It’s not uncommon, especially during colder months, for catfish to hit baits without taking the hook in their mouths. These short strikes can be frustrating for anglers and often result in a long day of catching nothing. Capt. David Hilton had a few of those days in his years of fishing, but he found the solution for it some time ago.

Hilton, who guides for a number of species out of Santee’s Black’s Camp in Cross, uses a small treble stinger hook with about a 6-inch leader coming off his main hook. On some days, every catfish he catches is hooked only with the stinger hook.

“You want it to be a stout, but small treble hook. About the size that you’ll find on a small crankbait. If it’s too big, the fish won’t bite it,” said Hilton, who puts his main hook through a chunk of cut bait, then wraps the treble hook’s leader around the bait, impaling the small stinger into the meat of it.

Hilton said anglers are often surprised at how small his treble hook is, but he said it’s important to make sure it’s smaller than you think you need. It’s not uncommon, he said, for the hook to be hooked into nothing but the outside skin of a catfish’s mouth when he reels them in.

“One thing you’ve got to remember is when you see that the fish is only hooked by the stinger, you need to leave it in the water and get the net under that fish as soon as possible. That hook is strong but it’s small and they can either break it or shake loose of it once they’re above the surface,” he said.

Hilton usually fishes with an 80- to 100-pound main leader when catfishing, and he said you need to use the same size line for your stinger leader.