Monday, January 10, 2011

Cats an Evolution

 My earliest memory of fishing was below Pickwick dam on a warm summer night, my family fishing the tail waters for catfish. This was the only fishing I ever got to do with my Grampa and, being very young, I was just along for the ride. A chubby little boy just happy to be out. They would build a fire, set out rods, sit around the fire cooking and waiting for fish to bite. This is special to me since it is probably this fleeting memory that got me started fishing. Fifty years on and I can still feel the rocks as I laid on a pallet made of old handmade quilts, smelling the wood smoke, watching the fire dance as night settled in and the chill as dew starts to form.

Pickwick Dam at dusk.

For years this was how I went after cats, the same as my family did way back when, cutbait or worms below a dam or a gob of chicken liver chucked into a lake or pond, fingers crossed, hoping a cat would find it. Bullheads to channel cats, from Florida to Michigan to California, over time I caught them all. I got caught up in bass fishing, tournaments and such, other fishing got pushed aside. Bass got to be work so I started looking for something fun, catfish got my attention by accident.

While fishing Percy Priest I did a lot of trolling for stripe and bass since my fishing partner couldn‘t cast for long. Priest has lots of flats covered with chunk rock where, during warm weather, stripe run shad on the flats and bass hold in the rocks. A crank bait running down 10 feet covers lots of water and finds fish. The thing is, along with bass and stripe I kept catching catfish. Channels and flatheads would turn up just about every trip. This brought up questions, why and how. Why are they there and how can I get them. This was 20 years ago and my quest for cats had begun.

Most people know about trotlines (not trout, trot), limb lines and jugging for cats. I tried all of these with some success, the problem with the first two is they are static so you are waiting for fish to find the bait. Jugging seemed to work better since the bait moved but at first it was pretty much throw them out and hope. I decided jugging was the way to go.

My first jugs were nothing more than 20 ounce drink bottles. Free, readily available plus easy to use, they worked. They do have problems, air temperature causes them to expand and contract. They will completely collapse if temps change enough. Another problem was trying to store and transport them. They were a pain to carry around plus you need a rubber band on each to hold your hook. I rigged up a bunch and headed out to where I caught cats trolling and started there. I had no real idea how to make the most of my new toys but I did start to catch fish.

Throw and hope fishermen at New Johnsonville steam plant Tennessee River.

Fast forward about 20 years, now I have designed my own jugs which are really floats. Easy to use and store they have made a huge difference in the number of fish I catch. Besides the floats I spent many years keeping track of how and why I caught fish. One thing that became clear, speed and depth control are as important with catfish as any game fish you try for. Time of year, water temps, water conditions and one of the most important, wind speed/direction, things many people don’t take into account when going after cats became my obsession. After putting in the time it now pays off every trip to the lake.

On my home lake the most productive bait for me has been chicken or turkey liver. It is hard to keep on, especially in warmer waters, but the fish love it. I fish lakes where it might be cut bait or spoiled shrimp but on Priest it is liver. I take 5 lbs for a 2 hr trip. My rigging is simple, 50 lb mono (do not use braid) cut to length, a 1/0 - 4/0 circle hook and a split shot to help it stay down. The line is cut to hold the bait within a foot of the bottom, the split shot is added about a foot up the line. I attach this to the float using a #5 locking swivel.

Once rigged for the depth I head upwind and begin dropping floats every 20 feet working back downwind, carefully watching my depth finder to follow the contours of the bottom. You want the bait to stay close to the bottom but not touching. The wind drifts the baits parallel to the bank hunting feeding fish. I repeat this at two or three different depths depending on the time of year. Pre spawn fish tend to be shallower, as waters warm their depth increases. When you get a hit the swivel allows the float to flip in the air which is fun to watch. Once hooked the fish fights the float and you have fun chasing it around till it gets tired. It is common to have 6-8 fish on at once going different directions, good times.

On Priest I fish shallow flats covered with rocks and stump rows. At deeper depths the oxygen content is low so fishing deep isn’t productive. Early in the year when the water first comes up I rig for 3 feet and 6 feet, later as it warms, I fish 6 feet and 10 feet. These 3 depths produce all the cats I want. One other thing, I only fish in the morning from 7 to 9. Cats will feed during this time no matter your location, plus, I’m not losing sleep over a catfish. When the cats stop feeding do what I do, go fish for bluegill, they are awake by then. Looking back at records I average 20 catfish every 2 hour trip.

Raymond with his two hour catch. He needed these for a family fish fry.

You can target the size and species by changing bait and bait size. Since I want channels up to 4 lbs or so the size hooks and bait I use works great. For flatheads you need bigger hooks, live bait and fish at night when they move looking for food. Big blues can be found under schools of shad where I use whole or cut shad rigged to hang just under the baitfish. For the larger cats hooks up to 8/0-10/0 might be needed. I stick with 50 lb mono on all my rigs.

One very important factor is wind. A wind blowing 10 mph is about the most I will fish in. After that I can’t keep the floats in position and they move faster than the fish like. But if you have a wind of 6-8 mph running parallel with a good bank you are in business. I have banks that are as short as 100 yards or as long as 500. Each is fished basically the same but I also target small rock piles and dropoffs. These are fished with as little wind as possible, dropping floats in a pattern around them. These can produce some very large fish that are territorial and have staked these out as their spot. In short, if it will hold a bass, it will hold a cat.

This is the basics of jugging for cats. It can be taken to levels so far beyond this it is hard to believe it is considered a low level, poor man’s technique. If you look at my bucket list this is the fishing system I am talking about. It is as varied and technical as bass fishing or as simple as you can imagine. If you like cats, have friends or kids where casting isn’t an option for them, give this a shot. I have spoiled more than a few people with a 2 hour trip to the lake without a rod in the boat. A few drink bottles, a handful of hooks and sinkers, a spool of line, there you go. Having fun and catching fish, that’s what it’s about.

Trip saved by bluegill and crappie when wind ran us off our banks. Remember it's about the fun.

1 comment:

jlecherd said...

Thanks Tommy hope you post more how-to tips. We use to jug when I was kid, but we always did it at night. 2 hrs. in the morning sounds great. I can break out the fly rod then for bluegill and bass. [;)

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

About Me

My photo
Born and raised in middle Tennessee.I'm a working wildlife and landscape artist specializing in watercolors. Now making cedar lures and custom turkey calls.



Follow by Email

Powered by Blogger.