Trotline Fishing: How to Make a Trotline to Catch Catfish

If you want to catch catfish then you need to try trotline fishing.

A trotline is an effective method to passively cover a lot of fishing area to catch fish.

Trotline fishing with roller on boat
Trotline fishing is a blast! Source

In this article, we’ll dive into what a trotline is, how to make one, and what bait to use to catch catfish and other species of fish.

What is a Trotline?

Trotline Definition

A fishing line strung across a body of water, typically a stream or river, with dangling hooks with bait at various intervals used to catch fish.

Trotlines are popular in the catfishing community for their effectiveness. Most times they are left overnight and check on the following day.

When a fish bites the hook they are held in place by the anchors securing the trotline until the angler comes to take them off the hook.

How to Make a Trotline

Making a trotline can be as simple or as complicated as you’d like. There aren’t many trotline secrets to unveil, but this little guide should get you up and running.

The hardest task will be finding the right body of water to put yours in, but we’ll save that for later in the article.

Catfish caught on a trotline
Bullhead catfish caught on a trotline Source

Where to Get Your Trotline Supplies

Most of the supplies can be found at your local hardware and tackle shops or online on Amazon. If you’re in a survival situation you can make a trotline from paracord and hooks.

However, if you plan to regularly go trotline fishing, then it’s important to build a setup that will be robust enough for many uses.

Trotline Components

Making a trotline at home has never been easier. A trotline setup is fairly straightforward and it helps to know how to make them in case you’re ever in a survival situation.

Items you’ll need:

  • Cord or line
  • Clips
  • Swivels
  • Hooks
  • Bait

If you check online, there are some ready-made trotlines that come in various lengths and with different numbers of dropper lines and hooks.

But where’s the fun in that!

Let’s dive a bit deeper into each one of these items so you can make your own.

Trotline String

Trotlines can be made out of any string from paracord to monofilament. It depends on your preference, but if you had to choose a trusted cord to go with, we recommend you try some 550 paracord or something just as robust.

550 paracord is common and easy to get at your local hardware stores. Many people take this cord camping so it’s worth practicing making trotlines with them in case an emergency happens.

If you’re not in the mood to try paracord, twine works just as well and can be cheaper.

Lee Fisher Size 36 1 lb Braided Twine Black 470 Ft 228 Test
  • Break Strength: 280 Pounds
  • Length: 450 Feet
  • Spool Size: 1 Pound

Trotline Hooks

3/0 hooks seem to be the best trotline hooks for catching medium to large catfish.

Since you have many dropper lines, it’s worth experimenting with different sizes too. You’ll want to get circle hooks since they don’t need to be set.

Owner American 5363-131 Mutu Circle Hook Size 3/0, Forged/Hangnail Point, 2X, Multi, One Size
  • MUTU Circle Hooks
  • Super sharp, forged "hangnail" point
  • Corrosion-resistant black chrome finish

Trotlines are passive…who’s going to set them but the fish themselves!

Trotline Swivels

Swivels will join the main trotline to the dropper lines. It’s recommended that you go with barrel swivels to help keep the lines free from wrapping or tangles as the fish fights to get off the hook.

Fishing Rolling Barrel Swivels, 500pcs Fishing Line Connectors Stainless Steel Black Nickel Fishing Bearing Swivels Terminal Tackles for Saltwater Freshwater Size 30-97Lbs
  • 1. Package Included: 500pcs in a Free Handy Box with Size 2...
  • 2. Type: Rolling Swivel
  • 3. Made of Stainless Steel, Sturdy Constructed, Ensure High...

Trotline Clips

Clips can be used in place of swivels or with a swivel depending on your preference. Trotline clips look similar to tuna clips. Simply pinch and open to clip them to your main trotline and have the other end tied to your dropper line.

Spearit 400lb Branch Hanger W/SWVL (20pcs)
  • Select the Tensile Strength and Quantity
  • Material: 100% Stainless Steel
  • Dimensions: 350lb= 3.75"(95mm) x 0.63"(16mm) x 1.8mm, 400lb=...

Trotline Brads

Brads are tiny hinge clips that act as stoppers for your swivels and clips so they stay in a specific spot on your mainline. Depending on your setup you could simply use a knot on the mainline instead of buying brads.

Catahoula 03261 Brass Trotline Brads Prevent Staging from Moving (200 pcs)
  • Made of anti-corrosive brass.
  • Proudly made in USA.
  • Keep your trotline (bank line) stagings perfectly in place...

Trotline Winder

For the everyday trotline rigger, your hands will make a perfectly good winder. However, once you start setting longer trotlines, it’s a good idea to get yourself a trotline winder to help you bring in your line full of fish or crabs.

Chesapeake Trot Line Winder is a great one to check out.

Trotline Prop Stick and Roller

If you’re going for crabs, it might be worth it for you to make or buy a prop stick and roller for your boat.

These prop sticks can be made from simple PVC pipe, metal tubing, or if you want to get fancy, add a roller to help you pull the trotline up out of the water easier. This allows you to collect your catch while moving from one end of the line to the other.

Trotline Anchors and Floats

In order for a trotline to be set properly, it’s important to weigh down each end of the trotline in the water and have floats to keep the line from touching the bottom.

Sometimes you won’t need anchors on each end because you can use fixed anchors such as trees, sticks, or rocks. However, if you’re trying to run a trotline in a lake, for example, you’ll need around an 8 to 15-pound weight to keep your line in place and the fish from escaping.

Building Your Homemade Trotline

Trotline fishing diagram
Trotline fishing is an effective way to catch multiple catfish at one time!

Step 1: Cut your mainline

Pick a size of mainline that works for your body of water. If your trotline is going across a river, then it shouldn’t be longer than the width of the river unless you decide to set it at an angle.

Some anglers like long lines and some like shorter ones. Depending on the length of the line this will dictate how many drop lines you’ll have. If you’re new to trotline fishing, try anywhere from 15 to 40 feet in length to get started.

Step 2: Add your swivels or loops to your mainline

Your dropper lines need a place to hold on to. Therefore if you have the luxury of swivel put them on your mainline depending on how many dropper lines you plan to use.

We like to space the dropper lines out around two to three feet apart to prevent tangling. Swivels are nice because they help prevent tangles when the fish is fighting to get free.

Keep the swivels in place by using brads or knots on each end of the swivel.


Step 3: Add your dropper lines using clips

If you haven’t already made your dropper lines, it’s time to do that now. Take your clips and attach them to one end of the dropper line. Dropper lines can be any length as long as they aren’t too long to reach the bottom of where you’re fishing.

Say for example you choose to make a one-foot dropper line. If you’re using a thin string or cord, it could be good to take two feet of material and tie them together at the loose ends. This will make a loop that can be slipped through the clip and secured.

Do the same on the hook end and you’re set.

If you don’t want to use the loop method, then choose any knot that works for you and secure the clip to one end and the hook to the other.

Bait your hooks and clip your dropper lines to your mainline swivels.

Step 4: Add your anchors and floats

You should have left enough rope at each end of your mainline to attach the anchors and floats. Your anchor will rest at the bottom of the waterway and there will be enough slack for the float to rest on the surface of the water to mark where it’s been dropped, as well as, keeping the drop lines from reaching the bottom.

Your anchor doesn’t need to be a weight, you could easily attach one end of your mainline to a tree and the other end to an anchor or another fixture.

Setting a trotline depends on your situation, let’s dive into it in more detail in our How to Set a Trotline article.

Also, don’t forget to check your local state regulations before setting your trotlines.

The Anglers Behind This Article:

Jon Stenstrom

Johanes Godoy

Did this article help you? Yes No
× How can we improve it?
× Thanks for your feedback!

We're always looking to improve our articles to help you become an even better fisherman.

While you're here, why not follow us on Facebook and YouTube? Facebook YouTube
Articles » Techniques » Other Situations » Trotline Fishing: How to Make a Trotline to Catch Catfish