Trotlining Basics: What Is Trotline Fishing?

When you think of trotline fishing, you might envision a lazy day spent lounging on a dock with a fishing line in the water. But trotline fishing is a lot more active than that! 

Trotlines are perfect if you want to maximize your time out in the open waters and catch several fish or crabs at once. And the best thing about this alternate method of fishing? Setting up a trotline is easy. 

Here’s everything you need to know about trotline fishing.

What Is Trotline Fishing?

Trotline fishing diagram

Trotline fishing uses a long line with baited hooks attached at intervals. You will then anchor the line and leave it in a reservoir, creeks, river systems, and other open waterways for long periods. 

The name trotline comes from the fact that the line is often set up in a “trot” formation, with the hooks spaced evenly along the length of the line. Trotlines are sometimes called “set lines” or “long lines.”

Anglers use trotlines because it is an effective way to catch different species of catfish, like flathead catfish and blue catfish. Furthermore, trotlines are a more passive form of fishing than traditional methods like casting or trolling.

With trotline fishing, you simply set the line with a trotline and let the fish come to you. 

What You Need for Trotline Fishing

The great thing about trotline fishing is that you don’t need a lot of expensive gear to get started. All you need is a trotline, some hooks, and some bait.

Of course, a few other things can make your trotline fishing experience more enjoyable.

Main Line 

Nylon twine or braided line is a good option for your trotlines. The size of the main line will depend on the length of your trotline. If you’re unsure how long to make your trotline, a good rule is to use a main line that’s twice as long as the distance between the two anchoring points.

Expert Tip: The type of hooks you use will also dictate the size of the main line. If you’re using small hooks, you can get away with a thinner line. Use a thicker, more durable line for larger hooks. 

Drop Lines

Drop lines are the lengths of lines that you’ll attach to your main line at intervals. The dropline should be shorter than your main line, and you should space them evenly.

The number of drop lines you’ll need will depend on the length of your trotline. You can place them anywhere from 2 to 3 inches apart

Expert Tip: The hooks you use will also affect how far apart you space your drop lines. For small hooks, you can place them closer together. On the other hand, you can space large hooks further apart. 

Fishing Swivels

AMYSPORTS High Strength Fishing Snap Swivels Ball Bearing Swivels Stainless Fishing Swivels Saltwater Corrosion Resistance Barrel Swivel for Freshwater Fishing 25pcs 48lbs

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Fishing swivels are small pill-shaped metal devices that attach to the end of your drop lines. Swivels help to keep your drop lines from tangling, and they also make it easier to remove your catch from the trotline.

Swivels come in various sizes. A great rule of thumb is to choose a fishing swivel that is large enough to fit through the eyelet of your hook.


Small catfish hooks often used for trotline fishing are typically between 1/0 and 3/0. On the other hand, large catfish hooks can be anywhere from 7/0 to 10/0. 

The most popular type of hook for small catfish is the J hook. This type of hook is easy to set, and it’s very effective at snagging fish. However, J hooks can be difficult to remove from a fish’s mouth. 

With the large catfish, you can use a treble hook. This hook is very effective at snagging fish, and it’s also easy to remove from a fish’s mouth. But treble hooks can be challenging to set.

Trotline Clips

TACKLE BEACON Catfish Trotline Clips

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Trotline clips are small metal devices that attach to your main line. They’re used to secure your drop lines to the main line. They also match the weight of the trotline to maximize the submersion, preventing the trotline from floating to the surface.

There are various clips available, but the most popular type is the carabiner clip. Carabiner clips are easy to use, and they’re very strong. You can also use them for various other purposes, such as attaching bait bags or weights to your trotline.

Line Winder

As its name suggests, a line winder is a handheld fishing device that helps you quickly and easily retrieve your line without manually winding it yourself. This can be a helpful tool if you have a long trotline or want to transport your trotline easily.


The bait you use for trotline fishing depends on what kind of fish you’re trying to catch. For example, catfish are attracted to baits like chicken livers, while bream fish go for live bait like crickets or worms.

You’ll want to experiment with a variety of bait to see what works best in your area. If you’re trotline crabbing, the best bait is fresh fish. Crabs are attracted to the smell of fish, so the fresher the bait, the better. 

Expert Tip: You can also add weights to keep your trotlines at the desired depth. Remember that the more weights you attach, the more difficult it would be to pull the line in. 

Step-By-Step Guide to Setting up a Trotline

Setting up a trotline is a simple process, but there are a few things you need to do to set it up correctly.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to setting up your trotline:

Step 1: Measure and Cut the Mainline

When you’re setting up your trotline, the first thing you need to do is cut the mainline. The length of the mainline will depend on the area you’re fishing in and the number of hooks you’re using. You should also consider how far the anchor points are. 

A good rule of thumb is to use a mainline that’s at least twice the length of the body of water you’re fishing in. For example, if you’re fishing in a pond that’s 20 feet long, you should use a mainline that’s at least 40 feet long.

If you’re using a lot of hooks, you may need to use a longer mainline.

Step 2: Attach the Clips or Swivels

Next, you need to attach the clips or swivels to the mainline. The number of clips or swivels you use will depend on the number of hooks you’re using. You should space the clips or swivels out evenly, so each hook has its clip or swivel.

If you’re using clips, you can simply attach them to the mainline using pliers. If you’re using swivels, you’ll need to tie them onto the mainline.

Step 3: Connect the Drop Lines

After the clips or swivels are in place, you need to attach the drop lines. The drop lines should be about 2 feet long and spaced out evenly between the clips or swivels.

To attach the drop lines, you can tie them onto the clips or swivels, or you can use carabiner clips.

Step 4: Add the Hooks and Bait

Now it’s time to attach the hooks. The hooks should be spaced out evenly along the drop lines.

There are a few different ways you can attach the hooks. You can tie them onto the drop lines or use bait clips.

If you’re using bait clips, you should put the bait clip on the drop line first and then put the hook through the bait clip. This will help keep the bait on the hook and prevent it from falling off.

Step 5: Connect Floats and Anchors

The final step is to add your floats and anchors. The floats will keep the trotline afloat, while the anchors will keep it in place.

You can use any float type, but styrofoam noodles are a good option because they’re lightweight and easy to see. You’ll need one float for every 10 to 20 feet of trotline.

As for the anchors, you can use anything heavy that will sink to the bottom of the body of water you’re fishing in. Rocks or bricks are a good option. Or you can even tie one end of the trotline to a tree or other sturdy object.

Once you’ve added the floats and anchors, your trotline is ready to use!

Trotline Fishing FAQs

How Often Should You Check a Trotline

You should check your trotline at least once a day, but twice a day is even better. This will help ensure that the bait is fresh and that the hooks are still in place.

How Far Apart Should Hooks Be on a Trotline

You can space the hooks as far apart or as close together as you want. However, most anglers space hooks about 7 to 12 inches apart.

How Many Hooks Can You Use on a Trot Line?

The number of hooks you can have on a trotline depends on where you live. For instance, in Missouri, you should only use up to 33 hooks at a time. But if you are trotline fishing in the Mississippi River, you can have a maximum of 50 hooks. 

A few states have higher limits, so it’s always best to check with your local fishing regulations before setting up your trotline.

Happy Trotlining

There are a lot of alternative fishing methods you can use. But trotline fishing is a great option if you’re looking for an easy and effective way to catch fish. And now that you know how to set up a trotline, you’re ready to give it a try!