Limb Line for Catfish

Limb Line for Catfish
Limb Line for Catfish. Tammy McBroom


Limb lining for big catfish goes hand in hand with camping, cooking and friends. A laid back endeavor, limb lining is one of those things that seems to call us to the lake, river or creek in pursuit of eater size channel cats to giant flatheads. Some anglers target any catfish they can catch feeling fortunate when a big flathead finds their bait. On the other hand there are anglers that prefer not only the size of the flathead but also the flavor. They target flatheads exclusively and while either set can catch either or species, there are some differences in tactics for each species. I will touch on each one but this article will mainly focus on limb lining for big catfish.

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Limb lining is a great way to unwind. You can get as serious as you like with anything but for me limb lining has always been a laid back and relaxed way of fishing. Don’t get me wrong limb lining for big catfish can be work for sure but the work is mixed in with chilling at the campfire telling fishing stories to your buddies or just listening to the frogs and owls if alone. 

My favorite time to limb line for catfish is right after the crappie and the Redear have stopped biting. The weather is still bearable and the catfish are moving into the shallows. Also the water levels are at least to summer pool and often higher making more and more limb available for hanging a line.


I Like to find those nice green overhanging tree limbs about 1 inch in diameter. The limb should be hanging over at least 3 feet of water. Catfish hunt very shallow at night and you can catch catfish in water as shallow as 10 inches deep. The only issue with limb lining for big catfish in shallow water is the chance or likelihood of getting tangled or broke off on rocks. Set your bait at least a foot off the bottom. This will usually keep your limb line out of trouble when a big catfish is struggling to get loose.


No need to get fancy with limb lines. All you need is a heavy cord, a heavy hook and some bait. You can add a swivel and it is a good idea if you only plan to check your limb lines once a day. Big channel catfish are known to spin while fighting and if left unchecked for several hours will create a twisted mess and could possibly break even the heaviest limb line cord. The cord used with limb lines is a heavy duty cord sold specifically for catfishing.


It goes without saying that your limb line hook should be heavy duty. A classic O’Shaughnessy hook will work with limb lining especially if you plan on using dead bait, cut-bait or stink baits or chicken livers. All great baits but they will attract the smaller catfish and if you’re limb lining for big catfish then live bait is the best. Even channel cats prefer live bait when you’re talking about the big ones. Flathead catfish, being the only true predator of the catfish, will take live bait over dead any day. When using live bait the best hook is the circle hook or the octopus circle hook. The octopus circle isn’t quite as rounded as the true circle hook.

octopus circle hook for limb lines
octopus circle hook for limb lines

The circle hook was created to help keep fish from getting off when hooked on various commercial line sets and finally made it into mainstream sportfishing applications due to its ability to not only keep a fish from shaking the hook but also reduces swallowed hooks because the point is rounded and only penetrates as it slides to the fish’s mouth. The circle hook also helps keep the live bait from slipping off the hook. This is another great reason for using circle hooks when limb lining for big catfish.


You can use any number of catfish baits for your limb lines. If any size catfish will do then anything goes. However, if big catfish is your target then there are better options for baiting your limb lines for big catfish. Big catfish prefers live bait. As a channel catfish gets into the “big” range they, like the flathead, become more of a predator than their smaller counterparts. So if big catfish is what your after then stick with live bait.

There are many available options for live bait for limb lining. You can use big minnows, spring lizards, shiners, suckers and others. The most popular live bait for big catfish I would say is the bluegill. Bluegill are readily available if you don’t mind fishing for a few before your trip. My favorite size bluegill or sunfish for limb lining is any between 3 and 5 inches long. You can definitely use larger bluegill to bait your limb lines, but this size range seems to attract all sizes of catfish in that “big” range.


Hook your bluegill or sunfish in the tail and submerge it just a few inches below the surface. You can adjust your limb line to obtain this. As the bluegill struggles it will break the surface of the water causing a splashing sound that drives big catfish crazy and will get their attention from a pretty good distance.


Depending on when you do your limb lining for big catfish will determine where you might find them. Early in the summer catfish are searching for places to spawn. They will be found not only in shallow water but also in the back of coves. A great place to look is in the back of coves where there is a lot of gravel, rip rap rock and a creek coming in. Of course suitable limbs must be present for limb lining to work. 

As the summer progresses the catfish will move out toward the main lake. If there are suitable limbs for limb lining on the main lake you can give it a try. Usually the better limbs for limb lining are found back in coves and the protection from the wind make these areas more comfortable for limb lining. 

limb line for catfish
The simple limb line on the left can be used for smaller catfish. The more elaborate limb line on the right is for those big catfish we all love to catch. Ken McBroom


Limb lining for catfish can be a simple line tied to a limb and hook. This method has caught plenty of big catfish. However, if you want to have better success, especially when you hook a big catfish a swivel is needed. Big catfish pull hard. They turn and roll until the line twists and shortens. This pulls the head of the catfish out of the water. When this happens the hook seems to come lose easier and you lose the fish. At minimum I would suggest a single swivel at the hook to prevent the twisted line. The swivel helps with line twist and keeps the line farther away from the catfish’s rough mouth that will saw through heavy line. You can also add a rubber bungee to help with the shock and pull of a big catfish. Usually a limb will have enough give to handle a big catfish. However, when you find yourself needing to attach your lines to logs and trees, the bungee works great.


The easiest way to hang limb lines is to just tie it to the limb of choice. There are some fancy bungee cords and yo-yos that are used, but if you pick the right limb that has some spring to it and hangs over some fishy looking waters then just tie the limb line to the limb and adjust for depth. Keep it off the bottom to avoid hang-ups. Also be sure that your bluegill or whatever live bait you’re using can’t get into brush or rocks and hide or get you hung. Adjust the length of the cord to keep this from happening.


limb lines for catfish
A great way to store your limb lines. Cut slits in a pool noodle and wrap them onto it for easy and handy storage. Ken McBroom

Limb lines can get in a mess in the bottom of the boat if not tamed with a storage system. You can use a bucket and hook the hooks along the edge of the bucket with the lines inside the bucket. Another way is to stretch a rope inside the boat along the side and hang your lines from the rope. The best way that I have found for storing and transporting limb lines for catfish is with a pool noodle. Cutting slits in the pool noodle allows you to slip the end of the line into it and wrap the limb line neatly around the pool noodle. Then just slip the point of the hook into the foam and everything will stay put no matter how much it get thrown around in the boat.


Yo-Yos are a great way to limb line for catfish. A yo-yo is a small reel with a spring inside that recoils the line when the catfish pulls and triggers the yo-yo. The catfish can pull against the spring and as it plays out the yo-yo reels the catfish just to the surface. Yo-yos are easy to store and easy to set and are very popular among catfish anglers everywhere. Yo-yos are not legal everywhere. The same is true of limb lines so please check your regulations before investing in limb lining for catfish or a bunch of yo-yos.

List of limb line gear to consider

Gamakatsu Octopus Circle Hook

Nylon Bank Line

Pool Noddle For Lines

Heavy Duty Swivels


Catch Spawning Channel Catfish 

Big Flatheads Small Baits

About Ken McBroom 307 Articles
Ken McBroom is an accomplished outdoor writer and photographer. Growing up in Lynchburg Tennessee allowed him many opportunities afield as a boy and young man. Later in life, after Desert Storm, Ken’s wanderlust took him to Alaska to live and work and experience the last frontier. Married now with two beautiful children, Ken now calls Kentucky home where he continues to communicate our American outdoor traditions and the lifestyle it offers.


  1. What size color and nylon line type do I need for limb lines
    Where is best place to order from

  2. Nylon twine. It is called drop line used for the drops on trotlines. You can get white twine or black twine for limb line catfishing but I prefer white because you can see it so much easier when checking for catfish.

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