There are probably more methods and baits used to reel in Mr. Whiskers than for any other species of fish.
One standing debate is whether catfish are more fun to catch or better to eat. That is one debate in which I would not want to choose sides — along with many other folks, I enjoy both. I will go out a limb and say it sure is hard to beat a plate full of fried catfish filets with a side of fries and some beans. But let’s concentrate on catching some catfish first.
Jugging with noodles
Some of the conventional techniques include rod and reel, cane pole and the trotline method. A few anglers still use the limb-line procedure for catching cats. One method that has been around for over a century is jugging. In recent years, jugging has seen some modifications.
In the early years of jugging for catfish, glass jugs or jars were used. A short piece of string is tied around the neck of the jug and the other end to a hook. The angler’s favorite bait is threaded on the hook, and the jug tossed in the lake. Over the years, a progression to plastic jugs, like an empty milk jug, fit the bill. Today, a more modern material is used.
“I like to use the swimming noodles for my catfish floats,” said Josh Taylor of Oxford. “Most swim noodles are about four feet long, and I cut my floats to around 12 inches each.”
Taylor recommends the brightly colored foam noodles. These generally are available at most major retail stores. In a pinch, Taylor will use 20-ounce soft drink bottles. He will paint the bottom end of the bottle either bright orange or green. However, the noodles are easier to rig and pack in a boat.
“Two to three feet of 75- pound test trotline cord seems to work the best,” Taylor said. “I will thread on a 1/4- to 1/2- ounce sinker to keep the bait down.”
Rigging the noodle is fairly simple. Taylor will tie the cord around the mid-section of the noodle. He then threads the other end of the line back through the center of the noodle. Then the weight and 5/0 standard trot-line hook is tied on. When a catfish is on the line the noodle will stand up on one end to signal supper is almost ready.
Almost anything imaginable has been used for catfish bait. Lures, potions and secret concoctions have been created to draw in Mr. Whiskers. There are many commercially prepared baits available at the local tackle shop. However, Taylor likes to keep it simple.
“I think the best bait for catfish is cut shad,” said Taylor. “We use a cast net to catch our bait fresh. The larger shad seem to work better for jug fishing.”
Taylor has tried other types of catfish baits. He said when using chicken liver to wrap the liver pieces in nylon stocking sections (old panty hose). This will help the bait stay on the hook and keep some of the smaller fish from eating it before the catfish come in.
He said dough balls are too soft, and the bream will pick them to pieces. Some catfish anglers will mix salt on their cut shad to help preserve the bait. One unusual bait Taylor has had some success with is onion. He will buy a bag of small white onions and cut them in quarters to bait his hooks.
Every cat angler has his preference as to where to set out jugs. Some like river channels with current. Others prefer creeks or the back of large pockets. Taylor will place his jugs in a major creek channel off of the main river. Current will tend to cause the noodles and jugs to bunch up together.
“Try to keep the noodles about 20 to 25 feet apart,” said Taylor. “I like to start out in about 8 to 10 feet of water with the noodles in a large semi-circle.”
Taylor will usually set out around 24 to 48 noodles a run. Once he has placed the last noodle in the water, he will begin checking for any fish on the lines. Sometimes if the cats need a little more time, he will hang around and watch or fish with a rod and reel.
Usually about one-third of the noodle will catch fish on a good trip. Taylor suggests when a noodle has a fish on, grab the line and not the noodle. The line can tear through the noodle and you can lose your catch. On night fishing trips Taylor will wrap some reflective tape on the end of the noodle.
“You can tell if it’s a big catfish by how long the noodle stays under,” Taylor said.
With the larger hooks and baits, most of the catfish Taylor hooks are around three to four pounds and up. His largest catfish on a noodle was around 50 pounds. On a recent trip to Lake Guntersville, Taylor boated a big blue cat tipping the scales at 17 pounds using the noodle technique.
Charles Johnson is the Star’s outdoor editor. You can reach Charles at ChrJohn7@aol.com