Jugging For Weiss Catfish
Use pool noodles to fill the cooler on your next summer meat trip for Weiss catfish.
While fishing Weiss Lake typically puts thoughts of slab crappie and big striped bass in most anglers’ minds, there are a lot of big catfish many sport-fishermen overlook. A lot of people have probably caught catfish on accident when fishing this lake nestled just west of the Georgia-Alabama border, but if you target them, there are some big, whiskered beasts to tangle with.
Weiss Lake guide Mark Collins uses an effective and fun version of jugging to catch them.
“I’ve caught them fishing for crappie and stripers,” Mark said. “But if you want to catch numbers of them, you’ve got to really target them, and this is a great way to do it,” he said.
Mark didn’t bring a single rod and reel to the lake on the day we fished, but he did bring a good friend of his, Billy Callahan, to help handle all of the lines.
“It’s really tough to try to work the boat and the lines at the same time,” Mark said. “It helps to have someone else along.”
Instead of conventional tackle, Mark had about 30 jugging rigs, and they all fit neatly into a 30-gallon trash bag.
“If you get more than 30 out, it’s hard to keep up with them all,” Mark said. “When there’s a lot of action, you can’t help but have two to three fish on at one time.”
In the place of actual jugs Mark uses “pool-noodle” floats designed for swimmers to lounge around with. Mark cuts the foam noodles into pieces that are about 2 feet long and ties about 8 to 10 feet of 112-lb. test nylon line to the base of them. He then ties a 4/0 or 5/0 straight-shank hook on the bottom and puts on a No. 3 split-shot sinker a foot above the hook.
“You want to use just enough lead to keep it down,” Mark said. “You see, a lot of people think catfish always feed on the bottom, and that’s just not true.”
Even though Mark was using this different method of jugging, he said 2-liter soda bottles work well, too.
However, the bright color of the pool noodles help make them more visible.
Before the fishing can begin, finding threadfin and gizzard shad between 5 and 7 inches long is a must.
“With a little bigger bait you get more scent into the water,” Mark said.
After Mark tossed a cast net a few times, Billy began cutting the baits vertically in half, and Mark prepared to set out our first line of jugs. This month, Mark said catfishermen should start to look for fish, using a fishfinder, on the flats and coves along the main river channel running through the lake.
Mark likes to space his jugs at least 20 to 25 feet on both sides of his 21-foot center console. Paying attention to what the wind and current are doing is essential when setting out jugs.
“Sometimes it’s good to have a little wind because it moves the jugs around,” Mark said. “Other times, if it’s too windy or the wind is blowing the wrong way, it’ll just take all your jugs into the docks and the bank.”
After setting out our first line of jugs, Mark pulled his boat alongside the middle of the line of jugs to keep a good eye on all them.
“What you want to look for is that noodle to stand up and bounce around,” Mark said.
As we waited to see one of the noodles start to flop and dance on the surface, Mark said, “if the fish are here, you’ll usually have one on in 15 to 20 minutes. If you don’t get one by then, it’s time to pull them up and move somewhere else.”
At the first spot we fished, that was just the case. We had a couple taps but no consistent action, and we quickly moved on to another location.
This decision of Mark’s paid off just as he said it would. We pulled into a cove in the middle section of the lake and set out the jugs. Mark began seeing some good hooks on his fishfinder in the 10- to 20-foot depth range and made the call for Billy and I to start tossing the baits back into the water. By the time we got all the jugs out, we saw a noodle in the shallow section inside the cove start to move off toward the bank.
“There’s a fish on that one,” Mark said. “That’s what a lot of them will do is pick it up, get hooked and head to the bank with it.”
Mark turned the motor on and headed off toward the moving jug. Billy came along the side of the boat and got ready to grab it. Mark said he approaches the fish slowly and carefully because many of them will want to run once you get the boat near them. As soon as Billy got a hold of the noodle, he quickly reached out with his other hand and grabbed the nylon line to get a feel of the fish. Mark grabbed a large landing net and got ready. A nice blue catfish in the 5-lb. range was soon thrashing around in the net.
“This is exactly what we’re targeting here, a good-eating sized fish between 3 and 10 pounds,” Mark said. “But, you’ll still get some big fish that come up and grab a bait.”
Over the next hour, Mark and Billy landed about 10 more blue catfish in the good-eating size range and a few small channel catfish that they released. Then, we all saw a pool noodle dunk under the surface of the water, and then it stood straight up, and went back under. Mark kicked on the motor, and we watched the fish tug the pool noodle under several more times.
“I believe there’s a good one on over there,” Mark said. “It’s got to be a good fish to pull that noodle the whole way under like that.”
Billy’s first attempt to grab the noodle failed, as the fish quickly yanked it right out of his hands and back into the water.
“You know you’ve got a big fish on when that happens,” he said.
Mark continued to run the motor, keeping the fish alongside the boat, to let the fish wear itself out by pulling the jug around.
“If you grab the noodle and he makes a hard run, you just want to let it go,” Mark said. “Then follow it and keep playing it until it’s in the net.”
After another tough yank from the fish, Billy soon had the line in his hand and began pulling up what was sure to be a big catfish. Just as the fish was near the surface, Mark moved in with his net and swooped up a 33-inch, 25-lb. blue cat and brought it into the boat as it was still thrashing. After the fish calmed down, Mark unhooked it and dropped it in the livewell with the many other fish we’d caught. The fish was one of the fattest blues I’ve ever seen.
“I guarantee you that when you cut him open, he’s loaded with shad,” Mark said.
As Billy and Mark continued to work the jugs, they caught several more fish between 3 and 7 pounds and an additional few weighing 10 pounds and more.
“Once you find them, there are usually a bunch of them,” Mark said.
Because we were seeing more action toward the inner portion of the cove, Mark again made a good decision to go pick up the jugs we’d set out near the mouth of the cove and bring them closer in to the zone where we were marking and catching fish. The action held on for another hour or so. With only a couple small fish mixed in, almost every fish was the right size to fillet.
Before too long, we’d easily brought 150 pounds of live-weight catfish to the boat, with the 33-inch blue being the biggest of the bunch.
“I never was much of a fisherman before I met Mark,” Billy said. “I was always a deer hunter, and I still am. But, I went fishing with Mark one time, and I was hooked. Before long, I had my own boat.”
According to Alabama’s fish and game regulations, which you’ll have to follow on Weiss, anglers are allowed to keep as many catfish as they’d like, but only one may be longer than 34 inches. Also, with the lake being so close to the state line, Weiss Lake catfishermen should also take note of the state’s regulation that “no catfish over 34 inches may be transported live beyond the boundaries of Alabama.” Anglers also need to write their name and contact information on each jug and be sure to pick them all up when they’re done, Mark said.
Another infraction Alabama law enforcement has been catching Georgia anglers for recently is the use of crappie parts for catfishing. Since Weiss is one of the premier crappie lakes in the Southeast, crappie fishermen clean and dispose of a lot of crappie parts in the lake’s coves, and catfishermen have had some success using crappie heads and guts as bait. Using sport fish as bait is illegal in Alabama. However, with the summer heat bringing Weiss’ spring crappie blitz to a close, shad may be a better choice of bait for summer jugging, anyway.
By the time we’d run out of sizable bait to use, the action in the cove had slowed down. Mark caught a few additional shad and made a move to fish a third location. It was the middle of the day, “the toughest time to fish no matter what you’re after,” Mark said. But still, we hooked a couple more blue catfish of good-eating size and another small channel catfish at a third location.
“(Blue and channel catfish) are mainly what you’ll catch doing this,” Mark said “The flatheads are going to be up along the bank in the holes and around the rocks. If I was going to fish for them, I’d use live bait and a rod and reel.”
When it was all said and done, we motored back to the boat ramp with a huge mess of catfish.
“Call Johnny and tell him to sharpen his knife,” Mark said to Billy. They planned to give much of the fish to their friend, Johnny, who likes to have large fish fries.
“Not bad for a day’s worth of fishing, huh?” Mark asked. “Blue catfish are the best-eating catfish to me.”
Mark primarily guides for crappie, bass and stripers, but he also knows how to catch cats. To book a trip, call (256) 779-3387 or visit his website at www.markcollinsguideservice.com.
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