Trotline Fishing Lesson

Trotline fishing explained; including how to make trotlines, the right fishing hook for your needs, and a delicious catfish recipe.

| February/March 1998

Over the years any number of fishermen have told me that as far as they're concerned, the use of trotlines doesn't qualify as true "angling" or "sportfishing" at all. They are quite certain of this, even after they admit they have never personally had a trotline in the water. "Meat fishing" or "commercial fishing" or even "trash fishing" — because, supposedly, you mostly catch "trash fish" on a trotline — is what some have called it, often adding, "it oughta be against the law!"

For a time I, too, shared a certain stereotyped view of the trotline fisherman: a good ol'boy in bib overalls, head topped by a tractor cap, big chew under the lip, hauling all the big ones in over the gunwale by brute force and stacking them like cordwood into flat-bottomed boats. Graceless ... barbaric. The stereotype, when it showed true, was enough to raise the hackles and rile the envy of any nearby fisherman with an empty stringer and a high-tech rod and reel.

After some experience with trotlines, both on my own and with some anglers who actually make a living at it, I'm inclined to avoid the argument. I don't know if trotline fishing is "sporting" or not. I do know it's a fun way to fish, it takes some skill, and it will put fresh catch on your dinner table.

Trotlines, along with limblines, throwlines, and juglines, are all varieties of setlines. In my home state of New Mexico, the Department of Game & Fish defines a trotline or setline as "a line without a rod or reel attached that need not be held in the hand or closely attended."

Specifically, a trotline is a setline with multiple hooks that is employed in the open water of a lake or river by means of weights and floats. The number of hooks may vary from a half dozen to over a hundred, the latter being the sort used by commercial "longliners" in some southern states.

Generally, the hooks are set about 3 to 4 feet apart and attached to the main line by shorter lines called dropper lines or "trots." A swivel is used to attach the trots to the main line and this connection is called the "staging."

7/31/2015 4:51:17 PM

Nice article. I grew up fishing trotlines on the Trinity River in Texas. It can be a lot of work, but it is also very rewarding. I suggest to never set or run trotlines alone for safety reasons. I have written another trotline article in my fishing blog at

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