By Tom Waynick
Why do we fish? There are hundreds of reasons but it all comes down to that suspenseful anticipation as we wait for the exhilarating moment when a fish takes our bait. It’s all about experiencing the bite. “Get ready to triple your pleasure because we are about to add several senses to the mixture. Seeing and hearing a big old cat pull that jug down. Then there’s the chase. A really big one may pull a jug a couple of miles before you catch up to him and wrestle him in the boat. Talk about feeling, think of handling a 20 pound whisker fish” Says multi-species guide Jim Duckworth who has taken jug fishing for catfish to another level.
To begin with Duckworth does not use jugs. We would be more accurate in labeled his craft noodle fishing as his “jugs” are in fact fabricated from water noodle swimming pool toys. Once transformed from water toy to cat noodle, other than the name, these long slender foam objects in no way resemble what your kids are bashing each other with in the pool. They are transformed into the most efficient catfish catching tool ever. They are efficient and much easier to store than two liter soft drink bottles or motor oil containers. Expect to place as many as sixteen noodles in one small plastic milk crate.
To create cat noodles Jim cuts the pool toys into 12 inch sections. Each five foot long noodle produces five catfish noodles. Once cut a wire coat hanger is snipped leaving the straight bottom rung where your pants are hung and about four inches of the bend on one end. The opposite end is cut off before the bend. Now you have a wire with a curve on one end and a straight wire on the other. The straight end is run through the noodles body from end to end until it protrudes from the top. “This takes a little practice as to not have the wire exit through the outside or the inside. You want it to be parallel to the outside but about an inch or so into the solid part of the noodle”. Duckworth advises.
The catfish guide hangs a large swivel onto the bottom bend and pushes it up into the noodle body. He then bends the straight section protruding from the top and pushes it back into the top of the noodle after slipping a jingle bell onto the top bend. “We are fishing these things at night most times and that bell alerts you to the fact you have a fish on. Sounds like Santa Claus and his little reindeer running across the lake when you get several fish on at one time.” Duckworth laughs.
Locating the noodles after dark is easy. Duckworth wraps a piece of automotive reflector tape around the top of the noodle which reflects light from his spotlight. He then ties a piece of 40 pound test Berkeley Big Cat solar line to the swivel which is finished off with a ¼ ounce split shot and a Daiichi Bleeding Bait circle hook. He uses solar line which glows brightly under his Nite Eyes blacklight making it easier to capture the line from the water and to re-tie knots.
If fishing for eating size fish, one to three pounds, Jim uses either large Tuffy minnows or his latest discovery a product called Worm-Glo. Worm Glo actually changes live night crawlers from a normal boring reddish brown to a bright shade of chartreuse. “Just sprinkle a tablespoon of this stuff into a box of night crawlers 24 to 48 hours before you plan to go fishing and put them in the refrigerator. I don’t know how it does it but the crawlers are livelier, fatter, and exhibit a bright chartreuse color which catfish cannot turn down.” Duckworth indicates. I was a witness to the effectiveness of the Glo worms as we put out 18 noodles one evening at 10pm and the next morning there were sixteen catfish bobbing those jugs around at daybreak.
The secret to coming up with enough catfish for a big fish fry is location, location, location. “I fish big shallow flats next to the river channel or in major creeks. I fish the baits down about 3 feet with a 1/0 circle hook. The first thing I do before tossing the first noodle is check for wind direction. You want to place the jugs so they will take the longest drift possible, that way you don’t need to keep pulling them up and regrouping them. If the wind is blowing into the creek or upon a flat I’ll drop at the mouth. If the wind is blowing from the back I’ll start at the back and drop them in shallow water and let them blow out toward open water. You never can tell where the hook up is going to be along the way”.
When asked about times when there is no wind the knowledgeable guide drops noodles atop the flats or in pockets off major creeks. At this point fishing areas are chosen as if you were fishing with a rod and reel. Drop your lines where you think the catfish may come up to feed. If there are no takers after a period of time pull them up and drop them elsewhere.
When hunting for really hefty cats Jim targets Flatheads and Blues. The areas he fishes are the same as before but the baits are changed. “If I am targeting big cats like flatheads and blues I use a two to five inch red breasted sunfish for bait, they attract the bigger fish for sure, especially flatheads. I upsize to a 5/0 or 6/0 Bleeding bait hook, hook the bait in the back just behind the dorsal fin. I then slip a small section of plastic I tear off of a Bass Assassin turbo tail. They inject these plastics which glow in the dark and that’s what I want. The glowing plastic keeps the hook from slipping out of the bait and in addition helps the catfish see the bait more easily.” Duckworth explains.
. Every lake in Tennessee has catfish and this system will work well on all of them. Toss noodles out in groups of a half dozen each in four or five likely places on your local lake. It will not be long before you locate some very productive spots. Try to distribute noodles just before dark and be sure to pick them up the next morning. The best bite generally happens right after dark and just before daylight.
In Tennessee jugs must be run at least within a 24 hour period. In addition your name and city of residence should be written on the noodle with a permanent marker. If you see jugs or noodles that obviously have been on the water for an extended period of time pick them up and either discard or recycle them. As with limb lines, abandoned jugs will cause problems for boaters and wildlife. Enjoy one of summer’s most exciting ways to fish but please do it responsibly.
Guide Jim Duckworth has a new video titled “Nightfishing for Catfish”. The video explains his entire cat catching system in detail. Videos may be found at Bass Pro Shops or ordered direct from Jim’s web site at www.jimduckworth.com