Snagging a winner: Baitless method effective on catfish
BY KELLY BOSTIAN Outdoors
Sunday, June 10, 2012
6/10/12 at 5:29 AM
Go to Kelly Bostian's blog Original Print Headline: Snagging a winner
HE LOUDLY proclaims he is a Democrat to all he meets in his very red home state. He gets a kick out of telling folks he fishes with a "fly rod" as he holds up an old green plastic fly swatter affixed to the butt of a fishing rod. He cruises the murky waters of Keystone Lake in a 23-foot aluminum SeaArk with a horn that hoots like an old steam whistle and has "African Queen" scrawled across the canvas awning over its home-built wheelhouse.
The man, who tells people he's celebrated his 69th birthday three times now, likes to say "I'm not crazy, I just act that way."
Somehow it just figures that Franklin D. Griffith has a lifelong love affair with catfish, the round-bellied, whiskered fish with a character that seems to match the people who love to catch them. He even catches his catfish in a way that is a bit unusual.
Griffith, a lifelong resident of the Cleveland area, learned from his Arkansas-raised daddy how to set out lines and how to hand-fish for the flatheads, blues and channel cats of the Arkansas River back in the 1950s, well before there was a dam or a Keystone Lake.
"Noodling is exciting as it gets. There's nothing like it," he said. But he's not quite as wiry now as the days when he used to dive down and meet the cats face-to-face.
Although he joked with folks at the Keystone Catfish Festival last week that his first-place, $500-winning, 55-pound flathead was caught on his "fly rod," the fish actually found its way onto the snag line he chiefly uses to keep himself in a steady supply of catfish.
Snag lining is a surprisingly effective way to catch catfish, given that bait isn't used. The line is a length of rope positioned horizontally near the bottom of the lake with bare hooks hanging at roughly 2-foot intervals.
He sets his line in areas where he knows catfish hang out and moves it around, or up or down, or disables the hooks depending on the time of year, water temperature and fish activity. A fish might be caught on any part of its body as it encounters a hook, but "more times than not, they're caught in the corner of the mouth," Griffith said. He doesn't know why; the fish might see the shiny hooks sometimes and strike at them or they may just run into the hooks whiskers-first.
"You can bait the hooks, too, but I haven't noticed that I caught any more that way," he said. He gets some by-catch, but Griffith said it's mostly trash fish like gar and carp.
State regulations allow for placing up to 100 hooks, spaced at least 2 feet apart, on a single line. Add that minimum 200 feet of line to lengths required to accommodate heavy weights on each end to hold it in place, floats and weights placed between every 10 hooks to set the depth of the line - plus a little wiggle room to make sure it's all legal - and the main line quickly multiplies to 500 or 600 feet.
The hooks (Griffith likes to use a No. 7 Tru-Turn) hang about 2 feet below a main quarter-inch nylon rope on leaders made of heavy Dacron braid fishing line and No. 18 nylon braided cord.
As storm clouds cleared to reveal a sunny Monday morning, Griffith pushed the African Queen across Keystone Lake with a 90-horsepower Mariner while friend Bill Jefferson dragged a softball-sized mushroom anchor to catch the snag-line rope, which was suspended about five feet above the bottom in 23 feet of water. With the line caught on the anchor, he pulled it up to the boat, hooked it over pegs on the gunnel and the pair pulled the craft along the rope checking and cleaning each hook, float and weight as they went.
"It's not bad as long as it's not too windy," Griffith said of the chore. "The wind gets hold of the boat and things can get a little tricky."
One downside to this kind of fishing is a constant need to repair the line. "People get their fishing line snagged on it and they'll pull it up and cut it," Griffith said. "I can't count how many times that's happened."
Tying and setting the line usually means it's not a handy one-day or weekend technique. "It's a lot of knots," Griffith said.
It helps that he lives near the lake and has a houseboat docked at Westport Marina. "You have to check it every day," he said of his line.
As he checked his and Jefferson's lines Monday, occasionally a swirl formed where the rope rose to the water's surface as it neared the boat, indicating a fish on the line. The take for the day was six blue catfish in the 5- to 10-pound range. Three or four smaller fish were released. All were hooked in the mouth and came into the boat flopping wildly and fresh as a fish can be.
Indeed, unlikely as it sounds, a mess of catfish can be caught by dangling bare hooks on a line across a piece of lake. It's not crazy, it just sounds that way.
Franklin D. Griffith shows off a 55-pound flathead catfish at the Keystone Catfish Festival last weekend. KELLY BOSTIAN/Tulsa World