Clayton: Catch and release

Luke Clayton
Special to the E-T
Luke and his buddies released everything from wild hogs to soft shelled turtles this past week. Jeff Rice shows off a big ‘softie’ that decided the fresh liver baited trotline was more temptation that it could stand.
Luke Clayton

I’m sure most readers of my column are well aware of my take on catch and release. I’m all about the conservation of our fish and game, but have absolutely no problem with the practice of releasing the fish I need for dinner into a hot cast iron skillet filled with cooking oil.

Before my largemouth bass fishing friends get their hackles up, I too love to fish for bass but I have no problem keeping a mess of small bass from an overstocked farm pond. Undersized bass is really one of my favorite food fish, I grew up eating them. I seldom fish the larger reservoirs for bass, most of my bassin' these days is done in smaller impoundments on private property where catch 'n' cook is necessary to keep bass numbers in balance.  

Now, with my disclaimer addressed, on to address the "meat" of this week’s column!

About once each month, I join my friends Jeff Rice and Larry Weishuhn to enjoy a couple of days in the outdoors. We often meet at Jeff’s property in northeast Texas and hunt, fish and film segments for our video “A Sportsman’s Life”. We frequently fish in the creek adjacent Jeff’s place and catch a few catfish or white bass for an evening fish fry, sometimes we smoke some freshly harvested wild pork or cook up a "mess" of squirrels. This past week, we spent two fun-filled days that resulted in the release of everything from wild pigs to a big softshell turtle. Now, before you wild hog haters get YOUR hackles up, hear me out!

With hot, humid weather and a major mosquito hatch, conditions were less than ideal for setting over a corn feeder waiting for the wild hogs to show up so we decided to bait and set my little 3-foot by 6-foot aluminum hog trap. I have used the trap for the past 12 years or so to catch meat hogs and I’ve caught a bunch through the years.

The trap is ideal for catching one or two smaller hogs and I’ve even trapped some good-size boar in years past. The trap was already in the woods near a hog trail and we simply set the trigger and baited a long trail of corn from the trap’s door to the trail, then we went about baiting our trotline in the creek in hopes of catching more channel catfish to add to the 40 or so that we had caught previously and stocked in Jeff’s pond near camp.

Our goal was to have a ready fishery close to camp where we could always go and catch enough catfish for dinner. After baiting the trotline, we moved our electric fish feeder from the creek to the dock at the pond. Our plan was to continue fishing the creek in the future but it would be nice to have a supply of fresh catfish swimming in the pond close to camp. One never knows when a quick, impromptu fish fry might be in order!

After a good night’s sleep at camp, we were sitting outside, enjoying some fresh-brewed coffee in the cool of morning, anticipating another fine day spent In the Great Outdoors. Then, Jeff cupped a hand to his ear and leaned toward the woods. “Hear that? Sounded just like a pig squealing! Bet there is one in the trap.”

Well, I have caught a lot of hogs in the trap but never, ever had one began squealing loud enough to be heard several hundred yards. Weishuhn and I with our older ears damaged — I’m sure by gunfire through the years — finally made out the sound of the distant pig squeals.

“I don’t think one trapped pig would be squealing like that. I bet there is two in the trap and they are fighting,” was my reply.

Our morning coffee drinking abruptly ended and we were on the electric hunting buddy and heading toward the trap. As we approached the trap the squealing intensified and we found not two but FOUR wild pigs in the little trap, each weighing about 35 pounds. On closer inspection, we noted these were the same pigs that had been showing up on a trail camera around a nearby corn feeder. 

We discovered we had a problem, actually THREE problems! Three of the pigs had wedged their heads through the vertical bars on the front of the trap and they were stuck there! We actually filmed this pandemonium for next week’s video “A Sportsman’s Life”. Try as we might we could not push the pig’s heads back into the trap. What to do?

Wish we had a sledge hammer nearby says I. In a couple minutes, Weishuhn appears from the buggy with a claw hammer and begins hammering on one of the vertical bars while I hold the trap door in place. The one loose pig ran for the opening under the gate and was soon hightailing it through the woods. With about five whacks of the hammer, the bar gave way just enough for all three pigs to dislodge themselves and in less time than it takes to type these works, they were out of the trap and running for cover like race horses.

Catch and release on four pigs accomplished! We all agreed that we would put these pigs on the smoker in a couple months when they put on a few pounds. There was little doubt they would continue hitting the feeder.

On to run the trotline….. We caught several stocker channel catfish that were later relocated to Jeff’s pond; another catch and release. While running the line, Jeff unhooked and after a few photographs were taken, released a big soft-shell turtle.

Sort of an unconventional couple days of catching and releasing but that’s the way it happened. I’ve stopped trying to script the way things occur in the outdoors. If you spend much time in pursuit of fish and game, I bet you feel the same way. An old friend used to say, “Anything can and often does happen in the Great Outdoors!” I totally agree.

Email outdoors writer Luke Clayton via www.catfishradio.org