“Hey man, do you have net” A brief pause ensues. “Yeah, actually I do. Really don’t make sense that I didn’t sale it with the boat, but I got a big net hanging on the right side of the shed by the poles. Why? What happened to your big silver one?” I’m trying to choose between laughing and cussing, so I just com e out with the truth. “Welllll, that thing shot off like a rocket around the Willow Park exit and crash landed on 20 eastbound this morning on the way to work; took out three grackles and a guard rail.” Now Matt is giving his standard one note chuckle. “Don’t worry pawtna, I got you covered. My net just turned into your good luck charm.”
It’s now 4pm on a Friday, and there is a convoy of Johnson County’s finest heading towards Cedar Creek Lake for a long overdue jug-lining trip. The shallow bite during the month of July has always treated us well, and with this year’s full lake conditions, I expect this trip to be a fruitful one. I’ve already told my coworkers back in Ft. Worth that I’ll bring them some fresh filets on Monday, so coming back with a mess of fish is now an issue of pride. Pulling into the northern part of Henderson County, I’m the last to arrive. I’m greeted with a firm handshake, common B.S. and the standard beverage of such meetings.
Between the Pittsburg sausages on the grill and the horseshoe pits, we’ve put together somewhat of a game plan. As a group, we all want to achieve two goals: first and foremost, we want to put meat in the box. Secondly, we want to see some fish in the 20-40 pound class. Typically speaking, both of these goals are realistic expectations. I hate to assume, but we’ll be setting our lines on some very promising waters, in a hole that has treated us very well over the last six years. In the meantime though, there are horseshoes to be thrown. Besides, some random chicks just showed up to the party.
“What do you think would happen if I jumped out of the boat right now?” Bored with the speed at which we’re forced to travel, I see Travis who is heavily weighing his options. “Well man, I assume you’ll get wet just as soon as you hit the water.” Again weighing his options, “so, wouldn’t you care if I jumped out of the boat right now?” Knowing damn well he’s going to jump out anyways, I say no, and in true Travis Howard fashion…he gone.
It’s 11am by the time we lay our first run of jugs on the water. The wind is perfect, a steady southwestern breeze coming in at 10-12mph. We have twenty jugs total, forming two straight lines of ten jugs each. We are covering and area roughly 200 yards long, by 50 yards wide. Both lines are running parallel to each other, and were placed so that as they drift in the wind, they will pass directly over the creek channel that runs through the large shallow flat we’ll be fishing today.
Each jug has roughly 6-8ft of line beneath it, with a 2 ounce bank sinker on the bottom, and a drop loop 18” above the weight. These are all single hook rigs, and we’ve chosen Gamakastu treble hooks for half of the jugs, and Mustad big game hooks for the other half. We don’t typically run treble hooks on our jugs, but we wanted to try something new, so he we are at the perfect research lab.
On our way to find a suitable swimming hole to enjoy while our baits soak, we already have one jug that is breaking rank. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen cut perch swim upwind like that. That’s a good start, gentlemen.” I turn the boat around and pursue the pulsating jug from downwind. Justen is on the right side of the bow, Matt directly beside him with the net. I close the gap, the jug momentarily out of sight. I look over the edge to see a perfect eating size blue being netted. It’s a 22” inch fish, and within our first few minutes, the skunk smell is already gone.
A quick de-hooking and rebaiting has the worn out Powerade bottle floating around with the rest of the jugs, filling the gap that was left by our first. Taking another quick glance to see if there are any other jugs on the run, we pull back a few hundred yards for a little swimming and country tunes.
“How does your beer taste?” “Shoot man, it’s like I’m drinking rainbows and laughter.” “I want to go where the beer flows like wine and the women instinctively flock the salmon of Capistrano.” I’m interested to see what happens this first hour or so. Usually they get going better after lunch time, but heck we’ve already got a good one in the box, so who knows?
We’re all waiting on somebody else to pull the anchor up, and looking out in the distance, it is very apparent that we have at least one fish on. “Dude, check out that bottle on the back right. That thing is scootin’!” It’s amazing how much more quickly an anchor gets pulled up when you know there’s a good fish on the line.
We make a good clip over to the now very quickly moving bottle, which closely resembles a small torpedo. Again, I approach downwind of the bottle. I like doing this because if I overshoot the target, my bow won’t go over the jug. The problem (if you dare call it that) with big fish is that they do whatever they want to do, which includes going under my boat.
Justen is again on the bow, Matt has the net and Travis is behind Matt playing short stop. We are almost within reaching distance when the jug again shoots off. This time is different though because when the fish makes a break for it, we see the rush of water swirl up from his huge tail. “That’s a good sign ya’ll. That fish is over twenty pounds.” We stay on his tail, pun intended, and again close the distance. This time the fish shoots directly back at us, and I quickly put the engine in neutral and kill it.
We can hear the bottle dragging along the bottom of the boat before popping out the backside. I quickly start the engine and cut the wheel, playing the wind to bring the bow right next to the jug. He again comes at us, but this time we get a hand on the cord and net ‘em fast. Slinging him in the boat, our second fish is a good one. I know he’s pushing thirty pounds, so we get out the digital scale and the camera. “He’s 27 on the dot.” That’s good enough for a few fist bumps in my book.
Making our way to the next jug that’s making ripples, Matt holds up the net for our inspection. The big blue was too much for the old net, breaking it off of the aluminum shaft. “I guess if you’re going to retire a net, that’s the best way to do it. It’s good to pay the fishing gods their homage, anyways.” The next fish is hooked well and no net is needed, and being that it is a perfect fit for the box, it is now deemed a box fish.
We make more runs, replacing empty hooks with a fresh piece of bait. We put more eaters in the box and cuss the occasional jet ski who sees our jugs as an obstacle course. All in all, this day is just what we needed it to be. We craved the excitement of a bottle being pulled completely under. We wanted to feel the sun and listen to Sturgill Simpson, and most importantly, we wanted to catch up and share a few laughs.
On the last soak of the day, we drop the jugs in a J-hook fashion. There really wasn’t any rhyme or reason other than we just wanted to move a little shallower in the flats to see what would happen. We’ve just dropped the last jug, and are heading to the swimming hole, when after only 30-45 seconds; the second to last jug is already 15-20 yards out of line with the others.
“Hey, check that out! We rebaited that one with the others, right?” “Yeah man, that was the next to last jug. We must’ve hit ‘em in the head.” I can tell that the cat is rolling by the way the bottle is pulsating. I whip around to approach the jug, and it’s apparent that this fish is at least in the double digits, as it has the jug halfway under as it slowly swims off.
“What do you want to do if it’s big?” Considering the options, there are really only two good ones. “I can either hand you these gloves and you can grab him like we do when we noodle, or we can get under it with the basket part of the net and pan for gold.” They decide to go for gold, and we proceed as usual.
This fish isn’t moving fast, but it is moving steadily. I get really excited when I see a fish move in this manner because big fish seem to mean business when they eat. It’s not always a fast strike, but more of a confident stroll to the buffet. Anyways, I again approach the jug from downwind, with my three brethren on the port side. I see the jug disappear from my line of vision, the tensing of muscles and the splashing from a struggling fish.
Dropping the engine into neutral and turning towards the fish, I’m watching Matt trying his best to get this cat in what’s left of the net. Travis is in the middle offering back up, and after an initial miss, another nice blue is lowered down to the camo covered floor of my boat.
“Hell yeah man!” I walk up to wipe my hand on the fish, only to slap Justen on the arm and sleeve, making for one heck of a nasty handprint. “Prime time for slime time, baby. You knew I wouldn’t forget.” This fish is also in the twenties, making for our second catch and release trophy of the day.
A nasty squall line is forming to the northwest, and Cedar Creek is not the lake to play games on when the wind blows. In an effort to get back safely, we pack it up and head in, pronto. As we make landfall and lay the fish out for photographs and filet knifes, Matt says his apologies for not keeping his promise to give me a new net as a good luck charm. “Look at it this way man, we may have lost the net, but we still came out on top. That’s what I like to call a net profit.”