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by: Lloyd Tackitt 2/2/2013

A trotline, for the un-initiated, is a long line with many individual hooks.  Pretty simple really.

Back in the day (sigh, I know how that sounds...) trotlining was a favorite activity.  It had the appeal of being outside all night long, being with a good friend, sitting by a fire, listening to coyotes sing, whisky, and one of the worlds finest foods in the freezer.

Most of the time a small boat is involved.  In our case it was generally a small flat bottom.  On arrival at our chosen spot we would take the boat out of the truck and carry it to the water, then stretch the trotline out.  This would be about an hour before dark, trotlines probably work during the day-time, but we never tried to find out - this was a night time activity for us.

We'd gather up enough fire wood to last the night.  Hunting firewood in the dark is not only difficult, but generally a good trotline location was also a snaky kind of place.  Reching for a piece of wood in the dark in a snaky place gives me the willies.  Fire up and going just as darkness settled in.  This was the time to eat the sandwhiches in the cooler.

Sitting by the fire with a full stomach, looking up at the stars, listening to the night sounds.  This was the beauty of it.  Every hour or two we'd take the coleman lantern and get in the boat and check the line.  One person in front and one in the middle of the boat.  The lead man would slowly pull the boat along by pulling on the line.  The hooks would come up, three or four showing at a time. 

The midlle man took fish, turtels and sometimes a snake off the line.  Okay, when it was a snake we cut the hook off over the side of the boat, and tied on a new hook.  Turtles we often had to do the same.  The lead man would feel the weight of something on the line before that something came into view, feel the struggle, and predict what it was and how big.  Hooks that needed to be were baited again as we went and the trotline eased back into the water at the far end.  Paddle back to shore - the fire showing the way - and settle back down to watching and listening to the night. 

Stories were told all night.  Sometimes it might be a long pause before the talking resumed.  Those long comfortable silences were used for smoking pipes, sipping whisky, or just being still.  Drowsiness would come late at night.  Naps were common.  We brought those old style folding aluminum yard chairs, the ones with the nylon strap webbing.  Those were great chairs - where did they go?  Haven't seen one in ages.

Listening to owls and coyotes and crickets and bull frogs while staring into the glowing embers of a camp fire - it changes you.  It changes you for the better and was never once boring.  It's an interesting way to be.  Quiet, thoughtful, relaxed, comfortable - yet mildly engaged in a basic primitive sort of way.  I think our DNA causes us to desire this, we reconnect with our primitive forebearers who sat around fires every night of their lives, listening to the same things, feeling the same way.

Sometimes we cleaned the catfish as we brought them in, sometimes we waited until the next morning - depended on the mood more than anything else.

Daylight starts to break and the fire is put out if it hadn't already pretty much burned out.  The last run of the trotline, bringing it back in with us, cleaning up the camp and loading everything back into the pickup truck that was always parked only a few feet away and then drive back home, tired but happy.

There is a deep and abiding therapy of the soul that comes from nights like those.  You might start out with life's tensions knotting up your shoulders, but that tension eased out during those soft warm nights.  By morning you would be as mentally rested as you were physically sleepy.  No knots, no tension anywhere in your body.  Your mind relaxed and peaceful in a way that could not be obtained in any other way.

Trotlining may not be something you've thought of doing - but if you get a chance to go or can make a chance to go - I'd recommend it.


Blog content © Lloyd Tackitt
Member comments
Flyrodn, CO   2/4/2013 11:24:24 AM
Only a few waters where trotlines are legal in Colorado. But I do understand the long evenings, all nighters fishing. Spent a goodly number of them over the years with catfish rods set out, listening for the bell, or watching the "y" stick on the line, waiting for it to rise, indicating a strike. While fishing was the excuse, I'm rather sure the real reason was to spend time swapping yarns with good friends, enjoying the fire, and a sip or many of whiskey, sometime good, sometimes not so much. I'm with you, it's an activity all should engage in on occassion. Good for the soul.
Coyute, CO   2/4/2013 3:33:56 PM
I have yet to meet a true outdoors-man that didn't have an affinity for sitting by a campfire swapping tales with friends and listening to the call of nature. For me, trotlining could only sully those feelings. A nice fire, something good to sip, and listening to the coyotes sing would be enough for me. I am proud that Colorado is highly restricted in regards to trotlining.
MathGeek, CO   2/4/2013 7:24:47 PM
Too bad that Colorado is so restricted with respect to trotlines. It would be a lot of fun to show my children the ropes running a trotline for catfish in Pueblo reservoir, just like I learned as a child back in Louisiana. If the catfish population would not sustain the extra harvest pressure, why not allow them to target something else like carp or sucker that need a population reduction?
cookster, CO   2/4/2013 9:57:17 PM
Great times for sure. Running a tight trotline is a art of team work and not for everyone. After a year of baiting trotlines you become a "master baiter". Good read Lloyd
JKaboom, CO   2/6/2013 1:02:56 PM
Good write-up gave me a mental break at work and I felt as if I was there :)
Lloyd Tackitt
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