Catfish jugging used to be a common sport around big and small lakes and farm ponds, but folks seem to have gotten away from it as a popular catfishing tactic. Well, that is except for a few folks like John Mark Cockrell of Brandon who has just recently rediscovered not only the fun of running jugs for catfish but also the productivity of the angling strategy.
Cockrell broke out the jugs last year on Ross Barnett Reservoir just to see what would happen. Like they say, “Be careful what you ask for, you just might get it.” Well, indeed what he got was a boat load of perfect-sized catfish with fillets just the right size for his compact electric fryer. I can attest to the fact that those fillets were sure hard to beat in terms of texture and flavor. In fact, I have encouraged Cockrell to continue the practice and also to take me along on the next trial this summer.
A myriad of catfish catching techniques have evolved over the eons of time. Cats have been hauled in by nets of all kinds, toss lines, cane poles, spinning rigs, Zebcos, hook snagging, trot lines, treble-hooking, telephoning, handgrabbing and probably lots of other ways. Heck, some catfish have certainly been brought to the surface by dynamite for an easy retrieve with a hoop dip net.
Catfish anglers have been quite creative.
But of all these different modes of yielding catfish to corn meal and hot oil, the singular method of setting out a flotilla of bobbing jugs properly outfitted with tough hooks sharpened to a needle point tethered to tougher line and wrapped with assorted catfish-enticing baits has to register high on the scale among all the many intriguing catfishing tactics ever devised.
“Actually getting into this catfish jugging game was not exactly my idea,” Cockrell said. “But I fell into it with good intentions and an open mind. Truth is, I was enticed into it by my now catfish-jugging mentor, Ken Morris of Brandon.
“Now that I have fully graduated from his training course and my internship on the water, I feel plenty confident to tackle a jugging trip for catfish on my own at any time, but it’s always nice to a have a deck mate along.
“The Ross Barnett Reservoir is just a hop, skip and a jump from my Rankin County home north of Brandon. Through the backwoods, I can be from my driveway to a boat ramp at the Rez in 30 minutes easy. On the Rankin County side, I like to use one of three local ramps. Those are the ones by Tommy’s Trading Post, Fannin Landing or Brown’s Landing.
“I prefer to fish during the week if I can get off work to avoid the rush at the dock ramps on weekends. Ross Barnett is plenty big enough to handle lots of fishing boats at the same time, but the ramps have a habit of backing up from time to time.”
Cockrell also jugs on occasion after work in the summer when the sun is later going down and the traffic is a lot less at the ramps and on the lake as well.
In terms of practical reality to beat the rush at a boat ramp on Ross Barnett, the best strategy is to be there very early after daylight ready to go or wait until mid-morning to escape the initial daily rush. The ramps can often get backed up with anxious anglers ready to put their boats into the water, but the secondary issue is finding a good place to park your vehicle and trailer. Parking spaces are also first come, first served.
Naturally being in the middle of the Jackson Metro-Tri-County Area with a large population of anglers, the Rez is a popular place for boating recreation, water skiing and, of course, fishing. So plan accordingly. There are multiple ramps around Ross Barnett, so check the maps to find several viable locations where you can put in (www.therez.ms).
“After getting clear of the dock area, we head out to a number of commonly known spots on the reservoir to toss our jugs,” Cockrell said. “Coming out of the bay from an area ramp on the Rankin County or east side of the reservoir, we turn north and head up to the upper end of the lake on the Natchez Trace side. Along this way are several stump fields, as I call them. In these spots the water is normally fairly shallow and somewhat protected by the wind and wave action, which is perfect for jug fishing.
“Another general area we fish is called the Oil Field, but this hotspot can get crowded on occasion.
“Most of the time I set out 30 total jugs. I will do 15 in one spot, then go to another area, say a half mile or more away, and set the next 15 jugs. I will then run back and forth between the two groups of jugs, constantly checking for fish, baiting hooks and then running back to the other batch of jugs. This is done at a consistent pace, but it is not really breakneck speed or anything.
“Sometimes I’ll only be catching fish in one area, so I’ll pick up a group of jugs that are not producing and move them closer to the more productive spot. Maybe I have really been lucky or just blessed, but when I put out two sets of jugs, I have yet to not have at least one of them produce enough cats for one heck of a good fish fry. Every time when we toss cat jugs I expect to catch between 20 to 30 fish all of a perfect size for filleting and frying.”
So if you are looking for a different angling challenge plus a very productive way to yield some quality catfish fillets at the same time, then jugging may just be what you’re looking for. It takes simple gear to assemble catfish jugs. Bait some up, toss ’em over and wait for the action.