Trotline fishing is one of the most efficient methods of catching fish that I have ever seen. It is entirely possible to fill a freezer full of fish in one weekend. It would require a long line, and multiple hooks, with several trips to check and rebait the hooks, but it can be done. Although most of the people that I know that utilize the trotline will usually set one day and retrieve the next. It is entirely up to you how often you decide to retrieve and re-bait your line.
The first thing, with many things in this country, is to check you rules and regulations on the matter. In some places in this country, it is illegal to use them. In other places, it is okay as long as you follow a few simple rules. One of the common rules that I have noticed is to place a jug, or two on the line with your information to let them know who this line belongs to.
A trotline is difficult if not impossible to detect once it has been set. The line sits below the water’s surface, and can not be seen by swimmers or other boaters. Take this into consideration before setting up your line. Don’t place it near a swimming area or out in the middle of the open water where a boat could run over the line and tangle it in their motor. The hooks of a trotline are generally very large, and can become embedded into a person skin rather quickly. A hook of any size is painful when lodged into your skin. So be considerate of the possibilities.
The length of your trot line will depend on a few factors. Preference, space available, and length of line you are capable of working with. Trotlines are available premade, although they are made with lighter materials and are generally used for catching smaller fish. It is best to make one on your own using a heavier duty line. Doing so they will last longer, and stand up to the stronger fish.
If you choose to make a line, a few tips that I can offer would be to ensure that the hooks do not rest on the water’s floor. The hooks once installed on the trotline should hang freely in the water. Space the hooks far enough apart that the ends do not touch. Tying a knot a couple inches away from the hook on either side will prevent the hook from moving. Using a swivel hook or clip will allow you to detach the hooks from the line, and make installation easier. Using these tips will enable you to pre-bait all hooks before heading to the water. Hang each of the baited hooks on the rim of a bucket, then grab one as you travel down the length of the trotline.
There are two ways to start the line. One way is to tie it to a tree near the bank. Look for locations that are not frequented by people. This will lower the chances of people stumbling onto your line. It also heightens the chances of fish population nearby that will find the line. Don’t attach the line to anything that could cut the line or rub against it and cause it to break. The second version is a common one. Attach a weight and a bottle to the line. The weight sinks to the bottom of the water, and the bottle floats on top of the water. The bottle is used as a marker and a way to collect the line.
This weight should keep the main line just below the water’s surface. The length of line between the weight and the bottle will need to be adjusted based on the location you are using. If you choose to use the same location over and over again, you could set the length of line to that location. Leaving additional line that can be adjusted based on the location is ideal if you are using this same trotline in several locations. You can adjust the length at the time of install, or use a depth finder to know how long to make the line.
There are two ways you can choose to install the hooks. You may choose to set the hooks as you install the main line, or set the line first then return and set the hooks after. Either way is entirely up to you. Personally, I choose to set the hooks as I set the line. Although to some it may be easier and less hassle to go back after to set the hooks, so you are not fumbling with hooks and trying to tighten the line at the same time.
Pull the boat away from the bank in the direction that you wish to have the other end placed. Proceed slowly, do not pull the line too hard and fast, doing so could cause it to break. In some places, it is required to install jugs or some type of marker down the length of the line. If you are in such an area, install them as you pull away. For us, we also choose to add the hooks at this point too. It will consist of several stops along the way.
Once you have reached the end of your rope, a large weight needs to be installed. We use an old anchor from another boat that we owned. Others have used concrete blocks, and large heavy items. Whatever you plan to use it needs to be heavy enough to keep the entire trot line weighed down, even with plenty of fish tugging on it. The weight also needs to be light enough for you to lift it back into the boat. I don’t believe that using a refrigerator is an optimal choice, but a tire rim might do the trick.
Make sure that the line is as tight as you can pull it without causing the line to break. Once you have reached a sufficient tightness, drop the weight. If you need to install the hooks, go back to the beginning and follow the line. You should still be able to pull the line above the surface enough for you to reach down and attach the hooks to the line. A lower profile boat like a John boat is great for this job, a ski-boat won’t work unless you have ridiculously long arms.
For most people, they choose to use cut bait on a 1-foot line. Catfish are the likely prey to catch with a trotline, and they enjoy cut bait. In some places, worms and cut bait are the only options you have. Remember to check your local restrictions to know what is allowed when using a trotline.