The neon-yellow foam float danced on the surface, plunged under, bobbed up, and raced off across the lake.
In the front of the boat Chuck Campbell stomped down on the trolling motor and gave chase.
Minutes later we caught up to the bouncing, zig-zagging float and Chuck scooped it up in a landing net. On the other end of a five-foot line splashed a three-pound channel cat.
Chuck unhooked the fish and deposited it the live-well with a half-dozen others. He re-baited and tossed the foam noodle overboard, where several others drifted in the breeze.
It was late May and the catfish were biting on Old Hickory Lake.
Specifically they were biting on noodles – a float underneath which a baited hook dangles.
Originally the method was known as “jug fishing,” because the early floats generally were made from plastic milk or soda jugs. Then someone discovered that sections of foam swimming-pool toys called “noodles” work as well, or perhaps better, than jugs.
The noodle sections, usually about a foot long, float well, their bright neon colors make them visible at a distance, and they are easy to handle and store.
Noodles can be bought at most tackle venues, or they can be homemade easily and cheaply.
Chuck, of Mt. Juliet, learned the art of noodle fishing – or jug fishing – from Lebanon guide Jim Duckworth, who made a how-to video about it.
Making the gear is simple. Cut a swimming-pool noodle into one-foot sections, and on one end attach a length of strong fishing line (from 4 to 8 feet long depending on where you’ll be fishing). Tie a single hook and small sinker on the other end.
For night fishing, wrap reflective tape around the noodle.
The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency limits the number of noodles or jugs to 50 per person, and each must be marked with the owner’s name and address or TWRA ID number.
Good noodle baits include nightcrawlers, chicken/turkey liver, minnows and commercial catfish baits, but I prefer skipjack chunks. Every spring I store several skipjack fillets in the freezer for later catfishing trips. The chunks stay on the hook well and emit an oily ooze that attracts prowling cats.
As each hook is baited, the noodle is tossed overboard in a cove or along the shoreline in fairly shallow water where catfish congregate during the spring and summer months.
The TWRA prohibits placing noodles, limb-lines or trotlines within 1,000 yards below any TVA or Corps of Engineers dam. Also, common sense should be used when placing noodles on crowded lakes used by recreational boaters and jet-skiers and water skiers. The more secluded sections of the lake, the better.
There are specific rules regarding the use of noodles or jugs on TWRA lakes. Detailed regulations are listed in the Tennessee Fishing Guide.
Noodling may not be for everybody – running the lines can turn into work, and some anglers prefer to fight in their fish on sporting tackle instead of hoisting them aboard by hand.
But it’s an effective way to bring home a mess of catfish for a fish fry, and watching a noodle suddenly bounce and go under is exciting. I’m ready to noodle some more.