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Jug fishing at Oklahoma lake can produce some sizeable catfish

On most spring days, Oklahoma's Grand Lake is abuzz with the sights and sounds of anglers using high-speed boats to take their baits to as much water as possible.

Simply letting the wind do most of his work, Trent Nichols will probably catch more and bigger fish than with the fastest water craft.

"I think my biggest (catfish) on jug lines is about 55 to 60 pounds," said Nichols, who's from Afton, Okla. "We get a lot in the 15- to 30-pound range. Usually we can go out and catch a limit (15)."

While illegal in Kansas, jug fishing is a popular Oklahoma fishing tactic where anglers attach a line with up to five baited hooks below a float and let them drift over promising areas.

Oklahoma law allows the setting of 20 lines per person, as long as the float contains the angler's name, address and phone number. They must be run at least once every 24 hours.

Nichols, a college freshman, spends his summers guiding.

"I like to set out some jugs, then go drift fish for catfish or catch some crappie or (white) bass," he said. "We usually have fish on them in a few hours."

Home for a short break, Nichols set about 12 jugs before a short afternoon of paddlefishing.

Raised on the lake, Nichols knows the water well and is a master at using fishing electronics.

"You want to look for places where you have lots of shad," he said as he slowly motored near where a broad flat dropped into a river channel. "That's what the big blue cats will be feeding on."

With a friend driving the boat and watching the electronic depth finder, Nichols started baiting hooks with carcasses from filleted crappie.

Fresh shad, his favorite bait, had eluded his cast net.

Rather than traditional jugs Nichols mostly used sections of foam "noodles" normally sold for swimming pool play. Each held about 35 feet of stout line.

Beginning just above the hefty weight at the bottom of the line Nichols had 1/0 circle hooks placed three to five feet apart.

He tossed them overboard so the wind would take them over the old river channel and then across a broad flat.

"Normally I get the big ones right on the edges of the channel," Nichols said. "Most of the little blue cats (5-15 pounds) are scattered all over those flats."

After about three hours of paddlefishing Nichols returned to check his flotilla of foam floats a mile or two downwind from where he'd placed them.

The baits were largely untouched on the first three he checked. The fourth float bobbed unnaturally as the boat neared and Nichols soon pulled a blue catfish of about 12 pounds aboard. The next float had one slightly smaller.

"Both were on the bottom hook," Nichols noted. "That's important to know, the right depth. If we were setting them again we'd try to get as many hooks at this depth as we could."

The lines of one of the next jugs was snapped from Nichols' hands as soon as it was touched. "This is a better fish," he said. "We don't want to get in any hurry and have it tear off." After a few minutes of give and take he slipped a hand in the mouth of a catfish pushing 30 pounds and lifted it aboard.

It was the best of the six catfish he caught from the short afternoon of jug fishing.

A few minutes later he had a fish maybe half-again as large exhausted and by the boat _ until on a lazy flop the hook pulled free and the fish disappeared in a broad boil.

"Sometimes they just get away," Nichols' said. "Maybe we'll get him again someday."

And there are many "somedays" to come. Nichols said Grand Lake's jug fishing will last well into fall.

"It's really good in the middle of the summer," he said. "Some of those really hot days of July and August, they're some of the best."

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