Simply put, simpler is and can be better when putting together rigs for cats. Fine-tuning little things seems to be a significant element for more hook-ups. But perhaps the greatest factor in their use is knowledge of what fish are doing in what particular part of the calendar year. In other words (bottom oriented) rigs can be modified to match the mood of the fish and they can be adapted to the places where they dwell. Components are the building blocks to successful adaptable rigging. Knowing your options will almost certainly help you give an edge on any catfish water.
To swivel or not to swivel?
This is the beginning of most rigs tied. Barrel swivels size 8 or larger work quite well. Ball bearing swivels are another step up and assure that parts will move smoothly under pressure. Swivels are especially useful when fishing in current with large pieces of bait. These pieces catch current and spin the line. Over the period of a few hours line may be stressed to such an extent it weakens and a big cat may be lost. It follows that in very fast current rigs are probably best tied with swivels. Line fatigue and breakage, from either the river's current spinning a rig over a long period of time or a large cat spinning on a rig, are both unlikely to occur.
There are occasions when a swivel may not be necessary. In slower moving water, baits don't move and of course fewer knots may mean less chance of line/knot failure. Lead lengths can be adjusted without any regard to where the swivel is located (this is not an important point as lead lengths can also be shortened with rigs tied with swivels with only a little more effort). Nonetheless an angler can quickly modify the rig without having to worry too much about line twist --- and potential knot failure at three points and not just one (swivels have also been known to fail!)
In some instances, a three-way swivel may also be employed at the starting point of your rig. This tiny piece of hardware allows a rig to have a bit of flexibility to adapt to a number of different situations where we might be angling for ‘ol whiskers. To the bottom of the rig, a number of options are open to the angler. Lighter line can be tied to the weight, which holds down the rig. If the rig was to get snagged, it is quite easy to break off and retie another drop weight. It follows that at certain times of the year when cats hunker down in some of the toughest water to fish you have the option of breaking off and not losing the whole rig. But the barrel swivel can also be used in this manner, but requiring of the angler a bit more manual dexterity.
What's your Line?
Line has been one element that has often been overlooked when tying rigs for cats. Generally anglers use the same line as what they have spooled on their reel. If this were the case the line chosen should have those characteristic, which would make a rig effective under the conditions, which are being fished. Depending upon the size of fish and the conditions in which they are found, a safe bet is a high quality abrasion resistant mono or one of the new generation super-lines that have better knot holding abilities. Both of these options will give the angler assurance that no matter how tough the bottom conditions the rig's integrity will hold up under the toughest fight. Cats aren't necessarily averse to the line color or size of line used to tie rigs. In most situations where these fish are living the water is so turbid the fish may actually bump into the rig thinking it is just another obstruction in its environment. Night fishing may, however, call for a change in line that is more visible for the angler (and not the cats) above water (the new fluorescent lines) but may only require the angler to tie onto a rig already tied with one of the lines mentioned above.
Weight will vary given different conditions. Very turbulent water calls for the use of a flatter shell shaped weight. These weights hug the bottom as water current holds them down. Egg sinkers suggest a different kind of approach to bottom oriented cats. They perform well with a slip sinker rig. Cats, who aren't taking bait in an overly aggressive manner, can be coaxed into biting by feeding out line. Another option is the bell sinker. Relatively inexpensive and available in a wide variety of sizes make this option very adaptable. The only draw back to this weight option is the shear bulk/weight of a selection of weights – How big is your tackle bag!. Finally a lindy style walking weight can have a place in a weight selection. A slow retrieve can be facilitated by a weight that actually walks over obstructions. This approach on occasion can help to localize where cats are most active in a larger area--- later another more specific rig can be employed. One fine point in this area of weighting involves the use of split shot. Split shot can be incredibly handy when tying up more sophisticated rigs. Having it on hand allows for a number of different variation of lead length and drop end length to your rigs.
''Lead'' me to the river
Following weight and swivel, is a part of the rig, which will vary according to conditions where the rig is used as well as the mood of the fish. A longer lead will allow the bait to move around leaving its scent and vibration in a broader area. Short leads help avoid extremes caused by craggy bottoms and tremendous current. Shortening up the lead not only helps avoid the perils mentioned above, but it would seem to control the baits movement (too much movement might even be distracting to a cat who is not overly aggressive) allowing a cat to zero in on your offering. Certainly conditions will be such that the opposite of what has been described above will dictate different lead length and weighting, but that's fishing – give 'em what they want given the mood they're in!
Hooks are not just ''Hooks''
Finally, the business end of the bottom oriented rig: hooks. The latest craze has been the circle hook. Great idea and they work. Rarely does a fish bite and not hook itself. In some cases, the amount of bait to be delivered needs a hook with a little bit of shank (the bait is pivoted against the shank and it doesn't move around as much. Size is relative to the cats you are after 3/0 to 8/0 are common sizes for Channel cats on the Red, but larger or smaller are both common and have their applications. Some of the better hooks are chemically sharpened or are coated to improve hook penetration, others are multi-barbed, and yet other hooks manufacturers have changed the forging process to produce a tougher harder hook point. Using these more technically advanced hooks has improved many anglers' catches --- they do however cost considerably more --- the choice is left to you and the way you'll use these components to hook up with cats in your neighbourhood..
Variations of the theme are a requirement of the successful bottom rigger. That's not to say that one rig won't work, all season long, it can. But adaptations to the local conditions and the attitude of the cats you're angling will go a long way. The components described here are basic to the bottom oriented rig, but they do allow for a repertoire that will certainly catch the fancy of any good ‘ol cat (anglers notwithstanding).