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Fishing with Jugs
Using Jugs to Catch Catfish
by Larry Haag
While fishing with a rod and reel is a great method of catching fish, it is not the only way to catch catfish in public waters. Another popular method is known as “jug fishing” or “jugging.” Fishing for catfish with jugs in Alabama’s public waters has become popular with anglers of all ages.
Jug fishing is a productive method of catching both channel catfish and blue catfish. It creates visual interest and excitement as the jug bounces up and down in the water and disappears when a fish takes it under the water’s surface. When done safely, including the use of navigation lights and personal flotation devices, jug fishing is a great way to introduce people to the excitement of fishing.
Jug fishing refers to fishing with a strong float tied to a line with a weight and hook on the other end. A cotton line is recommended because it will decompose over time should the float get lost. The float keeps the bait off of the bottom so the hook does not get hung, and the buoyancy of the float sets the hook in the catfish. Floats are often made of plastic bottles, milk jugs, plastic containers, and pieces of Styrofoam, especially cut up sections of swimming noodles. Because jug fishing is most often done at night when catfish are most active, a piece of reflector tape or fluorescent paint on the float will help the anglers see the float.
The cotton line can range anywhere from three feet to twenty feet long depending on the water depth being fished. Although the size of the hook may depend upon the size catfish being caught, popular hooks are 2/0-3/0 in either a regular shank bait hook or a circle hook. Weights can range from a half ounce to a two ounce weight depending on how long the line is and how far down the bait needs to stay.
Popular baits used for jug fishing include chicken or rooster livers, pieces of shad or other fish, and worms. Popular places to use jug fishing are reservoirs and larger rivers. Although lakes like Lake Martin provide successful jug fishing, reservoirs and large rivers with consistent current flow allow the jugs to keep moving. This provides for more productive fishing. The moving jugs are able to cover more water with the help of current and wind action. Fishing jugs are most often dropped in the main river because the current flow is the most consistent there. Jugs in water where the wind is blowing should be placed upwind. Creeks flowing into the rivers or reservoirs are also productive. Jugs should be checked at least every hour or less because larger fish are often able to get off of a hook if they are left on for too long.
Just like all other types of fishing in Alabama, jug fishing requires courtesy and respect for Alabama’s water bodies. Jugs are often lost in the current or taken away by a big fish. Some occasions like these are unavoidable. But for the most part, anglers should try their best to get all of their gear out of the water when they are done fishing. Constant checking of the jugs reduces the loss of fish and fishing gear.
Just as with using a rod and reel in public waters, a recreational fishing license is required when jug fishing. Respecting all laws is essential during any type of fishing. Alabama waters have an abundance of catfish, so anglers are not restricted by how many catfish they can keep. Large catfish take time to produce; therefore, only one catfish per person longer than 34 inches in total length may be possessed in most of Alabama’s public waters. Because blue catfish and flathead catfish are not native to some Alabama waters, the size limit does not apply for harvest of blue catfish and flathead catfish from the following river basins: Perdido, Conecuh, Blackwater, Yellow, Choctawhatchee, Chipola, and Chattahoochee rivers. No blue catfish or flathead catfish over 34 inches in total length may be transported live beyond the boundaries of the state of Alabama unless permitted in writing by the Commissioner of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. (There is no limit on the number of smaller catfish taken by legal methods.) Alabama does not require labeling jugs with your name or license number, but this is a way to assure someone else’s jug is not fished. Regulations can be viewed at outdooralabama.com/hunting/regulations/regs.cfm.