3 Way Swivel Rig 101 (Setup and How-to Guide with Pictures)


by Robert Ceran

Are you planning to use a 3 way swivel rig for walleye or catfish, but not sure how to set it up and fish it most effectively?

The 3 way fishing rig is a highly versatile bottom fishing setup that can be used both for bait fishing or for trolling, and is one of those setups that every angler should have in their arsenal. 

3 Way Swivel Rig 101 (Setup and How-to Guide with Pictures)

In this article I’ll walk you through how to set up a 3-way swivel rig, as well as how to fish it for maximum success.

What is a 3 way swivel rig (and what is it good for)?

A 3 way swivel rig is a bottom fishing rig consisting of a 3 way swivel tied to three different fishing lines: the main line, a leader line tied to a hook, and a dropper line tied to a sinker (as shown in the image above). 

Image showing 3 way swivel rig

The 3 way rig can be used either as a static bottom fishing setup, or it can be trolled behind a boat. The first approach works well with natural bait, while the latter is ideal for use with artificial lures. 

How to set up a 3 way swivel rig

You will need the following tackle components to set up a 3-way swivel rig:

  • 3 way swivel
  • Braided main line (20 to 30 lb test)
  • Dropper line (6 to 8 lb test mono or fluoro)
  • Leader line (10 to 15 lb test mono or fluoro)
  • 1/2 to 3 oz sinker
  • Size #2/0 to #8 hook

Choosing the right line strength and the size of the hook and sinker depends not only on what species you want to target, but also on whether you’ll be using your three-way rig in freshwater or saltwater (saltwater generally requires a heavier setup than freshwater).

Hook size should be adjusted to match the size of your bait. If you’re using small live minnows for walleye, go for a thin gauge size #6 or #8 hook, but if you’re using cut bait for catfish, it’s better to go with a larger size #2 or #4 circle hook. 

Note that the dropper line (which connects to the weight) and the leader line (which connects to the hook) are intentionally weaker than the main line. That way, if your weight or hook should get snagged on the bottom, you’ll be able to tear them off without losing the rest of the setup. 

How to tie it: Start by tying your main line to the 3-way swivel. Next, tie the dropper line and the leader line to the other two eyes of the swivel.

If you’re planning to use it for static bottom fishing, the dropper line should be about 1 to 3 feet long, while the leader line should be about 6 to 12 inches long. If you’re planning to use your 3 way swivel rig for trolling, make the dropper line shorter than the leader (more on that below).

Finally, tie the end of the dropper line to your sinker of choice, and tie the end of the leader to your hook, and you’re ready to start fishing!

How to fish a 3 way swivel rig

There are two main ways to fish a 3 way swivel rig: either you can use it as a static bottom fishing setup for live bait or other natural bait, or you can use it for trolling.

Each of these techniques requires setting up your 3-way rig slightly differently, so let’s take a closer look at them in turn. 

3 way rig fishing with live bait

Image of 3 way swivel rig for live bait

If you’re using the 3 way rig with live bait or cut bait, you’ll want the dropper line to be longer than the leader line, as that will ensure your bait is presented suspended just above the bottom.

This setup is great for vertical fishing, as you can lower it straight down from a boat, jetty or pier. When the weight reaches the bottom (which you can tell by the line going slack), take in enough slack to keep a taut line, and leave your rod in a rod holder while you wait for bites. 

Can you cast a 3 way rig?

Yes, you can cast a 3 way rig, though you have to keep in mind that it’s easy for the bait to be torn off the hook if you cast it with too much force (this is especially problematic with live bait). 

But it’s definitely worth casting your 3 way rig out to promising structure or cover located within casting distance from shore. I love using the 3 way rig for catfish this way, and bait it with cut bait, which doesn’t fall off the hook that easily. 

Trolling with a 3 way swivel rig

Image showing 3 way swivel rig for trolling

If you want to use a 3 way swivel rig setup for trolling, it’s best to tie the dropper line shorter than the leader, as that will allow you to get your lure closer to the bottom if your weight hops along the bottom while you troll.

This setup is great when trolling for walleye, which are usually suspended a few feet above the bottom. After the bottom bouncer setup, the three way swivel rig is one of the best walleye trolling setups. 

And while the easiest option is to use artificial lures for trolling with this setup, you can also bait a 3 way rig with live bait (such as a live nightcrawler or leech) when trolling for walleye. 

How to tie a 3 way rig without a swivel

If you don’t have a 3 way swivel at hand, you can also create a 3 way rig setup using a dropper loop knot. If you do this correctly, you’ll get a loop that sticks out at 90 degrees from your leader line, and this can be used to attach your hook (as shown in the video below).

Since this setup makes use of a dropper loop, it is sometimes also referred to as a dropper loop fishing rig. If you prefer this setup, you can even tie the dropper loop directly into your main line, and then tie the end of the main line directly to a sinker.