Setting lines is one of my favorite ways to fish. There’s just something exciting about the unknown of what is on the other end of a noodle line that’s darting back and forth, then going underwater only to pop up on the other side of the bayou.
Sure, I love rod-and-reel fishing, too, but with lines the fish always seem to bite. Moreover, unlike raising hoop nets, trotlines or traps where the action is over pretty quick, the fun can last hours depending on how many noodle lines you set.
Through the years I’ve tried dozens of setups and have made thousands of various noodle and jug lines. I have different types depending on the type of game I’m after, from alligator snapping turtles, alligator gar, choupic, catfish and more. Each noodle is custom made with a rig that works best for the targeted species.
For this article, I’ll demonstrate my custom Santee noodles that I use when targeting catfish. I’ve tried many different setups, and these two have proven very effective on catching catfish without tangling and are the most cost-effective rig I’ve created with the quickest, strongest knots I’ve found.
I had read about catfish anglers using Santee rigs on rod and reel to catch monster catfish up north, and sure enough the method works wonders on a jug-line-style setup as well.
This video demonstrates just how I made these noodle lines, as well as clips of hundreds of fish I caught over the last few seasons. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9w5f9BG0AD4
On my latest trip, I landed a 39- and 51-pound blue cat out of Amelia, which were quite a battle to land because I had forgotten my net that morning.
Sometimes big alligators will take the bait and swim like crazy with a noodle, but with huge catfish the scene is often the same — and actually catching the fish is tougher than cranking one in with a rod and reel.
To create the noodles, I start off by using a 6- to 10-inch piece of the 4-inch diameter pool noodle floats you can find at any retail store. (Usually, I wait until after summer and stock up on them on clearance for $1 each instead of paying $4 during the warmer months.)
I tested noodles by gluing PVC pipe in them, but this extra step is unneeded. I often had the PVC come loose. With the correct knot and string, a noodle can handle hundreds of pounds of force and even pull a boat without ripping in half. Large gator gars and even 8-foot gators have been unable to break my noodle lines without any PVC pipe inserted.
The trick to an unbreakable noodle with simple twine is having thick enough nylon string. Avoid using the thin diameter 100-pound test stuff and opt for 250-pound twisted or braided nylon for catfish lines. This string is the perfect thickness to avoid cutting through the noodle, and won’t pop on a giant fish.
I use black or green non-tarred line because tying knots is much easier, and I find the non-tarred version gives a more natural grass-like feel which doesn’t seem to bother pickier fish or turtles.
I connect the line using a simple three-turn fisherman’s knot which slips on itself, tightening around the noodle when any fish tugs. I tie an overhand knot in the tag end to make sure the line can’t slip loose.
Next, I tie an overhand loop on the end of my main line. Usually I make my catfish noodles 6- to 12-feet deep depending on the area I’m fishing. I slide a size 1 or 1/0 barrel swivel through this loop. Without a swivel, a catfish will really twist up a line and can escape.
Then, I tie on a ⅝- to ¾-inch hex bolt right on top of the swivel with a couple of overhand knots. These bolts weigh 1 to 2 ounces depending on the size, and are cheaper than lead weights from the store — plus they are non-toxic.
Using a separate weight line is a bad idea, and will cause unmanageable tangles with the hook line on practically every fish.
The next step is creating a hook leader. My 6/0 and 7/0 non-stainless circle hooks are tied to a piece of nylon with the same 250-pound line. The leader is usually around 12 inches after being made for Santee rigs.
Circle hooks are by far the most effective for catfish because the fish cannot twist off easily. They also rarely straighten on bigger fish. Having a hook with a wide enough gap will ensure any large catfish can get hooked up and stay on. These size hooks also catch smaller 1 to 2-pound cats as well.
A smaller hook will break on a larger fish, or miss hooking the fish altogether with the small gap.
The hook is tied on with a simple overhand loop knot. The same overhand loop is tied on the leader’s other end. The loop end can be passed through the noodle line’s swivel in an instant.
I avoid using snap swivels on catfish lines because bigger fish can usually straighten the smaller ones, and strong ones can cost a lot of money.
For the most important step, I cut a tiny piece of red pool noodle and slide the hook through it, going over the eye where it rests between the hook and overhand knot. This is what allows the hook to stay 6 inches to a foot off of the bottom — right in the strike zone.
These noodles literally require less than one minute to make from start to finish, and literally cost pennies. Other knots will work, but these are extremely quick, easy and do not give.
I have hundreds of noodle lines made, and many can fit in an empty ice chest or boat storage compartment. The more hooks out, the more fun raising is – as long as there’s enough room in the boat for all the fish.
These Santee rigs work great with cut bait, but shine with live crawfish. Instead of having that mudbug bury itself or hide in moss and sticks underwater, it dangles right off the bottom where catfish devour it. Choupic, all cats including flatheads, and freshwater drum love live crawfish. Plus, they make very little mess.
When using cut bait, I use any type of fresh fish with a piece of skin left on. The skin will keep the bait on the hook in case bait stealers find it first. Then, I tip my hooks with a small fresh pogie.
One throw with the cast net will usually get me dozens of pogies. These tiny, oily fish are my favorite dead bait, but they come off the hook very easily — which is why I like to use cut fish with the pogie hiding the tip of the circle hook.
Usually I have a 75 percent or greater catch rate on my noodles when the cut fish/pogie setup is used. However, since tasty flathead catfish usually eat only live bait, I often opt for using live crawfish hooked through the tail. I’ve found crawfish tend to attract larger cats.
For using live bream or larger bait fish when targeting giant flatheads and blue cats, I use a suspension rig setup that I’ll feature in a separate article soon.
So that’s my noodle line method, which consistently puts tasty courtbouillon my stove and endless catfish patties stocked in my freezer. It’s a very simple and cost-effective way to both fill the boat — and have loads of action out on the water.