There’s more than one way to catch a catfish. Limb lines are a great tactic to welcome old whiskers into a landing net.
That is, as long as they’re used legally and ethically. Limb lines that are abandoned after fishing become death traps for wildlife above the water and below. That point was driven home in gruesome and sad detail in a photo I received last week.
Legal limb lines
Regulations for limb lines and trotlines from the 2017 Arkansas Fishing Guidebook include these requirements:
“All trotlines, setlines and limb lines must be clearly labeled with the name and address, or vehicle operator’s license number, or current vehicle license number of each person using such equipment. Information must be attached on each line at the bank end.”
Limb lines and trotlines are allowed at Beaver Lake, but not on all lakes. Check regulations before setting lines.
Source: Arkansas Game and Fish Commission
A fisherman in the Rocky Branch area of Beaver Lake saw something awry along the shoreline and went to investigate. There was a dead barred owl, impaled through a wing by the hook of an abandoned limb line. The hook was a few feet above the water. Evidently the unsuspecting owl flew by and was snagged.
We’ll spare you the graphic photo, but it’s tragic as you can imagine. A beautiful bird of prey killed by a forgotten limb line. The level of Beaver Lake has dropped five feet or so the last month. That put the limb line’s hook in the air, not the water, to kill the owl.
“This picture I took north of Red Bluff shows the killing effect of abandoned limb lines,” wrote the angler who sent the picture. “Must have been a bad way to die.”
Limb lines are lengths of twine with a hook on one end that dangles under water at a desired depth. The other end is tied to a tree limb that hangs over the water. Small sunfish are a favorite bait, but about any catfish temptation gets bit on a limb line. The technique works best when the lake level is high because there are more limbs over the water.
Arkansas regulations for limb lines state that the angler’s name and address, or vehicle license plate number, must be on each line. Fish must be removed daily.
The same rules apply to trotlines, which are strung under the water, like a clothesline with hooks.
Regulations don’t say that limb lines must be removed when they’re not being used anymore. But look what happens when left untended.
I’m the last person you’ll see cutting limb lines that are obviously in use. I’m the first you’ll see cutting down limb lines that are obviously abandoned. It’s easy to tell these lines. The hooks have moss on them. The twine appears weathered and frayed. With no identification, these lines are illegal anyway.
We’ve freed turtles from abandoned limb lines and a great blue heron killed by one. We’ve come across fish caught on lines that were left to die.
I’ll also be the last person to say do away with limb lines. No telling how many catfish dinners we’ve savored, fishing with limb lines. One summer my buddy Hog Ears and I caught so many catfish they became a major food group.
We were in college and living in a cozy little shack on Table Rock Lake near our summer jobs at Table Rock State Park. Hog Ears and I would catch a bucket of sunfish from the landlord’s dock and bait a dozen or so limb lines across the lake from our shack-ri-la.
We’d run our lines in the middle of the night and again in the morning. Sometimes we’d fry up a mess of catfish, ‘taters and onions at 2 a.m. You don’t need much sleep when you’re 22.
When autumn neared and it was back to class, we cut down our limb lines. Memories of all those middle-of-the-night catfish feasts were the real catch.
Flip Putthoff can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @NWAFlip
Sports on 10/24/2017