"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
About Bayou Bill
Recent Rambles
DNR Doings
Wild Recipes
Recent Rambles
Copyright © 2006 by Bill Scifres

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 hunting 

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 or dead.
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 lines.

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 for insects

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. Fishing Guide.

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 their eyes.

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. 

Bookmark us and stay in touch . . . come back for next month's new "Ramble," a regular feature of this website.



All columns are copyrighted by Bill Scifres and may not be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the author.  For reproduction permission and media usage fees, contact: Bill Scifres, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

Return to beginning of document
Return to Bayou Bill's Home Page