Not everything that bites on a trotline is a legal keeper
February has long been a difficult time for folks in the outdoors media. The major hunting seasons are nearly all history except the conservation goose season. There are always the exotics to go after. The fish don’t really care about the weather, but the fishermen do. There are, of course, some dedicated anglers that head out no matter what the weather happens to be, except for summer hurricanes. Even then there are those folks that will risk life and limb to catch a bull redfish in the surf.
Inclement weather, especially the times of heavy clouds and thunderstorms in February and March, are the times to have already set out trotlines or limb lines. The big blue catfish and channel catfish will feed heavily during those periods. In fact, there are a number of knowledgeable catfish chasers that watch the springtime weather predictions before setting their lines in their favorite spots And because they move less in cold water, anglers have little trouble with the gar and turtles.
Stormy weather is great for the trotlines and limb lines, but the cat fishermen that choose noodle or jug lines should wait until after the bad weather. By putting the catfishing devices in the water when there is a strong wind, the floats with the hooks and bait attached will become scattered. In really hard wind, some of the devices could become lost and irretrievable.
Common sense is the primary factor when deciding to go catfishing and how to do it on a given day or night. There are, however, several regulations that are on the books concerning trotlines, set lines, and noodle or jug lines. I highly recommend that anyone that intends to enjoy the sport to read the catfish section of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Annual. There would not be enough space to name all of the regulations in this article.
There has long been a regulation concerning the use of noodle or jug lines in waters below the salt-freshwater boundary. Even so the anglers that choose to enjoy fishing with the floating lines are now faced with another situation. High tides from hurricanes have introduced some saltwater species into the bayous. Both Taylor and Hillebrant bayous are now loaded with some really nice size redfish, among others. Anglers using the jigs or noodles for catfish have been catching as many redfish as they have catfish. The regulations make it illegal to retain those fish. The same regulations apply to limb and trotlines, also.
An angler or anglers may put out the legal noodles, jugs, trotlines and set lines. While they are waiting for some action on those, they could decide to do some rod and reel fishing. The legal redfish that are caught may be retained – up to three per angler. Then while checking their set lines for catfish, a game warden decides to check them. There are three redfish per angler legally caught already in the boat. So what does the law include about such a situation? I called the TPWD in Austin and I was informed that unless the warden actually witnessed a fisherman retaining a redfish illegally, there is no violation. It is alright to catch the fish on a rod and reel, but not legal to retain them when they are caught on the noodle lines, jug lines, trotlines or set lines in either freshwater or saltwater. I recommend that all outdoors folks obey to the letter any regulations. That’s the case even if there is no chance of being arrested. The law is the law, and the game wardens just do what they are trained to do.
Besides the south and Mid-County bayous, there are several rivers that are loaded with lots of catfish. Both Toledo Bend and Sam Rayburn are great for catfishing. There are some really fine fish in both of those waterways. Both lake levels are on the rise now, and they should be yielding some great fish. For those lakes, I recommend baiting several spots with minnow attractors. These small baitfish will also cause crappie and other fish to come around. The noodles or jugs are also a great method for both lakes.Lake Livingston is still the most productive catfish lake that I have even put a bait in. All of the methods that are productive on the other lakes do well with the addition of some great rod and reel action. I recommend the use of shad as bait on Lake Livingston. Be sure to check the TPWD Annual since there are various regulations for different counties that border the lake.