They're Hooked on
Wrestling catfish catches on with new generation
by Karen Nazor Hill staff writer
Standing neck-deep in murky river water near a broken-down dock doesn't sound like and ideal place for young women to be hanging out, but according to Lara Sibold and Priscilla Simms, its' exactly where they want to be.
The ladies are catfish grabblers, people who catch catfish with their hands.
"Catfish grabbling was being done by the Indians in the 1700s," said Marty Jenkins, 40, who began grabblin in 1982. "You just stick your hand in a hole under rocks in the river and feel for catfish and pull them out.
"I go to admit the the first time I did it, and something latched onto my hand, I pulled it back out and said that I'm not sticking my hand back in there," he said.
But Mr. Jenkins said he eventually regained his courage, and he's been hooked on grabbling ever since.
It can look frantic, but it's a relatively safe sport, Mr Jenkins said.
"Sometimes you may get scraped from the fish's mouth or cut by a gill, but, if you're careful, nothing is likely to happen to you or the fish," he said.
Most of the catfish that grabblers encounter range in weight from 20 to 50 pounds, he said
Ms. Sibold, 31, a former high school assistant athletic director, said she first heard about the sport from a friend who had just gone grabbling for the first time.
"When I saw her grabbling pictures, I couldn't believe it," she said. "My friend is such a girlie girl, and to see her wrestling a 40-pound catfish was amazing. I knew I wanted to do it, too."
Mr. Jenkins and his wife, Fostana, also a grabbler, have turned their grabbling passion into a part-time business. They've recently partnered with Bass Pro Shops to promote the sport.
"It' amazing how many women are getting interested in grabbling," Mr. Jenkins said, noting that the grabbling season usually lasts from June 1 through mid-July.
"We took around 30 women grabbling this season," he said. "And all but about two said it was one of the most fun things they've ever done. They had a ball."
In the spring, catfish move to shallow water to lay their eggs in a sheltered place such as holes in rocks, hollow logs and other secluded underwater places. After she deposits her eggs, the male guards the eggs and strikes at anything that comes too close to the nest.
Mr. Jenkins said that through-out his 22 years of grabbling, he's only heard a few critics speak out against the sport.
The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency's Fisheries Management Division permits grabbling in most Tennessee waterways. The few areas where it's not permitted are outlined in the 2004 Tennessee Fishing Regulations manual.
Ms. Simms, 22 who will be attending graduate school at Vanderbilt University this fall, said she started grabbling last June.
:At first, I wanted to do it just to be able to say that I pulled a 50-pound catfish out of the water with my hands, but then I got hooked," she said. " I go as often as possible, which is about every other week."
Ms. Simms said the catfish are starting to leave their beds now, so they are increasingly difficult to find.
"Grabbling is not as slow as 'normal' fishing with a rod, and it feels a lot better to get the fish to come out of the hole using your hands," she said. " My arms and legs only get scraped up a little bit, and we always let the fish go. It's also fun to tell people what I do and see the reaction on their faces."
Mr. Jenkins said that some people are fearful of going underwater looking for a hole for fear of snakes or turtles.
"I've been going around these rocks and docks for 22 years," Mr. Jenkins said. "I've only seen three snakes and they were either swimming in the water or hanging from a tree. You won't find them in a hole. Turltes won't go in the holes either because their shells would get caught."
Mr. Jenkins said grabblin is a rush. "It's so much fun and always a challenge," he said.
"I hope to be doing it from now on," Ms. Sibold said. "I want everyone to experience it, and it's funny, but it's mostly my female friends who want to try it. None of my male friends are interested."
Grabblers always go with at least one buddy.
"It's not something you should do by yourself, just in case something happened," Mr. Jenkins said. "But believe me, it's a rush."
E-mail Karen Nazor Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org