No rod, no reel, no problem... there are several other ways to catch some critters on your kayak, like trotlining for blue crabs. A few years ago I was thumbing through the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Guide to Fishing and Crabbing and came across regulations for jug fishing. After perusing a few YouTube videos, I was intrigued and determined to give this fishing method a try. So I eagerly started hoarding a few vinegar bottles and windshield washer fluid jugs in anticipation of July 1st, the start of Maryland’s jug fishing season.

jug fishing catfish
Juggy John O’Donnell got in on the jug fishing action.

Grab Your Gear

You’ll be chasing down catfish in areas of heavy vegetation and structure, so a canoe, kayak, or other watercraft capable of shallow endeavors is ideal for this type of fishing. The only other tackle you will need is:

  • 8/0 circle hooks
  • 30 to 50 pound mono leader
  • Bullet sinker weights or split shot
  • Plastic jugs, up to 10 per person (screw tops work best)
  • Net or grips are optional, but helpful when landing the fish

Bait Up

Catfish are going to be your prime target here and they are certainly not picky eaters. Bunker (fresh or frozen) cut into one-inch chunks is the optimal bait and when hooked through the skin will stay on the hook for extended periods. Chicken livers, nightcrawlers, or any other cut bait will work too. 



Rigging the Jugs

This is a really simple fishing technique. But if you plan to catch and release any fish, you should definitely be using circle hooks. Since there is no rod in play, the fish will be setting the hook on themselves and circles work best for this. Using larger size hooks such as 8/0 will reduce the risk of gut hooked fish. Rig up your jugs by tying on six to eight feet of mono from the handle of the bottle to the hook eye. Since you’ll be hand-lining these feisty cats in, you’ll want to use at least 30-pound test to avoid cutting into your hand. You can vary your line lengths to position your baits at different depths in the water column. If heavy winds or current are prevalent, you will want to add weight accordingly to keep your baits down.

kayak jug fishing potomac river
The tidal Potomac River offers many tributaries that are ideal for jug fishing for catfish.

Pick Your Spot

Locate an area that has plenty of current, structure, and bottom contours. The Potomac creeks of Charles County are all great locations for this. Scatter the jugs out in a large area in varying depths approximately six to 12 feet. You will quickly see the flow of the current as the bottles start to shift around. The drifting cut bait on the bare hook provides a natural presentation and the bottles will begin to bob and run in no time. Remember the yellow barrels in the movie Jaws... yeah it’s just like that! So go ahead and give jug fishing for catfish a try and you will surely be wearing an ear to ear grin. For added kicks, put a hard crease in the middle of the brim of your hat, paint your jugs yellow, and sing your best rendition of “Spanish Ladies.” 

kayak fishing catfish
The author Zach Ditmars with a fat channel cat landed on a jug.

Jug Fishing Regulations

For more information on jug fishing rules and open seasons, visit these sites:


~ By Zach Ditmars