For many outdoor activities--except for the squirrel
season--August may be one of the slowest months of the year, but for fishing
for big cats, frog hunting, harvesting wild blackberries, and general camping
experience it will pass any test.
If that’s not enough to keep one busy--consider
yet the squirrel season opener on August 15--I wouldn’t know where to start.
August is, for all practical purposes, the start of some nine months of
Generally, Indiana waters host four species of
catfish. They are channel, flathead and blue; the so-called big cats, and
the several species of smaller versions of the whiskered set. The bullheads
are brown, black or yellow, disregarding the many “farm” fish that are
cropping up today.
When thinking of setline fishing of the three
species of big cats, there are at least four ways to go: trotline, throw
line, bank (limb) line, and jug. Any one of the four methods of fishing
can produce good results with a great variety of live bait. They seem lumped
together, for the most part by the DNR.
One of the great features of fishing for big cats
is combining fishing with camping, running (checking) the lines, and the
many other things that lend themselves to the “sport” several times during
the night when big cats are most active. Otherwise the lines are left throughout
the night and run early the next morning. Indiana law provides that setlines
be run every 24 hours.
For the most part, the big cats spend a lot of
the daylight hours under logjams (drifts) and other forms of natural cover.
But they come out at night to feed. Thus, if setlines are baited just before
dark, the chances are good for catching a fish before daylight comes.
My father, the late Jacob W. Scifres, was undoubtedly
the best setline angler I have ever fished with. He did not own a boat,
but if he had owned a boat, he would not have had a vehicle to transport
it. Not many people owned either a boat or a motor vehicle in the late-depression
or post-depression days of the 30s and early 40s, but anglers lucky enough
to own a boat would have it hauled to the Muscatatuck River or some other
body of water and keep it chained and locked--usually to a large tree.
In the absence of a boat, my dad used what he
called throw lines. This method of fishing for big cats—set lining--still
is a good way to go, even if the angler has a boat.
A throw line is a length of strong cord (usually
20 feet or longer) we called it stagen--with a heavy weight (old railroad
spikes are excellent) tied to the deep end. Four or five drop hooks are
tied to shorter lengths of stagen and they are tied to the main line with
a knot that will not slip along the main line.
To set the throw line, the end of the line opposite
the railroad spike is staked or tied to a strong underwater tree root to
avoid detection by other anglers. My dad also colored new lines with mud
to make them less obvious in the water.
When the line was secured, it was stretched full-length
along the riverbank, and each of the four or five hooks was baited.
Then, with the line taut and all baited hooks
above the bank, my dad would swing the railroad spike pendulum style and
release it at just the right time to send the line and railroad spike to
the desired spot in the river.
My dad’s favorite bait was the longear sunfish
(a.k.a. redbelly sunfish) hooked lightly under the dorsal fin or near the
tail to keep it alive. But any live fish--including sucker minnows up to
one pound--or bullhead catfish were believed to be good bait. He would
also use night crawlers, crayfish and other live and dead baits, but he
preferred live bait. If he used the other baits he used smaller hooks.
Flatheads prefer live bait. Channels and blues think bait is bait--live
My dad’s “live-fish-for-bait theory accounted
at least partially for my popularity as a fishing partner. I was only a
kid, but I was good at catching sunfish. He was glad to have me along on
Saturday afternoons--his only day to fish--and it was like having his own
bait shop (unheard of in those days).
At the old Muscatatuck my dad would cut a couple
of dead-ash poles (they were light) and pull out the flat Prince Albert
(tobacco) can of garden worms and soon we would be in the bait-catching
business. We kept the baits in special live bags, which he knitted with
large hickory needles.
When the sun started sinking we would bait the
lines and head for home--and supper--returning before daylight to run the
We didn’t always catch a big cat, but on successful
Sunday mornings we were home a few hours after daylight, and my grandmother,
mother, and sister often were busy preparing a fish dinner (the noon meal),
and my dad skinned the fish.
Now, about those frogs, blackberries, squirrel
hunting, and other aspects of a camping that includes the big cats. They
are, you know, only incidental to the cat fishing--a way to fill the gaps.
Squirrel hunting has to be rated high among the
incidentals of a camping trip for setlining the big cats, but squirrel
hunting and running the lines both come early in the morning for best results.
Lots of work has gone into the lines, so I would give them priority. Bottomland
thicket squirrels often stay active all day.
Another good possibility is taking an unloaded
rifle or scattergun with you while running the lines and hunt your way
back to camp, remembering that mosquitoes are not out in great numbers
in the cool hours of early morning.
Frog hunting is about the same as squirrel hunting
but you do this at night because that is the time frogs come out. Frogs,
of course, are most often found on the riverbanks on hot, dark nights looking
Frog hunting requires at least two people--one
to run the boat in the stern with oars or paddle. The, other is in the
bow of the boat with strong light to catch the frogs and place them in
a wet gunny sack (burlap bag). Frogs stay alive well in a bag.
According to Indiana law, frogs may be taken with
the hands alone (the preferred method), with a gig, or several other ways.
The hands are preferred because it keeps them alive. Regulations are not
great, but they should be met. Regulations are found on page 6 of the D.N.R.
Best bet is to grasp the frog behind the front
legs. But don’t touch them until you grab. And, keep a light shining in
Blackberries start ripening late in July or the
first part of August. Blackberries have not been doing well recently but
the bottomland along rivers is one of the best places for them now--especially
as the summer wears on.
The best berries ripen in the shade. They seem
bigger and sweeter than sunny berries.
I use a two-pound coffee can, fitted with a strong
wire bale with a hook, for picking. And a larger storage bucket stashed
in the shade.
Aside from use with cereal, or just eaten with
cream and sugar, the berries will be used at home in a great variety of
dishes--including wine and jam.
And, it is wise to keep an eye open for ripe field
corn. It puts the finishing touches on a camping trip for big cats.