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Fishing with Trot Lines

Fishing Trot Lines in Alabama

by Larry Haag

Trot lines are one of the most enjoyable and productive ways to catch catfish. Most anglers use fishing poles to catch catfish, but another method to use is a “trot line.” The excitement of pulling up the line with lots of fish pulling back is a feeling like no other!

Trot lines can be purchased, but homemade varieties are easy to make and much cheaper. A trot line may consist of 50 to 250 feet of heavy line, about 50 feet of lighter line, a 10 to 20 pound weight, and 20 to 50 regular shank or circle hooks, the same number of swivels, and clips. Braided cotton line is best as braid will not unravel as easily as twisted line, and the cotton will decompose if the trot line gets lost. Also a piece of Styrofoam or a box is not necessary, but it is helpful to hang hooks on so that they do not get tangled while being transported. The hooks need to be a size 3/0 or 4/0. trot line fishing
Trot line hooks kept in a box makes work flow better.

The swivels are important because a big catfish will try to roll in the water to get the hook out of its mouth. The swivel keeps the fish from twisting the line so the hook will not pop out of its mouth. These supplies should be all the necessary materials needed to make a trot line. Other equipment such as a boat, life jackets, pliers, and first aid kit will be needed to help the process move fluently and safely.

Constructing a trot line correctly is very important. The first step is to cut the lighter pieces of cotton line into one or two feet lengths. Tie a hook to one end of the cut pieces and a clip to the other end. Next, stretch the heavy cord all the way out and tie in a swivel every 4 to 10 feet. Make sure to leave about fifteen feet of line before tying swivels so there are not any hooks hanging out of the water when the line is set. Everything is now ready to take to the water.

When setting the trot line, it is best to have two people. It is always safer with someone to help in case of an accident. Pre-bait each hook. Popular baits can be rooster or chicken livers, worms, or any type of legal baitfish (bream, minnow, mullet or shad - either whole or cut). First, tie one end of the heavy line to a limb, stump, or other stationary structure. Then stretch the line tightly down the bank or into the main channel with the 10 to 20 pound weight tied to the other end so it will sink and stay tight. Now, go back to where the line is tied to the stationary structure. Start pulling the line back up slowly while clipping the pre-baited lines to each swivel until each one has a line attached to it. Last, make sure that all the hooks are dangling free and the trot line is stretched tight. Check the trot line about every hour so that fish do not have time to get unhooked.

Alabama requires the ends of trot lines within twenty-five feet of the bank shall be made up of at least six feet of untreated cotton.  Untreated cotton line must also be used where the line is attached to the bank or anchors. Also all other anchors within twenty-five feet of the bank must be attached to the untreated cotton line. Any line left unattended for 48 hours may be removed by Division personnel and destroyed [220-2-.44 (8)].

Trot lines may be used in both rivers and lakes. The most productive areas have structure such as tree tops, stumps, and rocks for fish to hide in. Water depths anywhere from 3 to 20 feet deep are common depths for trot lines to be set. The edge of river channels and flooded plains are popular places to catch fish. The key for catching catfish is finding water with good structure and some type of water flow. Spring and fall have proven to be the most productive times of year for trot line fishing.

Fishing regulations in the state of Alabama should always be followed when practicing any type of fishing. Each law applies to everyone fishing in Alabama. First, residents between the ages of 16 and 64 and non-residents 16 and older are required to have a fishing license while fishing any public waters, unless only a hook and line is being used (no fishing reel attached) in the county of residence. The funds from fishing license sells are used to manage and protect Alabama’s wildlife.

Trot lines may be used by both recreational and commercial anglers. Trot lines are illegal to be set within one half mile of any lock and dam. Staying further than one half mile from a lock and dam helps keep anglers safe. All trot lines, or any other fishing gear that is left unattended, are not to be left for more than seven days. Any ethical angler should check their lines at least once a day. Fishing regulations can be viewed at www.outdooralabama.com/hunting/regulations/regs.cfm.

Fishing with trot lines is one more way for people of all ages to enjoy the outdoors and introduce people to fishing. When done safely, trot lines are a great way to catch a lot of fish. Whether young or old, the excitement of fishing a trot line is a great experience.


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