Though small, Tar River Reservoir holds plenty of catfish

CorrespondentApril 18, 2013 

Clay Pendergrass hands a stringer with two channel catfish and a flathead catfish to Michael Horton. They were jug-fishing at Tar River Reservoir near Rocky Mount, N.C.

MIKE MARSH

— A chilly wind was blowing, rippling the water of the Tar River Reservoir. Four young men docked their boat at the pier at one of the lake’s access ramps, which was located at the foot of Williams Bridge.

The fishermen had stowed their hook-and-line fishing gear along the pier’s bulkhead. The rods were festooned with outlandishly large floats and hooks as big as gaffs. Since they had no paddle, they were forced to propel their johnboat with a square-bladed shovel through the 1,860-acre lake.

“We’re jug fishing for catfish,” said Vaton Denton, a 26-year-old worker at ESP who lives in Spring Hope. “We also fish for them with our rods. But jug fishing is more reliable.”

The crew made quite a haul for a 14-foot flat-bottom craft. But once it was tied to the dock, Clay Pendergrass handed off a stringer with two channel catfish and one flathead catfish to Michael Horton.

“Early in the morning is the best time for catching catfish,” said Pendergrass, a 17-year-old student at East Wake High School. “We got here early and scattered out the jugs. We usually fish for catfish at Kerr Lake. But that was too far to go today. We left all of our paddles at our place at Kerr Lake, so we looked around our shop and found a shovel. It’s working out okay.”

Each of the catfish weighed nearly 10 pounds, which was a great start to the day. They watched their 2-liter plastic bottles intently for any sign of movement, which would send them on a shovel-powered excursion from the dock.

“When one of the jugs starts dancing, it means you’ve caught a fish,” Pendergrass said.

“Most of them are 2-liter drink bottles,” said Horton, a 16-year-old student at East Wake High School. “But a couple of them are smaller, 1-liter bottles. A catfish pulls the smaller ones under. But they pop up again after awhile so it’s fun to chase them.”

The boat belonged to Pendergrass. But the idea for fishing at Tar River Reservoir was Denton’s.

“We rigged the jugs with about 10 feet of 80-pound test monofilament fishing line, a sinker of just about any type that weighs an ounce or heavier, and a 5/0 hook,” Denton said. “We bought the bait at a tackle shop near the coast. It’s frozen menhaden, which makes great catfish bait. All we do is cut it into chunks with a sharp knife and put the chunks on the hooks.”

Another trick the foursome uses for attracting catfish to a certain spot is using chum. Their preferred chum is canned dog food, which is cut out of the can and dropped into the water in a lump. The reason they used jugs was to cover more water area.

“We set our jugs about 20 or 30 yards apart,” Denton said. “The wind blows them around so they cover a big area of the lake. That increases the chances that a catfish will find one of the baits.”

At midday, the anglers were still watching their jugs, waiting for them to bob up and down – the sure signal that another fat flathead or chunky channel cat would join the others on the stringer.

The short ride to the Tar River Reservoir was a fortuitous plan. While the anglers said they caught bigger catfish at Kerr Lake, the price to be paid was a longer drive.

“This lake is only a 35-minute ride from home,” said Holden Ayscue, a 17-year-old student at East Wake High School. “It’s the first time we’ve caught catfish in this lake. But we are definitely going to come back here and catch a lot more of them over the summer.”

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