Catfisherman uses a big bobber to catch 'real' big fish

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By BRENT FRAZEE - The Kansas City Star

Date: 06/29/01 22:15

WARSAW, Mo. -- When Gene Ohrenberg goes bobber fishing for catfish at Truman Lake, he doesn't mess around.

Forget those orange and yellow floats that he used as a kid. He uses jugs now, equipped with cord so heavy that it could hold even the meanest catfish that would bite.

"When I was a boy, I used to get excited when something would pull my bobber under," Ohrenberg said as he guided his aluminum boat onto Truman Lake. "I still do.

"It's just that it takes a lot bigger fish to pull my bobber under now. When I see one of these jugs go down, I know I've got a real fish."

Ohrenberg caught several of those "real" fish Wednesday.

As he pulled into a stretch of water in the Sparrowfoot part of the lake, he glanced out at his anchored jug lines. Most of the air-filled, two-liter pop bottles were laying still on the surface. But one was bouncing, occasionally plunging below the murky surface.

"We've got one on that jug," Ohrenberg said to his fishing partner, Lawrence Comer.

Ohrenberg eased the boat alongside the jug, then reached into the water to grab the line. When he tugged, a big catfish tugged back even harder.

After a brief tussle, though, Ohrenberg had the 20-pound blue catfish to the surface where Comer could scoop it up in a net.

"We'll catch a lot of fish in this size range," said Ohrenberg, 50, who lives in North Kansas City. "This Sparrowfoot area is just loaded with big catfish."

By the time Ohrenberg and Comer returned to the campground, they had to proof thrashing around in a fish cage they had in the water.

Six big catfish, the take from two days of fishing, splashed around in the wire enclosure.

Ohrenberg and Comer have caught more. And bigger ones, too. But they weren't complaining.

Any time they can go out and catch big cats on jug lines, they've had a good day.

"I used to fish the muddy rivers up north, like the Platte," Ohrenberg said. "When I'd catch a 10-pound catfish, I thought I had a whale.

"Then I started coming down here with my uncle, running jug lines. And we'd have days when we'd toss 10-pound cats back.

"I couldn't believe the size of the catfish we were catching."

Ohrenberg has the evidence arranged in photo albums -- page after page filled with images of proud fishermen posing beside huge catfish. Included is the picture of the day when he and a partner landed two -- one weighing 60 pounds, the other 55.

"One day I went to pick up my photos at an Osco's and the package had a note on it, `Don't release until you talk to so-and-so,' " Ohrenberg said. "I began to wonder what I had done wrong.

"The clerk called for this lady and she came out and asked me, `Where in the world did you catch catfish like that?' She just had to know."

It's no secret, Ohrenberg said. For years, Truman, a sprawling reservoir in west-central Missouri, has been known for its giant catfish.

Fishermen using everything from trotlines to rod and reel annually go out and catch flatheads and blues so big that they look something out of a history book.

Comer, who helps his wife as park attendant at The Corps of Engineers' Sparrowfoot campground, has caught his share of those big fish, including a 74-pound flathead that he landed last year.

It's not always easy, Ohrenberg and Comer will tell you. There are days when they will go the work of baiting the lines and arranging the jugs in likely looking spots and still come back the next morning and find everything as they had it -- that is, without fish on the hooks.

But it's those days when the big cats are stirring that keep the fishermen coming back.

Ohrenberg spends the winter months working on the jugs. He starts with a two-liter pop bottle. He bores a half-inch hole in the cap, then inserts a tire-valve stem in it and cements it in place. He inflates the bottle with 25 pounds of air, so that it is rigid, then ties two heavy lines to the neck of the bottle.

He measures out 20 feet for the anchor line and attaches it to a pop can filled with cement. He runs a 10-foot-long line to the back of the bottle and duct tapes it in place. Then he ties a big hook to that shorter line and he is ready to go.

Ohrenberg and Comer often use small panfish as bait at this time of the year. And they try to arrange their jugs at intervals on the flats near the channels.

"The advantage of having jug lines as opposed to trot lines is that you can cover more water," Ohrenberg said. "The fish can pull one of these big jugs under, but they can't keep them under.

"A lot of times, they're not even fighting it until they hear your motor pull up. That's when things can get interesting."
 

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