How to set limblines

In last week’s column, I mentioned that one of trotlining’s disadvantages is that the method concentrates all of the user’s baited hooks in one very small area. Limblining does away with that problem. In fact, only the size of the body of water and the angler’s ability to move over or along it limits how far apart he can set his hooks.

A limbline is nothing more than a length of 100- to 200-pound test braided nylon cord with a hook tied to one end and a weight tied about 10 inches or so above the hook. The size of each of these components will, of course, vary with the situation.

If I’m making my limblines up beforehand — which I highly recommend — I usually split the difference when it comes to line and go with six feet of 150-pound test, but lighter line will hold a very big fish. The key is to not give the fish anything solid to pull against.

A one-ounce lead sinker makes a good middle-of-the-road weight. Go heavier in strong current. Go lighter in no or slow current, if–and I stress if–you want your bait to be able to swim in large circles.

Ask any two expert setliners about hooks, and you’ll get at least three answers. I’ve recently become a big fan of circle hooks but have learned the hard way that using the biggest circle hook that’s practical with the bait I’m using is almost essential. This has been a difficult pill to swallow after having spent 50 years using moderate sized J style hooks, with which I’ve hooked several pickup loads of catfish.

As their name implies, limblines are often tied to limbs which overhang a likely catfish hangout. Throughout the 1960s, 70s and 80s, what seemed like an endless stream of new Corps of Engineers reservoirs made setting traditional limblines in new reservoirs both easy and incredibly effective. Nowadays, limber limbs are hard to find on Midwestern reservoirs, but setliners who prefer single hook lines and who are determined enough to find a car or truck inner tube can still ply their trade on flat water. A three-inch circle cut from an inner tube makes a rubber band with enough stretch to make it challenging for all but the biggest catfish to pull free. Simply tie or nail the band to an overhanging branch, attach the limbline and bait up.

But while limblines can be used on flat water, they’re most at home on rivers and streams. Here veteran limbliners use rubber bands when they have to and overhanging limbs when they’re convenient, but their mainstay is the bank pole. A bank pole is a trimmed willow trunk about 2 inches in diameter at the butt and one inch in diameter at the tip. Most are between six and eight feet long.

The butt end of a bank pole can be thrust into the stream bank either from the shore or from a boat. Just make sure it’s sunk deep enough it can’t be easily pulled out by a big fish.

When it comes time to attach a pre-made limbline, remember that it usually isn’t necessary to use its entire length. With some few, but very exciting exceptions, limblines are at their best at night, when catfish are on the prowl. Set them so the bait is suspended off of the bottom. In fact, an exceptionally deadly way to set a limbline for flatheads is to use a lively bait on a line so short it barely reaches the water. Leave enough line to tie a generous sheep shank knot, so a hooked flathead can pull out enough line to stay well below the surface. Flatheads that are trapped at the surface get very unhappy, and an unhappy flathead can tear up almost anything.

Grabbing the end of a trotline and feeling a powerful unseen something surging against the line is exciting, there’s no doubt about that. Even so, there’s nothing quite like coming around a bend in the river and seeing a bank pole’s tip bent so far it’s slashing the water’s surface.

Unfortunately, therein can lie the rub. While a fish thief has to actually run a trotline to learn whether or not there’s anything on it worth stealing, all he has to do is cruise past a limbline to check it out. Frankly, I can’t imagine placing so little value on my honor that I’d steal another angler’s fish, and I’m confident that my loyal readers feel exactly the same way. But if any of you know someone who might yield to temptation, do them a favor and remind them of this simple fact: setlines are very popular with countrified good old boys who work for a living and have the muscles to show for it.

Next week I’ll wrap up this series with some tips about juglines, the setline that isn’t a setline.

Sedalia Democrat
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