There are lots of ways to catch fish, many of which do not involve the use of a rod and reel. After all, people were catching fish long before the invention of rods and reels. In fact, people were catching fish long before we were really people, at least in the modern sense.
What Is Jug Fishing?
Jug fishing really isn’t very ancient, since plastic jugs have only been around since the 1930s. But it has really become popular, especially in the South. The reason is probably because it is so much fun, and it puts a lot of fish in the freezer in a short period of time.
Jug Fishing is just what the name implies. It is the process of suspending a line from a used plastic jug, or similar floatation device, adding a baited hook, and dropping the whole thing in the water. Usually several jug rigs are used simultaneously, as many as 20. When a catfish bites one, the jug takes off on a Nantucket Sleigh Ride, and you chase it down in your boat, pull the fish in, re-bait, reposition the jug, and start over until you get all the catfish you want, or reach the legal limit. That’s all there is to it. Nice low-tech fun.
There are two kinds of fishing, Active and Static. Active means you are seeking the fish. Static is when you want the fish to come to you. A good example of Active fishing is throwing a jig for crappie, Static fishing is when you use a minnow and sit there until a crappie bites. Jug fishing can go either way. Active, or Free-Floating Jug Fishing is when you rig the jugs and just let them drift with the wind or current, keeping an eye on them. Static , or Anchored Jug Fishing is when you put a heavy weight on the bottom, or tie the jugs to a tree or other structure, leave them and check them every so often. Both ways work. It just depends on what you want to do. With Anchored Jug Fishing, you can go off and fish for bass, crappie, or whatever, and then come back in a bit to check the jugs.
How To Rig Jugs
You can, of course, buy pre-rigged jugs, or Noodle Rigs, which are just short pieces of PVC pipe with a foam pool noodle slid on top for floatation (please don’t confuse this with ‘Noodling” which is catching catfish by hand…). Both are very inexpensive, but if you really want to have fun, it is easy to make your own jug or noodle rigs.
To make a jug rig, all you need is some kind of plastic jug, like a milk jug, a quart Clorox bottle, or a 2 liter coke bottle, etc… Just fill the jug about ¼ of the way with gravel, BBs or whatever, then seal the end with the cap (I glue them on just to be sure they are water tight). Now, all you have to do is tie your line to the cap end. Your line really should be braided dacron or Squid Line, because you can hook into some really big bruisers this way. Heavy monofilament, say 30+ lb. test, will work if that’s what you have. Now, just add a dropper loop and attach a 1/0 hook, then put a ½ sinker at the bottom of the line. I would make the line at least 10’ long, depending on the average water depth where you will be fishing. You want it within a few feet of the bottom. If it keeps bottoming out, you can always pull it in and make it shorter. Repeat this process for as many jugs as you want to fish with. Make sure you use a Permanent Marker to number them so you can keep track. You’ll want your name and phone number, and maybe even your address on them as well. In some states, it is a legal requirement.
All that’s left is to hit the water, bait the hook and drop them overboard. Try to space them a few feet apart so they won’t tangle with each other. When lowering them into the water, shake the gravel to the wide end of the jug so that it floats on its side. When a catfish bites, it will pull the other end making the gravel roll to that end, and the jug will float upright. Then you know you’ve had a bite. I’ve even gone so far as to paint the wide end bright orange or red, so I can tell from a distance if something is on it.
To make noodles, all you need is a 2 or 3 foot length of 1” Schedule 40 PVC pipe, 2 end caps for each length of pipe you are going to use, a stainless steel screw-in eye (to tie your line to), a ⅜ oz sinker that fits inside the PVC pipe, and a few 1 foot lengths of foam pool noodles (one for each rig). I recommend getting them in red or orange for high visibility. To assemble, glue an end cap to one end of the PVC pipe. Slide the noodle over the pipe to the top half, stopping at the end cap. Spraying the pipe with a mixture of dishwashing liquid and water helps to slide the foam on, if it gets ornery. Now, drop the sinker into the pipe, then glue the other end cap on the open end. Screw the hook eye into the bottom cap, then unscrew it. Dip the end of the screw-eye in 5-minute water-proof epoxy, then screw it back in. Let the epoxy cure for 24 hours before using the rig. Repeat for all the other rigs you want.
Now, when you use the noodle rig, just let the sinker roll to the opposite end from where the line attaches. Attach your line, hook, and ¼ oz. sinker to the line and set the noodle on it’s side in the water. It will float on its side until something pulls on the other end, Then the sinker will roll to that end and it will float standing straight up, letting you know you have a fish.
How To Use Jug and Noodle Rigs
Using these rigs is as simple as it gets. My favorite bait is live bluegills (where legal), or large live minnows, but punch bait, dough bait, or any catfish bait you like will work. If you are going to anchor them, just tie them to a tree, or any other fixed object where you want to fish, although I would avoid tying them to any buoys. The authorities sort of frown on that. You can also just attach an extra line with a heavy weight to go to the bottom, and keep the rigs where you set them. Just lower them into the water, make sure they are floating sideways, then do whatever you want for a bit, and come back and check them. It’s just like fishing with a trot line.
If you are going to float the rigs, bait the hooks on each rig, then just lower them into the water and make sure they float sideways. Keep them a few feet apart to avoid entanglements with each other. Put them upwind from where you want them to drift. Now all you have to do is follow them (not too close…). I try to stay around 10 yards away from them while they are drifting.
If a rig gets stuck on the bottom, just pull it up and reposition it. Anytime a jug or noodle stands on its end, it’s Fish On time. The rig will usually take off and you’ll have to chase it. This is where kayaks and canoes really shine, because nothing is faster to react on the water than a kayak or canoe with a good paddler. Grab the rig, and pull in the fish. Usually while you are doing this, a few other rigs will take off, so someone needs to keep an eye on them until you can get over there.
Numbering the jugs or noodles allows you to use different baits on each rig, and you’ll know what they are hitting. When that happens, pull all the other rigs and re-bait them with what’s working. Floating Jug fishing is a job for two, at least. At times, the action is fast and furious. That’s why I never use more than 10 jugs at a time. I can never keep up with more than that. I’ve gotten my limit on catfish in as little as 1 hour. My freezer at home always has some catfish in it.
The Legal Stuff…
Jug fishing is not legal everywhere, so be sure you check the regulations for the body of water you intend to fish. And, a fishing license is required for jug fishing everywhere. Be sure you have one.
Some places have regulations on the size of the jugs you can use, usually larger than 1 pint, but no more than 1 gallon. I have no idea why….
In some areas, you must number your jugs and have your name and phone number on them. This in case one or two get lost, so the Game Wardens know who to scold…. And, as a good outdoors person, you really should make every effort possible to locate and recover all your rigs. They could conceivably cause some problems for boaters, jet skiers, and water skiers.
There are some people that have attempted to create a controversy over jug fishing, with claims that it over-harvests the catfish and is detrimental to their populations. However, this could not be further from the truth. Fact is, every state sets their creel limits for each species, based on what biologists tell them the population can sustain. And some bodies of water have special limits to further protect the species, These limits apply to everyone, whether you are fishing with rod and reel or jugs. As long as you do not break the law, jug fishing poses no special danger to catfish.
Give jug fishing a try sometime. I am sure you’ll have a blast
We began showing how ingenious we could be as far back as Homo habilis, over 500,000 years ago. Fossil records of fish from that period show evidence of being pounded by stones, squeezed by hand, and even speared. Homo erectus and Homo neanderthalis improved on the techniques, and fish became a staple part of our diet, along with crustaceans and other types of seafood. From 40,000 years ago, there is evidence that people were making fishing hooks and lures from bone. But with the advent of civilization, there was a need to catch more fish faster to feed the masses. Fishing became a profession, and around 4500 BC, the Egyptians invented the net. Since then, many different methods have been tried in order to catch a lot of fish quickly, rather than one at a time. Trotlines were a development from the deep sea fishermen’s long lines. Native Americans in the New World quickly learned to use their bows to skewer fish at greater distances. More methods were tried as new technologies became available.