An Introduction to Noodling

Noodling is a form of fishing for catfish with one’s bare hands that is extremely popular amongst certain outdoor enthusiasts in the southern region of the United States. In a nutshell, noodling consists of sticking one’s hand down in the muddy depths of a river bank and waiting for something to bite. The primary type of fish that noodlers are in search of are the large flathead catfish types feed off the bottom of America’s rivers, but there some fans of noodling that go after other types of fish as well. Noodling is also a common activity in portions of Nigeria and is gaining popularity in Canada. As strange as noodling may seem to the uninitiated, this activity is considered to be one of the funnest ways to spend an lazy Saturday by the people who have been noodling for generations.

How to Noodle

The basic concept behind noodling is the use of one’s own fingers as bait. During the peak of the noodling season, female catfish make nests for their new eggs along the muddy banks of the riverside while male catfish lurk nearby to protect the area from potential predators. Neither the male nor the female catfish roam very far from the area during this time and survive by eating whatever food happens to come crawling by. Noodlers develop a keen eye for spotting catfish nests where they stick their hands down into the nearby mud. By wiggling around their fingers, the catfish mistake the noodler’s hand for some sort of small prey and takes a bite. At this point, it’s between the catfish and the fishermen to wrestling with one another for dominance as the fisherman tries to get the fish to shore. Because these fish can get to be more than fifty pounds, a noodler often needs to have a spotter who is available to pull the fisherman out of the water and provide other assistance.

According to one noodling aficionado, wrestling a huge catfish to shore is as close as a modern man can get to experiencing the thrill of a hunt that drives nature’s predators. There is not much time for rational analysis when you have a catfish on the end of your arm. Instead, the mind switches over to pure animal instinct as you battle it out with your prey until a winner emerges. As a result, noodling affords a much larger adrenaline rush than more casual forms of fresh water fishing.

Is Noodling Safe?

As you might expect, noodling is not the safest way to catch your dinner, and inexperienced noodlers typically have a number of scales on their hands and arms that they proudly show off as battle scars. Catfish have some very sharp fins that can easily wound a fisherman when he is struggling get the fish out of the water, and the small incisions caused by battling a catfish can become easily infected if they are not cared for properly. A particularly large catfish can potentially drown a fisherman if he is unable to resurface from diving after a fish in time. However, the biggest dangers that noodlers face come from the other animals that take over catfish holes that have been abandoned. The truth of the matter is that a noodler never truly knows what is going to take hold when he plunges his fingers into the mud, and there have been a number of fisherman that have found themselves dealing with angry beavers, snakes, turtles and even alligators.

Laws Regarding Noodling

The sport of noodling is actually not legal in all parts of the world. In the United States, there are some regions that impose stiff penalties on individuals who are caught hunting catfish with their bear hands. The primary reason for the bans on noodling that many states have passed is the conservation issues that are raised by this form of fishing. Noodling takes advantage of female catfish that are busy protecting their eggs during the reproductive cycle of the species, and disturbing the fish during this time of the year can result in fewer numbers of catfish for the generations to come. As a result, noodling is currently only legal in eleven states in the United States.