Did You Know?

Glass beverage containers are prohibited at Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation fishing areas, except in designated camping and parking areas.

Deep Fork River Bridge at Nuyaka
Deep Fork River

















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Catching Catfish Via Kayak

Oklahoma Kayak Fishing with Limblines

  • Popular Oklahoma waterways for catfish limb-lining include: The Deep Fork River, Skiatook Lake, Spavinaw Lake, Grave Creek and The North Canadian River.
  • Catfish limb lines are known for bringing in loads of fillets.  If you are fishing for food, there are few techniques that gather SO many large fish in SO little time.
  • Limb lining eliminates the long boring task of watching the tip of your pole for several hours at a time.
  • Using limb lines to catch catfish is legal in Oklahoma, IF you follow the Wildlife Department's guidelines. How much fun can you have in a $400 plastic boat...read on and find out!


Want to meet with a great bunch of Oklahoma kayak fishing enthusiasts? 
Join the 
Northeastern Oklahoma Kayak Anglers Facebook Group.

Greg Kayak Fishing for Blue Catfish on the Deep Fork River near Grayson, OK.
Kayak Fishing for Blue Cats on the Deep Fork River

Flathead Catfish
Oklahoma Daily Limit: 10
Size Limit: 20” minimum

Channel and/or Blue Catfish
Oklahoma Daily Limit: 15 (combined)
Size Limit: Only one Blue Catfish over 30”

Kayak Fishing in Oklahoma and the surrounding area.

Food & Fun To Be Had in the Oklahoma Outdoors

Kayak fishing for Catfish and Gar on Oklahoma's Deep Fork RiverBass fishing appears to be the most popular style among the Oklahoma kayak fishermen that I have met.  However, Catfish are readily available to the Oklahoma fishermen throughout the year.  Even during our cold Oklahoma winters Catfish can be easily had with a few inexpensive limb lines. Of course, live bait isn't much of an option (even if you can find it) in our icy winter waters. Stinkbait is typically deployed for chasing Catfish during the colder part of the year. Another popular choice...is sausage.  Yes, Catfish enjoy sausages as much as people do. Be it hot dogs, summer sausage, spicy Jalapeño cheddar or those Little Smokies left over from the holidays...they are all worth trying on your catfish hooks.

Limb lines are a great tool for catching catfish using your kayak. Oklahoma's Deep Fork River is a perfect spot to give kayak fishing a try. Unlike most types of fishing, limb lining (also known as set-lining or tree limb fishing) requires little to no patience. It does requires discipline, but if you follow the guidelines below in a disciplined way you are bound to catch some remarkably large catfish in Oklahoma muddy old Deep Fork River.  In fact, you should make yourself very familiar with the state laws surrounding the size and take limits for catfish before making a trip to the river.  Extra large flathead catfish are a newly protected group likely to impact folks running limb lines in Oklahoma.

On this page, we will try to outline the basic method of tree limb fishing for catfish from a kayak. To help make your first trip more successful, we will be pointing you toward the right fishing supplies and fishing gear to bring home tons of Channel Catfish, Blue Catfish and of course monster-sized Flathead Catfish. We do get a little change from each sale to help keep our website free.  Because these fun & delicious fish are one of the best things about living in Oklahoma, we will tell you how to make the most out of your catch and minimize waste. Limb lining is easier and more fun if you have an easy to launch and easy to land boat.  Kayaks work great!

You will need to be prepared for handling the Gar (toothy prehistoric long snout fish) that you are almost certain to catch.  Warning: the roe (eggs) of Gar is poisonous, so keep it off the table and away from your dogs.  I would say we catch about one gar for every seven catfish off of our Deep Fork River limb lines.  My Dad says that those big ol' flathead catfish like to lay in the same holes as the Gar.  Traditionally, we practice catch-and-release for any fish that we don't fillet for frying or use for bait.  Catch-&-Release can be especially challenging when dealing with Oklahoma Gar as they have a ton of sharp teeth on both the inside AND the outside of their mouths and they grow to enormous sizes in the waterways of Oklahoma.  Handle many gar without gloves and you WILL get cut.  In Oklahoma, you usually see Short-nosed Gar or Alligator Gar. Although some fishermen consider them a nuisance, they are often protected by State and Federal laws. The river is their home, share their home with respect. Looking for a kayak fishing 'sleigh ride', Alligator Gar offer lots of game for rod fishermen. However, there is an Oklahoma state limit of one Alligator Gar per day.

In Oklahoma, Limblines are restricted to no more than two (2) hooks per line and 20 limblines per person.

A legal limbline is a line attached to a limb, branch, other natural object, or non-metallic manmade
materials and has:

• the owner’s name and address attached;
• been attended at least once every 24 hours.

Dianne cuts about half a dozen 'flags' (roughly 6x12 inches each) out of scrap rags and then writes here contact info on each Limb Line Flag.  Red Limbline Flags work great for daytime fishing and white flags are much easier to find when you are 'Night-Lining' for catfish.  Take extra effort to remember where you place your lines and how many lines you place (i.e. count the lines as you set them, make a note of 'landmarks' and write down notes). At the end of your fishing trip, when you go back to retrieve your limb lines (catfish hooks ain't cheap and it is illegal to leave them anyway) use each flag to wrap-up your rolled-up hook sinker and line for next time.  This will help keep your from getting hooked when you deploy them next time.  We have used the same set of limb lines and flags for years.

What is 'Running Limb Lines'?

Remove, Repair, Rebait & Return is the cycle of limb lining, this is where the discipline comes in.  Remove your catfish or gar, repair any damaged lines, rebait your hooks and then return soon.  Repeat as needed until no longer hungry for catfish.  Run your limb lines at least every four hours until you remove them.  Expect broken lines, hooks bent straight or broken off, the occasional untouched bait...and loads of big catfish.  It is needlessly cruel to leave catfish dangling on limb lines for long periods of time.  It is illegal to leave them for more than 24-hours in Oklahoma.  Also, you can expect 'help' from other harvesting your catfish if you don't run them at least every four hours. 

When the Mayflies were thick this year, the fish were biting so good that we had to run them every two hours at night!  Leave your fishing rods at home as they are only likely to get you entangled in trees and shrubs.  Never leave limb lines in the river when it is rising, remove them for re-use when you are ready to quit running them. The most important thing to remember is to run your lines with a friend or two.  It is more fun and you can expect that the 'unexpected' will happen...that is what makes it fun.  Sometimes, the 'unexpected' generates an emergency room visit.  Don't kayak alone.

How Many Limb Lines Should I Set?

For me, the number of limb lines depends on how far away the fishing spot is, how fast they are biting and how much fish I feel like cleaning.  Normally, I like between four to eight limb lines, if my fishing spot is between 5 to 30 minutes away.  Four lines per person will usually yield as much catfish as you want to clean, if you are doing it right.  We usually put two hooks on each limb line.  Don't use too many hooks on one line or it will be considered a trotline and they are regulated differently. Our first hook is set to be about 3-inches under water.  This bait is the 'flopper', it stirs up the surface and attracts game fish.  The second hook is set close to the bottom of your fishing spot, this bait lays on the bottom where the biggest catfish roam.  The top hook is the one that most often get entangled with Gar. Mark your limb lines properly with your name and address. It is also a good idea to include a bit of something reflective but cheap like tin foil, to make the lines easier to locate at night.

Learn How To Tie a Limb Line

  • How long to make your drops depends on the water you are fishing in.

  • Use 4/0 to 7/0 catfish hooks with big eyelets, 5 ounce sinkers and braided nylon line.

  • Flathead catfish can grow to be enormous, use large, heavy hooks or consider circle hooks.

  • Flag your lines for vividly for day & and reflective for night running.

  • Set two hooks per line with one hook just off the bottom a few inches and the 2nd hook just below the surface. Sinker on bottom.

    Dianne running her catfish limb line.
    Dianne running her limb lines for catfish on the Deep Fork River.

Limb Lines can be tied on fairly small branches, as you can see in the photo above.  Use green branches that are springy, this will make them better for setting the hook and for tiring-out a big fish once it is on the set line. Remember that all three kinds of Oklahoma catfish are cavity nesters. They spawn in undercut banks, rocky, bluff-like shorelines and similar places where they can find dark hollows to protect their eggs from predators.  These areas also tend to house snakes, so watch yourself.  Move slow and look before you reach. Protect your hands (you will need them to get home) with fishing gloves and a good fish handling tool...like the Berkley Lip Grip Fish Handling Tool.

Discover the Best Places to Tie a Limb Line

  • Catfish like shade, a food source and still, muddy water.

  • I prod with my paddle to find spots that are deeper than a paddle-length.

  • Green branches about one inch in diameter have the bounce needed to hold a big catfish.

  • Logjams often contain lunkers, but are often too stiff to 'play' the catfish.

  • In log jams, a larger fish is able to straighten the hook or tear it out...add a Bungie cord 'shock absorber' to your setline.

    Dianne uses a short handle landing net for kayak fishing.
    Small fish landing nets work well and fits in the hatch.

Choose the Best Bait and Schedule Your Runs

  • Use live bait or don't bother. (Battery Operated Bait Aerator)

  • Perch, bluegill, shiners, crawfish & goldfish make the best limb line bait.

  • Hook your bait fish behind the dorsal fin, pick a lively breed.

  • For big catfish, use big bait and big hooks.

  • Not need to buy bait, catch your own with a seine, casting net or Minnow trap.

  • Keep bait in battery-operated bait cooler or other livewell solution.

  • Run your limb lines every four hours.

  • Don't get too far from the put-in. You may have to drag home a monster catfish!

  • Use sunscreen in the day, bow & stern lights at night. Wear a Fishing PFD always!

Plenty Fish Bite, If You Got Good Bait

Dianne caught this nice Blue Catfish off the Deep Fork River near the Highway 266 Bridge.Most experienced limb lining enthusiasts spend more time working on the acquisition of live bait than they do on running their lines. Goldfish are available at many local live bait retailers, but you can run into quite a bit of money paying $10 to $20 per pound for live goldfish. Most folks opt for some pond fishing for perch, running a seine through river sloughs or using a casting net small ponds for crawdads.  You can even use fish traps for catching small fish.  Worms really don't offer sufficient action to attract the attention of large catfish in the muddy old Deep Fork River. If money is no object but time is, you can easily buy live crawdads, goldfish or shiners at convenience stores surrounding most lakes in Oklahoma.  If you can't afford a collapsible bait cooler, just clip a portable aerator to your minnow bucket. Lively bait always brings out the most game fish.

As for lures, sprays and stinkbait, etc....

You can try that voodoo, if you get a lot of time off for fishing.  I don't waste my 'quality time' on bait with no wiggle. There are countless methods for getting free fishing bait, when it cannot easily be purchased. Any fly fishing enthusiast will tell you that fish bite much better when baited in by a common food source in its normal season.  Gathering your own bait locally ensures you get fresh bait that the local catfish will recognize and bite at fearlessly.

Keep your eye on the local flora and fauna whenever you are kayaking.  Knowing the seasons, the timing and the habits of prey species will help you target the Big Game fish. Dianne caught the catfish pictured on the right when the mayflies where gathering in huge bunches for mating.  The fish go crazy when this annual event occurs. You can see some more pictures from our limb lining fishing trip in our Flickr photo Set for the Deep Fork River.  The pictures include a close-up of the mayfly and details about this vital part of the Oklahoma food chain. ON the Illinois River or the Mountain Fork River, try flipping over rocks and catching the hellgramites that hide below.  The Hellgrammite is the aquatic larva of the dobsonfly, watch the short sharp pincers on their heads. They are not poisonous but the pinch can be painful. Hold them by the 'collar' behind their heads. The catfish are so familiar with hellgrammites that they strike quickly on sight of one.

Be Disciplined When Running the Limb Lines

  • Watch for bouncing limbs, but assume nothing.

  • Carry a small handle landing net for catfish and fishing gloves to release gar.

  • Hoping for good picture - use The Berkley Lip Grip.

  • Storing the fish you catch - use a wire basket, insulated deck bag or a rock sack.

  • Don't leave catfish hanging on a limb-line for extended periods of time.

  • Pull your limb lines, when you are finished running them every 4 hours.

  • Don't just cut the lines low and leave them dangling, they create a snag hazard.

  • It is the angler’s responsibility to know what regulations apply to the body of water they are fishing.

    The Berkley Lip Grip - fish gaff for landing a fish in a kayak and for fishing picture posing.
    Dianne wielding her Berkley Lip Grip.

  • Proper disposal of fish remains is the duty of all responsible fishermen.

Vital Safety Considerations When Kayak Fishing with Limb Lines

  • Always run your lines with a friend. There are snakes.

  • Always wear a PFD when you paddle, fishing PFD's are handier.

  • Don't bring long fishing rods to get tangled.

  • Do bring extra hooks, line and sinkers.

  • Hydrate and don't over heat, a good fishing hat is vital.

  • Dress for both heat and immersion with synthetic apparel choices like HeatGear.

  • Clean your fish as quickly as possible and soak the fillets in some salt water.


Frying Catfish - Pan-fry in cream, light flour and chopped fresh rosemary. Serve over diced cucumbers and balsamic vinegar.

FYI - In Oklahoma, it is unlawful to tamper with the trotline, throwline, jugline or limbline of another person without permission from that person.

Did You Know?
The 35lbs, 15oz Oklahoma state-record Channel Catfish came from the tiny little 46-acre Taft Lake near Muskogee, Oklahoma.


Explore float trips in great Ozark Rivers like The Elk River, The Kings River, The White River The Spring River and The Buffalo River for more outdoor fun in the Oklahoma area.


...Complete Oklahoma Area Float Trip Outfitters List

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