Noodling, handfishing, catfishing, cat-daddling, stumping, tickling, grabbling: Whatever you want to call it, it’s the practice of fishing with your bare hands. While technically noodling can refer to any bare-handed fishing, today it primarily concerns catfishing. And despite being outlawed in many states, the popularity is still seen.
Even former Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan of Wisconsin noodled while on the campaign trail in 2012.
A Quick Guide to (hand fishing) Noodling
Noodling is best done during the spawning season in spring and summer, when catfish are more likely to stay in their hole and protect their eggs (this is the male catfish’s job). The best time of the year to go noodling is when the water reaches about 70 degrees.
Once you find a likely catfish hole, barricade any exits with rocks or use your friends -- never noodle alone, but we’ll get to that part later -- and plan your attack. It’s best to jab a stick into the hole before sticking your hand in; if you feel a hard shell or only a thin tube on the other end, you’d better step away as it’s likely a hole now occupied by a snapping turtle or snake.
If you have a catfish, then you’re going to stick your hand in the hole and wait for it to defend its hole by biting you. You may need to coax it by tickling your fingers at the mouth. If this doesn’t work, you may need to force open the catfish’s mouth. A flathead catfish’s bite has been described by many as feeling like sandpaper, so when you feel it, you know you’re in good shape.
Once it has your hand, grab tightly by the gills and pull out.
Now that we have that quick introduction to noodling, let’s take a look at some of the other important questions you need to answer.
Is Noodling for Fish Legal in My State?
Currently, only the following 15 states allow for noodling catfish, though each state has varying limits on how many fish, what species and registration requirements needed.
Why Is Noodling Fish Not Legal in Other States?
There are two primary reasons noodling has been outlawed. Many states say that the practice is too dangerous for humans. Secondly, some biologists worry that since the noodler is fishing where the catfish is protecting eggs, they’re more likely to destroy eggs in the process, which can lead to a decrease in fish population.
What Are The Dangers of Hand Fishing?
The first and most present danger when noodling is drowning. The safest noodling takes place in shallow waters without a strong current, but some brave noodlers will swim 10 to 20 feet deep in search of their catch.
This becomes a danger when all of a sudden you may be struggling with a 50-pound catfish. Or maybe your clothes get caught on an underwater tree branch. Never wear loose clothing, and always noodle with a spotter -- someone who can keep an eye on you and help get you out of trouble should you become caught underwater.
The other danger is from other animals lurking in the water. Alligators, snakes, beavers and muskrats are potential threats and have been known to attack noodlers. And of course, there are snapping turtles, which love to move into abandoned catfish holes ... and you do not want to stick your hand in the face of a snapping turtle.
At the very least, noodlers are common victims of scratches and scrapes from debris and wrestling with the fish. Be sure you carry a First Aid Kit and treat all cuts with antibiotic ointment, cover them with a bandage and keep a close eye on the recovery. If you get a deeper puncture wound, visit the hospital as those injuries can lead to losing a finger.
What Do I Need to Start Noodling for Fish?
You don’t need a rod or reel to noodle, and most of what you need you probably have in your home already. You need tight clothing that can’t get snagged underwater, either a boat or a truck to get you to the prime spots, and as we mentioned before, a First Aid Kit. Oh, and a friend or two who have experience noodling and can help get you started.