Introduction: Catfish Noodles... A.k.a. Jug Lines
At its simplest and most fundamental level a jug line is comprised of a float, a length of line, and a hook. It is primarily used to catch catfish. In Texas, where I live, it is not legal to keep any other gamefish caught on a jug line. The name comes from the fact that in a lot of the early designs empty gallon milk jugs were widely used as the float for this device. And while some folks still use milk jugs (as well as two-liter soda bottles, detergent containers, and other types of plastic containers) these days the pool noodle is most commonly used for the float. You can search the web and see all sorts of designs of varying complexity and features.
Being an engineer, I believe that simpler is almost always better… unless, of course, something more complex is way cooler and/or more useful. I took the latter approach to my particular pool noodle design. The typical pool noodle jug line uses a section of pool noodle slid onto a length of PVC pipe and held in place by caps on either end. A length of nylon twine is tied around the PVC pipe and a weight is tied to the other end of the twine. Regulations here allow me to have up to 5 hooks on each jugline but I typically only use 2. The hooks are tied onto a monofilament leader that is about a foot and a half or so long. These leaders are attached to the main nylon twine by different methods. I tied in barrel swivels at 5-foot intervals on my main line and attached snap swivels to my leaders. It allows me to easily fish different depths along the main line.
There are a couple of ways you can fish the juglines… free floating or anchored. I like having the jug line anchored with a 2-pound lead weight (I make these myself) rather than the free floating jug lines. It is kind of fun to chase down the free-floating jugs when you’ve caught a fish but if you’re going to set out your lines overnight and not watch them you run the risk of losing the free-floating jugs. Plus, we like to target specific areas (creek channels, deep holes, etc.) and want to keep the jug line in the zone we’re targeting. My biggest gripe about the typical design was the way the mainline is wrapped around the pool noodle when not in use. It was just not a nice neat method. Also, the length of line required can vary as the fish can be in different depths of water depending on conditions. So, I came up with something that allows me to pay out just the right length of line easily and quickly. And I think it provides a better means of storing that long length of line when not in use. For reference… my lines are about 30 feet long but we can be fishing as shallow as 10 feet… sometimes less. I like the flexibility of being able to fish a lot of different depths. Regulations require you to mark the juglines with your name and address as well as the date you originally set them out. Those are the tags you will see on one end of my design.
Most of the time we use cut bait (bluegill, shad, etc.) that I catch with the cast net. The drill is to set out the baited juglines and wait for the fish to bite. When a fish pulls down on the line the pool noodle will tip up so you can easily tell when you have a fish on. You pull up to the jugline using the trolling motor and I made a hooked pole out of an old broken shovel that I use to grab the line with. You pull up the line by hand and then net the fish once you get it to the surface. That’s pretty much it.
The pool noodles I used were SwimWays Super Swim Noodle. I got these from my local Target store. The noodles are 3.25 inches in diameter with a 1 inch hole running down the center of the noodle. The length varies a bit but is around 51 inches long. I cut the noodles into thirds.
All of the hardware related items were purchased from Home Depot. These include the following: 8-32 x 1/2 inch screw, #8 Nylon Stop Nut, #8 Washers, 3/16 x 1-1/2 inch eye bolt, small cable ties, 1/2 inch schedule 40 PVC pipe, 1/2 inch PVC end caps, and PVC adhesive.
I went to Academy Sports and Outdoors for the 3/0 Eagle Claw snap swivels, 3/0 barrel swivels, hooks, and 30# test fishing line.
Amazon was the source for the empty plastic spools and #12 nylon twine (100 pound test).
I recycled an empty detergent pod container to make the date tags. You can write the date on the tags with magic marker. The ink sticks well enough to hold up in the water and can be re-used by scrubbing the date off with a Scotchbrite pad.
Step 1: Assembling the Noodle
For reference, here are all of the parts required to assemble a catfish noodle.
Step 2: Main Line Spool Preparation
Here are the dimensions of the spools that I got from Amazon. They come 20 to a package. The first thing I do is take an Xacto knife and scrape the edges smooth on one end of the spool. The flashing left over from the molding process is kind of sharp and I was concerned that it might tend to fray the nylon main line over time. Next I drilled a 3/16 inch hole approximately a quarter inch from the inside edge on the side of the spool I just cleaned up as shown in the picture above.
Step 3: Main Line Spool Hardware Installation
Place one of the washers over the screw and run the screw through the hole from the inside of the spool. Set spool up on its end with the screw sticking up and place two washers on the screw. The keeper hook is made from a standard 3/0 Eagle Claw snap swivel. The swivel is simply cut off using wire cutters. Place the keeper hook on the screw. Another washer is placed over the keeper hook and then secured with the #8 nylon stop nut. Tighten the nylon nut just snug enough so that the hook is not loose but can still be rotated fairly easily. Do not over tighten. Note: Make sure you install the keeper hook with the hook opening as shown.
Step 4: End Cap Assembly
Use a nylon cable tie to connect a 3/0 snap swivel to the eye bolt. Cut out two 1 inch by 3 inch plastic tags from some scrap plastic from a milk jug or detergent container. Drill holes in the plastic and slide those onto the snap swivel hook. Drill a 3/16 inch hole in the center of the end cap. Screw the eye bolt into the end cap. I write the year on one tag and put it on the hook first followed by the tag for the month/day. That way there's less to mess with when you have to change the date. Check the game rules in your state to see whether or not this is required. In Texas, you need to have the jug marked with your name, address, and date that the jug lines were set out. You are allowed to have them in the water for 10 days before they have to be removed.
Step 5: Plastic Washer Fabrication
The easiest thing to do would be to just cut the ends off of one of the spools in your package of 20 spools. I had some other spools that I had tried on an earlier design that I wanted to recycle but the hole in the middle wasn't large enough so I cut a 7/8 inch diameter circle to accomodate the PVC pipe. The edges of the hole were sanded smooth after the cut.
Note: The reason for this piece is due to the fact that the inside diameter of the plastic spool is about an inch and this required the use of 1/2 inch PVC pipe. 3/4 inch PVC pipe is too big. The problem is that the end caps for 1/2 inch PVC are about an inch in diameter which is the same diameter as the hole in the pool noodle. The washer keeps the pool noodle from slipping off the end of the PVC pipe.
Step 6: Putting It All Together
Glue one of the PVC caps to a 2 foot section of PVC pipe. When that dries slide on the spool assembly. Make sure the spool is oriented as shown. Next slide on a section of pool noodle. Flip the assembly around and install the washer. The two foot section of PVC pipe is more than what is required. I like to custom cut the PVC pipe to the length of pool noodle being used. Once the washer is in place I measure 3/4 of an inch from the washer. You want to make sure that the spool can still spin freely when everything is assembled. Don't cut it too short!!! Once I have my mark I slide everything off the pipe and cut it to length. While I have the washer off I write my name and address on it to comply with the marking regulations required by the state. Once the pipe is cut repeat the assembly process so that you are back to the state shown in the third picture above. The last step is to glue the end cap in place to secure the entire assembly. To keep the adhesive from smearing everywhere I apply it to the inside of the cap rather than on the pipe. The adhesive will disolve the plastic washer if it gets on it.
Step 7: Add the Main Line
The main line is #12 twisted nylon twine. One thing to remember with nylon twine is to seal the ends with a flame after you cut it to keep it from unravelling. I tie a 3/0 barrel swivel every five feet and end up with a 3/0 snap swivel on the end. Overall length is around 30 feet. Just depends on how deep you want to be able to fish. The snap swivel allows you to remove the 2 pound weight for easier storage. To attach the main line to the spool you tie a loop on the end of the main line and slip it over the spool as shown. The line is wound clockwise around the spool. This is important as will be shown later. Once you've wound all the line onto the spool then you're done with the noodle assembly process.
Step 8: Leaders and Weight
Leaders are approximately 18 inches long and are tied with 30 pound test fishing line. That's what I use but everyone has his own opinion on what to use. I've used anywhere from 2/0 to 8/0 circle hooks. I have yet to see that it makes much of a difference. I've caught big fish on small hooks and little fish on big hooks. I tie the 3/0 snap swivel using a palomar knot and then I snell the hooks to the line. YouTube has lots of videos on tying these knots.
The weight is a 2 pound cannon ball weight. I bought a mold that produces 2 pound and 3 pound weights. The mold is kind of pricey so you can take a look at other methods if you like. I hate pouring lead. Scares the heck out of me. Molten lead is freakin' hot so be careful!!!!!
The last picture shows how the weight and leader attach to the mainline.
Step 9: Here's How the Spool Works...
When the main line is removed from the keeper hook the spool will spin freely. When you want to secure the main line (as you need to do when you're fishing this rig) you place the main line in the keeper hook as shown in picture 2. If you want you can go ahead and fasten the keeper hook for a little extra security but it really doesn't matter. When you give the line a little tug the keeper hook rotates up until it rests against the end cap where it will not move any further (picture 3). This locks the assembly such that no more line can unspool. When I'm ready to deploy the rig I keep my index finger on the spool to control how fast the line pays out as the weight is dropping to the bottom of the lake.
Step 10: Storage
I bought some Velcro cable ties from Home Depot to help hold the leaders in place when the rig is put away for storage. These are 8 inch ties... you need two of them. The hooks are held by the keeper hook on the other end. I like storing the rigs in 5 gallon plastic buckets. Makes it handy when you have a bunch of them.
Step 11: Go Fishing!!!!
You can catch really nice catfish with these rigs. And I'm telling you... it's hard to beat a fresh deep fried catfish meal served with coleslaw, fries, hushpuppies, and an icy cold beer!
Hope y'all find this helpful.
Good luck and keep a tight line!
Step 12: Update - Another Option
On the original design you had to make and install a large plastic washer in order to keep the pool noodle from sliding off the end of the 1/2 inch PVC pipe. I came up with another option when I ran across a 3/4 x 1/2 inch adapter in Home Depot the other day. The new design uses 3/4 inch pipe to hold the pool noodle. It’s big enough that once you put the cap on the end of it the noodle won’t slip off. You still use 1/2 inch pipe to hold the spool. Make sure that the section of 1/2 inch pipe is cut long enough such that it will still allow the spool to spin freely after you have bonded on the PVC end cap. This design functions exactly the same as the previous design. You may also note that I used a different pool noodle too. I had a couple of 4 inch diameter noodles laying around that I wanted to use. Again, doesn’t change the function... it just adds a little extra buoyancy.
A couple notes on updated fishing regulations here in Texas. The dimensions for the float have to be a minimum of 3 inches wide by 6 inches long (both my noodle designs comply). You no longer are required to have your name and address on the noodle. Instead you may use your customer ID number (located on your license). You still need to have a tag attached that shows the date you set out the rig but now you are only allowed to have it in the water for 6 days (used to be 10).
Dang, it’s starting to get nice outside again. Can’t wait to get back on the lake!!!
Step 13: My Favorite Option
I made another batch of noodles the other day and went back to the 1/2 inch schedule 40 pvc pipe. This time I took one of the spools and cut it in half down the middle with a hand saw (picture 1). This is the same type of spool detailed in step two. It has the correct diameter hole through the middle to fit over the half inch pvc pipe but small enough that the end cap can't slip through. The remaining pictures illustrate the assembly of the noodle. Push the half spool into the end of the noodle (picture 2). Slide the pvc pipe (end cap already bonded in place) through the half spool and the noodle (picture 3). Flip it around (picture 4). Install the main line spool (picture 5). Glue the end cap in place (picture 6). Customer ID is written on the end of the half spool and date tags are clipped onto the snap swivel (last picture). Super easy and quick to assemble.