Fishing Rigs for Landing More Fish Per Outing: The Paternoster

By on October 11, 2015

The paternoster rig is usually the first rig a new angler learns, the reason for this is that it is not only somewhat simple and easy to understand, but it is also extremely effective.


The popularity of this rig is likely due to its simplicity, using only basic items which are easily found fishing tackle items. For the naturalist or survivalist style of fishing, this rig can also be easily replicated using strips of string like bamboo, a rock as a sinker and some makeshift hooks.

This rig is mainly used by fishermen for salt water, but can be used in all waters, there are a few variants of how to set up a paternoster, but the one we will be explaining here is for dead-bait rigs for ocean fishing.

The rig starts out with a large tear drop or star shaped sinker, of around 20 grams, sometimes higher towards the 40 gram mark, depending where you are fishing. Most times I find 20 grams is more than enough, but if surf fishing you may need a little more to keep it in place.

First start with a strong fluorocarbon leader of 1 meter length, attach a swivel at the top. On the other end, attach your tear drop or star sinker.

Now 1/3rd of the way up from the sinker, you will attach a separate 1 foot leader line. This is not from your original leader, you will have to cut this off yourself on it’s own. Using a spider hitch knot, tie the 1 foot leader to the main leader, at the 1/3rd point from the bottom sinker as mentioned earlier. Once this is done, attach a hook to the free end of the 1 foot leader.

Repeat this process at the 2/3rds point of the main leader line.

Just ensure the smaller leaders are not long enough to become entangled in each-other, they should both be able to move in the water freely, without the possibility of entangling as this will result in an ineffective rig.

Now attach the main leader via the swivel to your main line, make sure the main line you are using is strong, as there is quite a lot of weight on a paternoster rig, you don’t want to loose the leader to a line snap when casting.

Once attached to your main line, fit your bait, for snapper and bream (also known as sheepshead) a great starting bait is chicken strips, you can soak these overnight in oyster sauce to create a lure effect to the bait. Another regular bait is pilchard pieces, grab a pilchard and cut the head off, then at the half way point of the remaining body, cut this in half, feed the two pieces onto your hook securely.

You may want to use bait floss, a super thin elastic which you wrap around the pilchard fillet and the hook to hold it in place.

Once this is done, take up the slack on your fishing line using the reel, until the leaders swivel is at the top of your fishing rod.

Now when casting a paternoster rig, you don’t do this on any angle, not side on, and not over head on an angle. Unlock your bail and fasten the fishing line between your fingers, now take your rod front on, and put it directly 180 degrees behind you over your shoulder, so that the leaders weight is touching the ground directly behind you. Now with two hands on the rod handle, bring the rod directly over your shoulder, releasing the line when the rod is in front of you on about a 30 to 45 degree angle (just as your hands pass the front of your head).

If you are not confident in doing this, practising without hooks attached, just a sinker, and on dry land is strongly recommended. As the line will be passing over your head, you want the line to be extended completely and airborne, so that it comes nowhere near your head or shoulder. A few practice goes in the backyard, or local parkland, can give you the confidence in doing this so you know you are able to avoid any potential injury.

The reason the line must be cast directly overhead, and not to the side, has to do with where the sinker will land. You want the sinker to hit the water first, driving down your bait, so that when the sinker rests on the river bed or beach sand, your two pieces of bait are sitting above the sinker. Once the sinker hits the bottom of the river, flip the bail over and tighten the line until you feel the slack take up. Lock the line in this position with a tiny amount of slack, but not enough so that it is able to loose tension.

This will allow you to watch your rod tip for anything taking your bait, but if it decides to run, there will be just enough slack there for the fish to attempt a run without the hook being pulled from it’s mouth. Some people prefer to leave no slack at all, but I find when a larger fish hooks up, having a little slack so a big fish can potentially run is the best way. For smaller fish locked in position is ok, as there will be enough run on the 1 foot leader to pull the line slightly, giving you time to set the hook.

If a large fish takes the bait however, if the line is 100% locked in place, it will most likely pull the bait immediately from the fishes mouth, before the fish has even had a chance to close it’s mouth. This tiny amount of slack ensures that if a large fish puts a large amount of weight on the line, then the line will run, but if a tiny fish grabs on, it will remain fixed.

Other baits this rig can suit is dead shrimp, dead squid strips, dough balls and worms. Live bait could also be used, but I often find live bait most effective on a running sinker set up, which allows the live bait to swim around freely, rather than be stuck in a 1 foot wide circle motion, it could however work in theory, not many people test this rig with live baits in the current set-up style.

This article has been prepared in association with the Fishing Tackle Lures online store, with $20USD shipping to The USA, Canada, UK and Europe.

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