Spring break fishing nets huge cat
April 19, 2012
Editor's note: This article is the second in a series detailing record sized catfish David Rauls recently caught.
Leaving his job responsibilities as a network and video teleconference administrator at Fort Sill each day, David Rauls often relaxes by hunting or fishing in what he calls a world-class sportsman's environment.
Spring break provided, what he thought, a great time to take a vacation and spend some time with his family in the outdoors, however, those plans changed and Rauls ended up charting his own plans.
"I decided I may as well do some recreational fishing and did all week," he said.
At Lake Lawtonka March 22, Rauls hauled in a 56.5-pound, 46.5-inch blue catfish on a jug line, setting a species record for largest fish caught at the lake. Just two days after he caught his first lake record fish, a 50-pound flathead catfish, the blue catfish hit one of his jug lines and disappeared into the depths.
Fishing from his 18-foot boat, Rauls probably doesn't fit the profile of the normal weekend angler. He said each day he hit the water about 5:30 a.m. and didn't leave until well after sundown. Although his face brightens up and he gets enthusiastic when talking of the prospects of a fishing trip, Rauls is hardly a fair weather fisherman.
"I'll go out when the waves are two feet higher than the back of my boat," he said. "I've fished on days where I went home three times to change, because each time I got soaked to the bone."
During his active-duty Army career, he spent 12 years fishing Oklahoma waters, though those years weren't consecutive. Rauls left and returned, as many Soldiers do to this post.
As for his other "job," Rauls' resume reaches all the way back to his childhood. He's a native of Arkansas and learned his basic fishing skills growing up near the Arkansas River. Over the years, his fishing repertoire increased to most popular U.S. freshwater game fish and Pacific Ocean king salmon during an assignment to the far north. With his active duty Army career drawing to a close, he returned one last time and retired as a first sergeant in 2008.
As compared to other forms of fishing, jug lining really allows fishermen to determine how much money to pour into the sport. Rauls said milk jugs or sports drink bottles work fine and don't cost much to assemble a rig.
He prefers to use the foam swimming noodles and cuts a 12-inch section of it. Through the hollow middle he slides a 1/2-inch plastic pipe, capping off one end with a swivel and rigging a T connector on the other end. The T connector works well to secure identification data, something Oklahoma requires of jug liners. Although other fishermen can see who owns the jug, Rauls said fishermen don't always honor this system, and some will haul up the line and take the fish.
"The best scenario is if a fisherman takes a fish off someone else's jug, that person should then re-bait it and toss it back in," said Rauls.
From the swivel he attaches his braided fish line, or rope, wraps it around the noodle and secures it in place with thin stretchy cables. Because Rauls fishes in water anywhere from a couple feet to up to 30 feet deep, he can adjust these cables to provide just the right amount of free line so his bait is at the right depth. He attaches two adjustable metal clips to the line and from those attaches a hook. The clips allow him to move the bait up or down in the water table to where the fish are.
Next he attaches a weight to the line, recently developing one that digs into the bottom of the lake if the fish should go deep, or if the fish swims higher up, the weight flutters and increases resistance. In either case the intent is to help tire the fish and prevent it from traveling far and snagging his rig.
Catching the cat
Rauls normally fishes up to seven jug lines, baiting hooks and tossing his noodles out at places he's caught fish before. He said his jugs were in the water by 4 p.m. and at 6 p.m. one had disappeared. He searched all over the lake until dark but never did see that particular noodle again that day.
The next day at first light Rauls renewed his search.
"That jug became my primary focus, because I knew it had a nice fish on it," he said. "I finally found it about 10:30 a.m."
However, unlike his flathead cousin, Ole Blue didn't take boat and fisherman on a Nantucket Sleigh Ride. Rauls said bringing a catfish up from the depths takes a while for its swim bladder, a gas filled chamber in a fish that gives it buoyancy, to adjust to the change in pressure.
"They're real aggressive at first, but then when the bladder doesn't compensate the fish will roll and get disoriented," he said.
The burly fisherman then resorts to a landing technique that hurts but has yet to fail him.
"I grab the fish by the lower lip and lift it aboard," he said. "If you can dig your fingers in and apply pressure with your thumb from the outside, that fish isn't going anywhere.
"Course he's gonna bite you, and that's half the fun," he said. "That's when you know you're really alive, and again, that's the therapy part of this fishing -- it's a real adrenaline rush!"
Rauls placed the fish in a live well filled with lake water and headed to the weigh station where it was verified as a lake record. Afterward, he released the big cat back into the lake because he said blue cats are more of a game fish than flathead catfish.
He added safety comes first when jug lining for catfish.
"You must maintain positive control of the fish line at all times and not just let it fall where it may in the boat. If that fish goes on a fast run, that loose line could be wrapped around a leg and pull you in the lake or give you a serious wound."
He added only fishing two hooks on a jug line is much safer, because, in the case of a run again, those extra hooks could hook into an arm or leg just as easily as a fish's mouth.
Even if the fish takes the bait, sometimes it gets snagged up on bottom structure. He said fishing is a trial and error pastime and reminds himself not to get discouraged when he loses fishing tackle.
This time the trial led to a celebration.
"After I got that fish in the boat I was definitely making some noise, it took me about three hours to calm down," he said. "It's physically exhausting to wrestle one of these big fish, but that's what I love about it."