Almost every angler started out as a cut angler. If you chop, slice, or decapitate it and then attach it to a hook, it qualifies as cut bait, including those nightcrawlers you ripped open to catch your first gills. Hooking cut bait has a bit of the stigma of being desperate fishing, but there is actually a lot of science and technique that goes into properly hacking, manipulating and fishing a bloody, dripping piece of flesh. This is especially true when targeting species like alligator gar that rely primarily on their sense of smell before making a strike. These four rigs were designed to give you an edge when chasing fish that love cut baits and will help you catch more giants in muddy rivers, choppy surf and your local lake.
Flathead Catfish Bait Rig: Double Snell Rig
Every flathead angler I’ve met has a different opinion on how to rig for these brutes. However, what most of their used rigs have in common are circle hooks and the strength to combat these rod bends from bad solid structure. This rig is a hybrid, with elements I collected on the Susquehanna and Ohio rivers. It is designed to present a bait slightly off the bottom, which many pros believe makes it easier for flatheads to eat. You can use this rig with live bluefish (in states where it’s legal), but I’ve also never met a serious fisherman who didn’t tell me that a fresh bluefish often gets a few bucks.
Two 8/0 to 10/0 Charlie Brown circle hooks are threaded on the line approximately one inch apart on the short 50-pound dropper lead. In the water, the top hook is left bare to provide an insurance policy in case the bait twists or turns when hooked, covering the hook point of the bait so it cannot penetrate. The longest 40-pound weight dropper leader ends with a solid barrel swivel to which the diver connects via a chain link. The idea is that when the rig is secured to a solid snag, the chain link will (hopefully) break ahead of the line, allowing you to replace just the weight instead of the entire rig.
Alligator Gar Bait Rig: Hi-Vis Cable Rig
The muddy rivers of southeast Texas are ground zero for trophy alligators, and guide Dawson Hefner knows every eddy that holds the giants. In this low-key setting, Hefner delivers luscious, luscious, thick-cut carp steaks that can be smelled for miles. Since these baits are so heavy and the rigs tend to feed off the main stream, no weight is required. However, a large, highly visible float is important.
Hefner fishes with a 2- to 3-foot-long seven-strand cable that has a barrel swivel clamped on one end and a 3/0 brass treble hook clamped on the other. He’ll put the rig into the current, letting it drift inshore until it settles naturally, with the idea that the heavy carp will stop in the same breaks and soft spots where it’s likely to hold a flounder. While the slip float takes you to a pickup, it also provides a visual marker for Hefner to follow with the boat as the angler gets all the slack between the float and the wire. This chase can last for several minutes because it is important to give a walleye enough time to get the bait down the soft part of its throat before setting the hook. To increase his chances, Hefner removes the carp’s scales around the hook so he can pull away from the fastest part when it finally swings.
Read more: How to Catch Giant Alligator Gar
Channel Catfish Bait: The Float Rig
There are many types of water that hold delicious channel cats and there are many different tackles to catch them. This is basically a simple three-way device with a small twist that can make a big difference. It’s great for introducing any type of cut bait, live bait, or dough bait, but if you’re looking to introduce your cats to something new, try marinating some hot dog pieces in cherry Kool-Aid. It’s a combination of salty and sweet that is milked long enough to attract channels from a distance, and a piece of dog is presented particularly well in this device.
If you’re fishing vertically from a boat, the standard three-way rig is killer, but when you’re casting from shore, there’s a good chance your bait will end up lying on the bottom despite being positioned over the weight. By attaching a small slip float to the main line a few inches to a foot above the three-way swivel, your bait will stay suspended off the bottom, even when fished with current; the heavier the flow, the closer you want the float to be rotating. Thread a bait holder hook in 20-pound fluorocarbon to create a 6-inch drop leader because this will increase resistance and abrasion strength. As for the dropper leader, stick with loose monofilament—no need to lose fluoro on those inevitable disconnects.
Redfish Bait Rig: The Hatteras Drum Rig
Twice a year, anglers standing on the sand at hallowed Cape Point on the Outer Banks find a large migrating red drum within casting distance, though closing that distance often requires a powerful cast. To cast big menhaden heads in troughs and cuts across the breaks, anglers use Hatteras heavers, which are stout surf rods that can be up to 15 feet long. The key to a smooth and far-reaching delivery of such large pieces, however, lies in the platform.
Every element harmonizes to create a compact package by keeping the weight and bait close together so they don’t spin—or “helicopter”—in the air, which severely hampers casting distance. A 2- to 4-inch, 100-pound leader connects the 8/0 to 12/0 circle hook with a strong barrel swivel, providing extra stiffness to reduce fouling as the rig flies through the air. A sliding fish finder holds the anchor-shaped hurricane sinker close to the cast bait, but allows a fish to walk away with the bait without feeling the weight. To protect against breaking knots, a plastic bead runs over the 60-pound shock mount that is attached to the main line in front of the fish finder clip. Although this rig is designed for drum, it is just as effective for stripers further north.