easier for you and others to see your lines.

Limb Line Tags

In most states, regulations call for tagging your limb lines. These tags generally require you to provide ID and contact information. In Alabama, for example, lines must be tagged with the owner’s name and either a phone number or fishing license number. This information helps conservation officers to identify the owners of abandoned lines.

Limb Line Storage

Perhaps the most difficult part of fishing with limb lines is keeping them organized! The more lines you run, the harder this becomes. A boat full of lines with sharp hooks and flopping catfish isn’t just frustrating, it can be downright dangerous!

Some anglers keep their lines wrapped around a section of foam pool noodle. Bury the hook point in the foam, wrap the line around the noodle, and tuck the tag end under the last wrap for a clean package that can be easily unwound when needed.

Another storage tactic is to wrap the lines around your fingers in a figure-8 pattern and secure it with a small alligator clip. The wrapped line can then be set into a compartment in a flat, stowaway-style tackle box.

Final Thoughts On Limb Lines For Catfish

In conclusion, limb lines are a highly effective and popular method for catching catfish. This traditional fishing technique combines simplicity and efficiency, making it accessible to anglers of all skill levels. By utilizing strong lines, appropriate bait, and strategic placement, limb lines offer a reliable means of catching plenty of catfish. However, it is crucial for anglers to prioritize responsible fishing practices, ensuring the safety and well-being of both the targeted species and the surrounding ecosystem. By adhering to local regulations and employing responsible fishing methods, anglers can continue to enjoy the thrill of limb lining while preserving natural resources and being considerate of other outdoorsmen.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>