How To: Jugging for Catfish
We had not quite finished dropping off our final low-tech fish catcher when my buddy said, “Look there! We got one already!” It was obvious that we had come to the right place to catch a big mess of catfish for an upcoming family fish fry because we were jugging for catfish and our floating fish catchers were already doing their work.
When we slowly motored up to the bobbing and weaving noodle, a fairly large fish was hooked up below. It took a bit of grunting and pulling, but we rolled the ten-pound blue catfish over the side of the boat. He became the first of many catfish to occupy our ice chest.
“One of the easiest yet most productive ways to catch catfish is by constructing a few jugs or noodles and letting the wind and current do the work for you.”
Through the afternoon of watching and chasing the noodles, I realized again just how enjoyable is this different kind of fishing. Jug/noodle-fishing is not only productive but also fun.
One of the easiest yet most productive ways to catch catfish is by constructing a few jugs or noodles and letting the wind and current do the work for you. This became obvious as we started chasing down the floaters as catfish pulled them around the river, and our ice chest began to fill up with prime blue and channel cats.
Using empty soft-drink jugs or swimming pool floats (the long, skinny soft-plastic kind called noodles) is a fine way to catch lots of catfish. However, it’s not as simple as it seems.
A couple of experienced anglers who use this kind of fishing have offered to share their knowledge and experience with us. Joe Dunn, who jug-fishes the waters of Miller’s Ferry Lake, and Robert Dobson, who noodle-fishes in South Alabama clue us about their expertise.
How to Rig
First off, it doesn’t appear that catfish care even a little bit about whether the floats used to catch them are constructed of recycled soft drink jugs or noodles designed specifically for fishing. We’ll let each angler tell how he rigs up.
Robert Dobson says, “I use noodles. I cut those porous plastic pool noodle floats into 12- to 16-inch lengths. Then I run a piece of small PVC pipe through the middle of the noodle (they already have lengthwise holes made into the noodles. This PVC pipe keeps the line from cutting through the soft-plastic of the noodle float. Next, I tie the line around the noodle and I can wrap the line with sinker around the noodle. I put the hook into the soft-plastic of the noodle, and when I go fishing I can bait up the hook and throw the whole thing overboard; it will unroll on its own.”
Dobson is very specific about certain parts of his noodle rig. “I use old-fashioned trotline material,” he says. I don’t use mono. The trotline stuff is cotton. It dissolves over time. This way, if you lose a noodle or jug, you don’t leave line in the water. I use a good catfish hook, the kind sold for trotlines. The weight depends; I’ll use ¾- to 1-oz round sinkers. You don’t really need too much weight with noodles. I’ll generally rig my noodles so I’m fishing four- to five-feet down.”
Joe Dunn says, “I like a 20 oz. Coke bottle—plastic only. You can’t use glass floats. I paint them a fluorescent color which really helps us see the floats on the water. I use a foot of nylon line with a 1 oz. egg sinker. I tie on a #5 barrel swivel and tie on six to eight inches of 25- to 40-lb monofilament with a 5/0 circle hook; Eagle Claw and Mustad are both good hooks.”
Dunn’s entire length of line below the jug is about three feet. This is his early season setup when jugging for catfish. For summer conditions, he will go somewhat deeper with a longer line.
One idea that might help keep track of the freely floating jugs or noodles is to number them. That way, the angler will know that 12 jugs or noodles were put out, but only 10 have been found—it’s time to go looking for a jug being towed around by a really big fish.
How to Bait
Selecting bait for catfish is not difficult. However, like most fishing situations, some things just work better than others.
“I use whatever I can get,” Robert Dobson says. “I do like an oily fish such as skipjack, alewives, and mullet. Some people even use hotdogs on their jugs and noodles. I like fresh mullet, and I’ve even used mullet gizzards with good success.”
“I strictly use cut shad and skipjack in the early season,” says Joe Dunn. “In summer, I’ll use small pumpkinseed bream.”
Dunn laughs when he tells us, “You can use bream for bait if you catch them on hook and line. However, DON”T have more than the legal daily limit of bream on your boat. It doesn’t matter how small the bream are; they are still subject to the law of how many you can catch and have.”
And Catfish Bait Options
Catfish anglers have used prepared “stink” baits with success for catfish for a long time. However, some of these baits bring a whole new meaning to the word “stink.” In fact, because of the vile odor, many people avoid fishing for catfish with these smelly baits.
But there are some very good options for catfish anglers who want to have success jugging for catfish.
A product called Yeh Monn! from Fishbites offers the attraction of scent to a tough, long-lasting artificial bait without the odor of traditional catfish concoctions. Michael Carr, vice-president of Fishbites tells us, “Yeh Monn! Catfish Baits are able to accomplish this through the use of synthetic stimulants which give off no odor in the air, but rather dissolve in water. The one clear advantage Yeh Monn! has over other baits is the ability to concentrate the flavors many times higher than what’s found in nature, and we’re able to make the baits tougher than other pastes and meals found in the catfish aisle.”
Carr continues, “It’s not that stink baits won’t work. The question is, why use it when there’s a stink-free alternative?”
Where to Drop Them
Location is everything in fishing, as it is in real estate, so potential jug anglers need to spend their time in places which do hold catfish. When asked where they like to jug/noodle-fish, our two experts were most helpful.
“I like McReynolds Lake up in the Mobile/Tensaw Delta,” Dobson says. “There are always good catfish there. Fish River down at the bottom end of Baldwin County is my favorite place to go jugging for catfish. Fish River has some fine catfish. I’ve caught some 20- to 25-pound catfish there. And I’ve had two cats that were so big they straightened my hooks when I held the line to try and land them.”
Dobson adds, “I like to start noodle-fishing at the Highway 32 Bridge and go upstream from there.”
When jugging for catfish in Miller’s Ferry Lake, Joe Dunn says, “From February to April spring fishing, I’m fishing shallow flats. That’s the time when the big cats come up on the flats to spawn. In spring, I go as far back in shallows—say four feet of water—and throw out the jugs. You can catch some good catfish in shallow water at this time.”
In summer, the big cats will come off the shallow flats and then go on the edges of drop-offs at the main river channels. Also, in summer I look for flats that have some current from the river. The bigger fish will work these current-influenced flats in hot weather, too.”
Dunn continues. ”I jug-fish below the dam. I like the area behind the floodgates and in the tailrace. There are some huge blues there. In spring, I look for closed gates and slack current. In summer, I get behind the powerhouse when they’re generating and I fish the moving water.”
What Can We Catch?
Both of our helpful experts tell us that jugging for catfish can be very productive. Joe Dunn says, “I’ve caught lots of 30- to 35-pound blue cats, and I’ve caught yellows up to 65 pounds.”
“We’ve caught 20-pound and bigger cats in Fish River, and there are some really big ones in there.” — Robert Dobson
Dobson adds, “We’ve caught 20-pound and bigger cats in Fish River, and there are some really big ones in there.”
However, beyond the trophy fish which are always possible, jug/noodle-fishing is a great way to gather up an ice chest full of two- to three-pound cats, the perfect size for eating.
There’s no way of knowing whether the next bite on a bobbing jug or noodle will be a one-pound squealer or a 30-pound monster, and that’s part of the fun.
Best Advice for Jugging for Catfish or Noodle Game
Joe Dunn says,” “Jugging for catfish is one of the best ways for kids to fish. They don’t have to be quiet, and kids love to chase down jugs. They can talk, eat snacks—my kids really look forward to this kind of fishing.”
Robert Dobson tells us, “My best advice for potential noodle anglers? Fix up a dozen noodles, get some good bait, toss ’em in the water and watch ‘em. You have to try it to learn it. Also, my favorite part of noodle-fishing is that I can put out my noodles and then go fishing somewhere else for bass or reds and then come back in an hour to retrieve my catfish.”