Paternoster Rig 101 (Setup & Fishing Guide with Pictures)


by Robert Ceran

Are you planning to throw a paternoster rig, but aren’t sure how to set it up, or how to fish it for optimal results?

While the paternoster rig is a great all-around bottom fishing rig for saltwater, it can be a little tricky to set up and fish correctly. 

In this article I’ll explain how to set up a paternoster rig, and will aso cover what bait to use with it, and how to use it to catch more fish.

Paternoster Rig 101 (Setup & Fishing Guide with Pictures)

What is a paternoster rig (and what is it good for)?

A paternoster rig is a versatile bottom fishing rig that consists of a sinker tied to the end of the fishing line, as well as 2 or 3 hooks tied to dropper loops above the weight. 

Note that the paternoster fishing rig is very similar to the dropper loop fishing rig, but while the dropper rig has only one hook, a paternoster has 2 to 3 hooks.

Using multiple hooks can be advantageous when targeting smaller fish that forage in schools, such as red snapper and pompano.

When you come across a school that’s feeding actively, it’s not uncommon to catch 2 or 3 fish at the same time when using a rig with multiple hooks. 

The most common version of this setup is the 2 hook paternoster rig, but you can also rig it with 3 hooks. 

This rig is most often fished vertically from a boat or a pier, but can also be used for surf fishing at the beach. 

Paternoster rig components

Here are the tackle components that you’ll need for your paternoster rig setup:

  • Barrel swivel
  • 1 to 6 oz sinker
  • 30 to 50 lb test leader (mono or fluoro)
  • Bait hooks with eye (size 6/0 to #2)

Bear in mind that the size of the sinker depends on the strength of the current or tide that you have to deal with.

Image showing paternoster rig diagram

Also note that it’s best to choose a leader that’s weaker than your main line. That way, if your rig gets snagged on the bottom, you only lose your terminal tackle. And whenever you’re using a bottom fishing setup, you can be sure you’ll get snagged sooner or later. 

How to tie a paternoster rig

The first step is to tie your leader (I like to use monofilament for this) to the eye of your sinker with a single uni knot or palomar knot.

Next, measure out about 3 to 4 feet of leader line, and attach the tag end to your barrel swivel. Now you’ve got a leader line that’s connected to the sinker at one end, and to a swivel at the other end. 

Next, tie a dropper loop knot about 10 to 12 inches above the sinker, as shown in the video below:

After creating the first loop, tie a second one about 10 inches above the first one. If you ensure that your dropper loop snoods are only 3 to 4 inches long, this spacing guarantees that they can’t get tangled with each other. 

When both dropper snoods are done, tie your bait hooks to them by threading each loop through the eye of a hook, and then using a cow hitch to attach them firmly to the end of the loop. 

If you don’t want to tie dropper loops, another option is to use 3 way swivels instead, replacing each loop with a 3 way swivel setup

What bait should you use with a paternoster fishing rig?

The paternoster fishing rig is usually fished with cut bait (squid, mackerel, mullet, menhaden, and pinfish), and other natural baits such as shrimp, shellfish and crabs.

Photo showing sardines being prepared as cut bait

When choosing the best type of bait fish for your cut bait, try to get mackerel or sardines, as these fish are oily and release plenty of scents into the water when you cut them, which is ideal for attracting fish. 

Also, always do your best to get fresh bait, as the texture and scent produced by fresh bait is infinitely superior to that of frozen bait. In fact, many saltwater anglers (myself included) prefer to use salted bait instead of frozen bait, if you find yourself in a situation where fresh bait is impossible to get. 

How to fish a paternoster rig

This rig is best fished from an anchored boat or from a pier, since it is an ideal setup for vertical fishing.

A great strategy is to anchor your boat over a reef or a wreck, and drop your rig over the side. You can catch a wide variety of reef fish this way, including groupers, snappers, amber jacks and many more. 

Photo of an angler holding two red snappers caught with a paternoster rig

Image source: instagram/@reelgracefishing

If you have sonar on your boat, wait until you mark fish underneath your boat, and then drop your rig with freshly baited hooks down to the fish.

When fishing from a boat, you should never cast a paternoster rig, and instead just drop it straight down into the water. That way your hooks won’t get tangled up with the rest of the rig.

After your weight makes contact with the bottom, make sure to keep your line taut, as that is essential in order to feel bites through your rod blank.  

When fishing from the beach, cast your rig out into the surf and then place your rod in a rod holder. This enables you to watch your rod tip as a bite indicator.

When a fish eats your bait, you’ll notice your rod tip being pulled down in a series of jerks, and this means it’s time to set the hook and reel in the fish.