Juglines, the setlines that move

Last week I called the jugline “the setline that isn’t a setline.” Whether an angler chooses a trotline and puts a lot of bait in one small area or limblines and scatters a lot of bait over a wide area, those baits are going to stay put, waiting for a fish to happen by. Using juglines is a more aggressive approach. The angler still puts out a lot of bait, but each of those baits is free to move across the lake or down the river on an independent search for fish.

Juglining can be one of the most exciting ways to catch fish, especially when two or three jugs start scooting across the surface or bobbing completely under at the same time. Or at least it’s exciting if you’re there to see it.

In one of its rare fits of insanity, a few years ago the Missouri Department of Conservation changed the continuous observation rule for the use of juglines to checking them a minimum of once per hour. Just because you legally can do something doesn’t mean you should, as the following example will show. I was juglining on Truman and hooked two fish virtually simultaneously. In the five minutes or so it took me to chase down the first jug and land the fish, the second jug was a half-mile away and still going. I don’t even want to guess how far that five-pound blue cat could have gone in an hour.

If you’re rolling in money you’re desperate to get rid of and you don’t want to send it to me, you can buy ready made juglines. Or you can make your own. In either case, be sure to label each jug with your name and either address or Conservation ID number.

Thanks to a company that once — but, alas, no longer — sold soy milk in 20-ounce hourglass-shaped plastic bottles, I have perfect floats for my juglines. That said, just about anything that will float, is easy to securely tie a line to and is small enough for even a small catfish to make dance will serve.

I use modern super braided line in 65 pound test but only because that’s what I had on hand the last time I crafted a set of juglines. Its lack of memory makes it relatively — note I said relatively — tangle-free, and it’s easy to wrap around a jug at the end of the day. On the flip side, in order to avoid some truly dramatic line cuts, I’ve had to learn to be both quick and adept at turning loose of the line if a fish decides it really wants the jug back.

My standard line length is the distance between my fingertips with my arms outstretched plus the distance between my nose and an outstretched arm, which is about nine feet. When circumstances demand a shorter line, I simply leave some of the line wrapped around the float, secured with a couple of half hitches.

A 4/0 or 5/0 circle hook tied to the end of the line and about an ounce of lead tied about a foot above the hook complete the rig.

I fish with 28 jugs for the simple reason that 14 of my rigs will fit into a five-gallon bucket, and I have two buckets that serve no other purpose. That leaves me five hooks — remember Missouri’s 33-hook maximum — in case I want to drift a few lines behind the boat or to slip over to a nearby tree row and try for crappie, while keeping one eye on my jugs.

I’ve seen a number of jugline fishermen put all of their jugs in an area about the size of a house, but, for the life of me, I can’t understand why. On my first drift on a lake, my jugs will be spread across at least a quarter-mile of water. Then if I notice that one particular part of the line is getting the most action, I’ll concentrate my efforts across a city block or so on subsequent drifts.

You can never go very far wrong with fresh shad for bait, but there are times when cut bait or live sunfish work even better. If you’re interested in eating-sized channel cats, hot dogs or small cubes of Ivory soap are worth a try.

If he or she doesn’t mind feeling like a one-armed wallpaper hanger from time to time, juglining can be a one man show. That said, it’s at its best as a team sport with one person running the boat to chase down the jugs and a second to grab the line–a boat hook or gaff really helps. The boat operator then comes forward to net the fish. To be honest, I’m not sure which role is the most fun.

After the first article in this three-part series was published, a reader told me that I was introducing a new generation of anglers to what was rapidly becoming a lost art. If he’s right — and I hope he is — I’m good with that.

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