Natural Baits Part II - Rigs

Part 2 - Rigs

Andrew Geving

Over the course of my fishing life, it has become obvious to me that day in and day out nothing outproduces natural baits. This is especially true when targeting rare native species about which not much is known of their feeding habits. For predatory fish like gar, muskellunge, bowfin and catfish, having a good lively baitfish indigenous to the water you are fishing is by far your best bet for connecting with the species you’d like to catch. I’ve seen just about every species of fish hooked on a nightcrawler at one time or another. A nightcrawler fished on the bottom of many rivers can produce outstanding species tallies, not to mention being your best option for some of our scarcest species like blue suckers, black redhorse, buffalos and sturgeons. Frogs or waterdogs can bring explosive strikes at certain times of the year. Live crayfish are impossible for many species to resist. A working knowledge of various kinds of natural baits and different rigging options for the situation you find yourself in is invaluable to the successful fisherman. This five-part series of articles is meant to be a rudimentary overview of bait-fishing essentials.


You can combine your terminal tackle in endless varieties of rigs based on the conditions. You can adjust the length of your hook-length (between the hook and the weight) to let your bait swim freely or hold tight to the bottom. You can use drifting rigs to cover water, or float rigs to suspend your bait above the bottom. The more you learn about the fish you are after, the better chance you'll have at selecting the correct rig for the situation.

Splitshot Rig

Splitshot Rig

As simple as bottom-fishing gets, just a few split-shot crimped on 8-24" above your bait. Works just fine for drifting applications and close stationary bottom fishing with little or no current. This is a very stealthy rig that won’t spook fish on the cast.

Basic Sliding-weight, Stationary Bottom Rig

bottom fishing rig

This is your basic sliding-weight, stationary bottom rig. It is meant to be cast out to your chosen spot and left to sit stationary. A split-shot may be used instead of the swivel, but the swivel reduces line twist and is recommended. The length of the leader, or line below the swivel to which your hook is tied, can vary from 4-36". I most often go with 14-20".

Three-way Splitshot-dropper Rig

splitshot dropper rig

This is a three-way splitshot-dropper rig. It is used mainly for drifting baits in the current. When the split-shot hang up in the rocks, pull on the line and they slide off the tag-line dropper, thus saving the rest of your rig and bait.

Heavy Sliding-weight, Stationary Bottom Rig


Another basic sliding-weight, stationary bottom rig, but with stouter tackle for larger fish. Be sure the swivels you use are stronger than your line! When using some of the stoutest lines for flathead catfish and sturgeon fishing, you'll need to upgrade your swivels to avoid breaking them if you get snagged.

 Bottom Noose Float Rig

noose rig

Here’s an interesting float-rig we sometimes use while targeting longnose gar. It utilizes a three-way swivel and a slip-float. The float stop should be set a few feet deeper than the water you are fishing. The weight can be much larger than would pull the float under this way. It is a good way to fish a float rig in heavy wave-action or current and have your bait remain stationary. This particular rig is a hookless rig utilizing a noose concept. A baitfish of some kind would be threaded on the line using a baiting needle, then a simple clinch knot tied back on the same line completes the loop. The loop will stay open when cast out, and when a gar takes the bait and your float shoots across the water you will tighten up and the noose will close tightly around his long snout, also caught between his teeth. Constant pressure needs to be maintained to keep the gar “hooked” so it can be brought to shore. This is also a great rig with a hook, instead of the noose, off the swivel.















Texas River Rig

breakaway rig

This rig uses a three-way swivel and long hooklength, with a heavy sinker attached to the swivel by a length of line. This rig, when fished under tension in current, keeps your bait suspended above bottom, even in heavy current. If the sinker becomes snagged, it can be broken free while saving the rest of the tackle.


freeline rig

Seldom used in this day and age, freelining live bait is an absolutely deadly tactic that will reward you with big catches in certain situations. The concept is to tie a hook on the end of your line and very little else. This allows your bait to swim or crawl completely free, wherever it wishes. With no sinker, the weight of the bait alone propels the cast. Freelining is an excellent tactic for deploying medium-sized baits in slow-moving, shallow water. Frogs, water dogs, minnows, and even nightcrawlers can be effectively freelined for predator fish. This advanced tactic requires keen attention to detail, especially where your bait is going and how it is affected by current. Freelining does not work well in dense vegetation, deep water, or strong current. In small streams, freelined baits can be carefully placed on a bouyant leaf or wood chip and allowed to float downstream with the current while you play out line from upstream. Once the bait has drifted beneath an undercut or overhanging tree, you gently pull the bait off the leaf and allow it to drift down into the depths. These spots are inaccessible by most other methods, and often hold the largest and wariest fish in the stream.

Slinky Rig

slinky rigging

The slinky-rig. It is almost completely snagless, even in heavy rocks or timber. Can be used in any bottom-fishing application, stationary or drifting(bottom-bouncing). It excels when drifting a natural bait with the current because of it’s snag-free qualities.