“It’s gone! It’s gone!” yelled Belton Lake fisherman David Mojica to his fishing partner, Steve Webb.
Mojica was scanning the surface of the lake in the vicinity of their boat as he and Webb fished open water under the cover of darkness Monday night. Try as he might, Mojica could not see one of the large, homemade “jugs” he and Webb had set out a few minutes earlier as they pursued several species of catfish on the 13,000-acre impoundment.
Mojica and Webb are friends from the third shift at McLane’s in Temple where Mojica works as a warehouseman and Webb is employed as a mechanic. The men’s shift work allows them to night fish together regularly, typically beginning their outings around 7 or 8 p.m. and concluding their efforts around 6 or 7 a.m. the following morning.
On this particular outing, the pair had begun their trip by netting shad, their preferred bait for catfish, using a cast net. The size and quantity of bait often drives what the men do next. If they catch smaller bait, they will typically fish for more, but smaller, fish with rod and reel, whereas if they catch larger bait, they will often opt to put out juglines for fewer, but larger, catfish.
On Monday evening the men captured a large, 9- to 10-inch-long gizzard shad that could be cut into two large pieces and used to target larger catfish.
The men used their large bait pieces to bait a sizeable 6/0 Eagle Claw circle hook on their juglines.
The juglines Mojica and Webb make consist of a foam “pool noodle” segment with a small diameter PVC pipe running through the hollow core.
A 30- to 40-foot braided, 130-pound test nylon cord is suspended from a hole drilled through the pipe. A swivel is attached to the terminal end of the heavy cord, and then a leader of 80-pound test braided nylon is attached to the swivel. The 6/0 hook completes the weightless setup.
The men use state-of- the-art sonar equipment in the form of a Humminbird Helix 12 equipped with a Mega-type transducer to comb over likely fish-holding areas as they proceed downwind. When a fish is spotted on sonar, they turn back into the wind and proceed upwind more slowly right back over the path they just traveled, as indicated with a “snail trail” on the sonar unit’s mapping feature.
If the fish is encountered once again, jugs are deployed to drift downwind toward the fish and the wait for results begins.
When Mojica shouted, “It’s gone! It’s gone!” he meant that the catfish the pair had encountered on sonar had not only taken one of their large cutbaits, but that the catfish actually pulled the entire jug under water and kept it there for a sustained period of time. Most catfish do not do this.
I asked Webb what size of fish it takes to accomplish this feat. He stated, “Different catfish pull in different ways. It usually takes a 20-plus-pound blue cat to take our jugs under, but a channel cat of just 7 to 9 pounds can also take the jugs under.”
Either way, the men knew they were on to a big fish.
Once the jug popped back up to the surface, the fishermen used the boat’s Minn Kota Terrova trolling motor to maneuver to it. Several times, as they approached the jug, the jug pulled back under until, finally, Mojica was able to grab hold of the line with his hand.
He managed to raise the fish toward the surface and got a look at the head, but the fish spooked, turned tail and headed to bottom, giving Mojica a look at the tail.
He then knew this catfish was larger than any he’d ever encountered before.
As Mojica continued to work the line, Webb stood ready with the net. After expending a good bit of effort and time, the men got the fish into the net and then into the boat.
Said Mojica: “Now he’s sitting in the boat and we’re just looking at each other and we both said ‘That is a big fish.’”
The yellow catfish (also known as a flathead catfish) measured 48 inches and weighed 72 pounds.
Both Mojica and Webb have a conservationist’s mindset and appreciate that large fish take many years to attain their size. Large fish are valuable in that they possess the genes to create more fish with the potential for large growth. With this in mind, the men adopted their own policy of releasing all catfish they catch which exceed 10 pounds.
Despite the enormous size of this catch, they made no exceptions to this policy and released this fish back into Belton Lake after taking just two quick photos and measurements.