A three-way rig is another simple, but versatile, rig for fishing natural live and artificial baits from shallow to deep water. It's typically a trolling rig that uses a three-way swivel that attaches to the main line, a dropper line containing lead weight(s) and a leader line with natural bait or a lure. This rig truly shines when targeting deep suspended fish, because it's simple to set-up and only requires standard equipment.
1) To main Line, 2) three-way swivel, two barrel swivels or adjustable length dropper and/or leader lines using bobber stops or split shot and beads, 3) the dropper line ends in a lead weight, a jig or a deep diving crankbait, 4) the leader line can end with a spoon, a spinner, a stick bait or a hook with 5) live or artificial bait
What makes this rig versatile is the ability to use a range of weights, which allows you to fish shallow or get the rig down to over 70 feet of water. Of course, line diameter and trolling speed also play a factor, it is still one of the simplest methods to get a stick bait or spoon down to 70 feet using only 5 to 6 oz. of lead weights and standard equipment. Ideally, a more stout medium-heavy to heavy action rod with low diameter line should be used when trolling a three-way set-up in deep water. However, if you're fishing shallower, and with lighter weight, a lighter action rod is a better option.
To assemble a three-way rig, your main line is tied to a three-way swivel to which a 12” to 24” length of monofilament line, with a clasp swivel attached, is tied to form the dropper line; and a 24” to 72” length of monofilament or fluorocarbon line is tied to form the leader line. The dropper line should be shorter than the leader line to help reduce potential tangles. Lead weight(s) [or possibly a jig head or crank bait] are then attached to the clasp swivel on the dropper line. In general, 1 oz. of weight will get the rig down to about 15-20 feet. Each additional 1 oz. of weight will bring it down another 10 feet. So, for example, when I target Lake Trout with spoons at 70 feet, I use 5 oz. of weight. The length of the leader line will depend on what depth you're fishing (hitting bottom or suspended deep) and how you have your rig set-up (see below).
All forms of natural and artificial bait can be fished using a three-way rig. It's excellent for stick baits, spoons, in-line spinners as well as natural live bait and artificial plastics. Instead of using a typical lead weight sinker it's also possible to use a jig head with a plastic grub or bait; or even another crank bait. This enables you to fish two depths simultaneously and is a great way to locate fish.
Below are various examples of three-way rig set-ups.
A) Typical three-way rig using a bell sinker and a stick bait.
B) Typical three-way rig using a bell sinker and a spoon.
C) Typical three-way rig using a bell sinker and minnow. The minnow is rigged by threading the line through it first. This is one of the ways to rig minnows for trolling so they don't come off the hook as easily.
D) In this set-up a stick bait is attached to the leader line, but instead of a lead weight a deep diving crank bait is attached to the dropper line. The lower crank bait helps pull the rig down when trolling and, depending on the crank bait used, can be anywhere from 10 to 20 feet.
E) This set-up is known as a Dubuque Rig. In this set-up a stick bait is attached to the leader line, but instead of a lead weight a lead head jig and plastic grub are used. This allows multiple depths to be fish simultaneously. A popular river fishing set-up.
F) Similar to E, but doubling up on jigs using natural live bait. The jig on the dropper line should always be heavier. In this particular example, a floating jig head is used on the leader line while a lead head jig is attached to the dropper line. A great rig for fishing multiple depths simultaneously.
G) This is more of a drift rig set-up where a cork float is attached to the leader line to suspend line bait above the lake bottom.
H) A fairly standard three-way rig set-up with a stick bait, however in this particular example a second stick bait (without hooks) is placed in-line on the leader line. This offers extra attraction and helps mimic schooling bait fish.
I) A typical three-way set-up, but in this particular example a barrel swivel is used instead of a three-way swivel. The dropper line is not tied onto the barrel swivel, but is passed through the ring and a split-shot or BB shot, along with a plastic bead, is attached onto the tag end of the dropper line. This prevents the dropper line from passing through the barrel swivel. The advantage to this set-up is the dropper line length is now adjustable.
J) Similar toI, but a bobber stop is used in place of the split-shot weight.
K) Similar to I, but instead of using a clasp swivel and bell sinker, several split-shots are clamped onto the dropper line. This provides a slightly different drifting and dropping profile depending on how much weight is used, where it is placed and the length of the dropper line.