I've never had a burning desire to catch catfish by noodling for them. I'd much rather use a fishing rod and reel and bait. Where I was raised there were just too many snakes and turtles but a new editor wanted an article on "noodling." I publish about 200 articles per year but still, you can't be an expert on every topic — even though a lot of writers try to act like that they are. What you do in situations like that is to find an expert and go with them. Interview them and pick their brains. So with that said, I met a young man named Brandonn Nuckles that is a noodling fanatic.
|The author with a catfish he caught noodling in Kansas.|
There is a whole noodling sub-culture out there and these guys are crazy. I'm not talking borderline, we're talking over the edge. The minute we hit the river Brandonn changed into his river otter mode. The first log jam we hit he dove in and started exploring every nook and crevice. All I could see were his feet sticking out from under the logjam.
I knew that water flowed back through the logs but on the huge logjams there are currents all through them. He explored all of them. Whoa, no way I'm going into those beaver infested things.
In a short amount of time he felt one fish and then another one. OK, originally I was just along to take pictures and glean enough info for an article but time to jump in. I dove in under some logs and felt around. I hit one but he shot off. Then another one. Oops, I'm not doing too good.
He seemed to have an eye for likely spots. We worked our way upstream hitting the logjams and likely spots. He pointed out beaver holes along the sides that had been covered with water earlier in the year. He said they'd been real hotspots. In the back eddies, he'd dive in under the floating leaves and moss and feel around. Me? No way!
I was nervous to get on the upstream side of brush piles being from Idaho. It's too easy in fast water to get swept under and pinned against a log. Once in Nebraska a riverbank caved in and we got swept downstream. A big cottonwood had fallen over and I swam over to it. It was in the Platte which is probably only moving at 5-8 mph but when I got by the tree it sucked me under in a hot second. Luckily there were no limbs and I shot out the other side a bit wiser. Then once while floating the Boise we rounded a corner and ran into a fallen tree, I barely got my daughters out of the boat in time. Needless to say, I'm a little nervous around brush piles in rivers. Not Brandonn.
We then got to an eddy on the side of the river where there were a bunch of slabs of concrete and Brandonn's eyes lit up. "There's a 45-pound one here, come help me." I slid my arm in under the slab. My gosh, he was huge. I slid my hand down one way and never reached a head or tail. I then went the other way and finally hit his stickers but not before I'd rubbed at least 25 inches of a huge body.
While rubbing his side he semi-rolled against a rock and I got the feeling that it felt good to him. Brandonn later told me that they do sometimes like it and you can coax them around like that. I'm feeling towards his head when suddenly he exploded. Wow, they've got some power. Brandonn yelled and jumped. He'd gotten both thumbs in his mouth and had a good grip on him, but he gave us the slip.
|Brandonn Nuckles and his buddy show off a catfish they caught while noodling.|
He had some rough spots on his thumbs where the fish had ripped his hands out. Wow. I was in to it big time by now. We went around hitting other slabs and Brandonn starts saying, "not good." He pulled out a turtle. Later we went back to the spot where the big daddy had been and there was another good one in there.
The next day the temps dropped down to 46 with 26 mph winds. We had to go back for the big one though didn't we? Unfortunately he wasn't home. We messed around for a bit but it was cold so we finally left.
Brandonn says it works best if you have at least two buddies so they can block exit holes when you go in after one. Deep down I wonder how good that works though. One blew out of a hole and hit me in the side shooting between me and the rock. The big one shot right into Brandonn's chest. Seems to me they just plow you over. One week a big one plowed right into Chase — you can imagine where — and he was out of the fight.
Brandonn and his buddies tie a rope to their foot. That way if they swim up into a logjam and grab a big one his buddy can pull him and the fish out. I don't know if they ever pondered the idea that the logjam may fall in on them. Minor detail, I guess.
On the big cats it's good to wear gloves so they don't rip your fingers/hands up but as far as equipment, it's a pretty cheap affair. A pair of tennis shoes and cut-offs and you're good to go. I'd recommend wearing a scabbard knife for fast access. We saw numerous setlines that people had left. I'd hate to be swimming and get hooked and not be able to get out. Pick up your set-lines and don't leave them lying around, you scalawags.
The next week it warmed up a bit and we hit it hard again. One day was unbelievable. There were a million in a side eddy. I touched at least 10 to 15 different fish in that one back eddy. There were three that were 45-50 pounds, but we just couldn't land them. We did get in a couple of 25-pounders but they looked small compared to the big ones.
I had one big one by the gills but he blew me away as I was bringing him up. They'll shred your hands pretty good. It appears to me to be helpful to have three of you. Brandonn had one last night. I came in on the other side of the log and grabbed him and Kyle came in from the back. We finally got him in. Last night Brandonn had one he mouthed and with his left hand curled his tail forward which keeps them from using their power to get away.
You have to try your hand at noodling. If nothing else, it taught me more than I've ever known about catfish and we used to raise catfish in our ponds. I can see how it'd be effective to throw some stink bait upstream in front of a rock or log and let the scent drift down to him. I've got to think that you could lure out some big cats.