How to make a trotline. Trotlines are one of the old time-tested methods when you want to catch a lot of catfish in a hurry. When you need to make a “meat haul” or just want to fish around the clock while spending your vacation time doing other things, set out a trotline or two and you will always come home with fish! Here are some simple instructions on how to rig up and set out a trotline.
A lot of folks ask me how to make a trotline. I have tried various methods and styles but I always come back to the simplest version and it just plain works. A trotline is nothing more than a long piece of heavy main line that has short lines or drops tied to it at regular spacing intervals. These drops have one hook each. State rules vary, but in my state (Texas) you can have a maximum of 25 hooks per trotline. Other methods to catch catfish include jug fishing which is very similar to trotlines, but more mobile so to speak. You can read about how to jug fish here.
How you set out the trotline in the water depends on where you are fishing. In a creek or small river you simply tie each end of the mainline to each bank via a stake or a tree limb. The line spans the creek or river and is submerged with small weights along the length to take it underwater. In open water such as a lake you have to tie empty jugs to each end and then anchor each end with heavy weights. then you have the smaller weights in the middle to take the mainline under the surface. The floating jugs help keep the mainline accessible when you get ready to run the line for fish. Trotlines can be dangerous if you are careless. They can drag you out of the boat and underwater in a heartbeat. I recommend always fishing with a partner when fishing trotlines.
To make the trotline I use just a few simple supplies. For the mainline I like to use a heavy 580 lb. test, tarred, braided or twisted nylon line. The heavier the better in my opinion. You can get this line here. This line is relatively cheap and strong as well. Texas regulations state that the drop hooks must be a minimum of 3 feet apart. So a 25 hook mainline will need to be at least 100 feet long. I usually just use a standard 120 ft. long mainline to account for tying each end and also to account for the spacing knots to be discussed later.
For convenience I like to remove my drop hooks from the mainline for storage. That way I can ball up the mainline and not have to fight sharp hooks for safety. To keep your drops evenly spaced along the mainline I simply tie two knots about an inch apart at three foot intervals. This is simple and does not require clips and other extra parts.
The drops are simply constructed of a piece of 100 lb. test tarred twisted nylon line cut in 3 ft. lengths and the ends tied together to form a loop. You can get this line here. I always cut lines with a good pair of sharp scissors and the burn the ends with a flame to prevent unraveling. I then loop a snap swivel on one end and a trotline clip on the other.
The hook is a matter of personal choice depending on your bait, but big is always better in my opinion. The trotline clips make it easy and safe to assemble or disassemble the trotline while out on the water. I use them all the time and have never had one come apart yet.
I like to store my trotlines in a 5 gallon bucket. I store the mainline balled up in the bottom of the bucket along with the weights and then hang 25 drops and hooks around the top edge. Everything stays untangled and easy to use in a boat. I always store just one complete trotline in a bucket so I know that I have everything in one place per bucket.
If you want to skip the work of making your own trotline you can order this one that’s nicely made.
I have used several of the Eagle Claw trotline sets and they are handy to keep a set or two around in your fishing tackle.
To set out the line just use my diagrams below and bait her up and then sit back and relax. I usually run my lines every 4 or 5 hours apart. I also bait the lines just a dusk and go back at dawn to load my boat up (usually) with a good haul of cats.
You now know how to make a trotline. Now that you have built your trotline, read about how to make a trotline jump box for easy line storage and deployment! Try this method for yourself and stay safe and watch those hooks!
Don’t forget to take a look at our series of articles on how to build a wooden jon boat! You can see the step by step process from start to finish here on our blog!