The Outdoor News Hound -- A Noodlin' News Hound
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March 9, 2005
A Noodlin' News Hound
If lawmakers in Georgia and Missouri are in agreement, by the end of the current legislative session, it will be legal for fishermen to dive into streams and rivers across their respective states and blindly stick their hands into underwater holes in search of giant catfish. Mind you, it might be legal, but that doesn't necessarily make it a wise thing to do!
Trial Handfishing Season In Missouri
Thanks to a decision made late in 2004 by the Missouri Department of Conservation, beginning this summer it will be legal (but not always advisable or smart) to catch catfish from three specified Missouri rivers using the handfishing method known popularly as noodling, hogging or grabbling.
A fishing technique that is obviously neither for the novice nor the faint-hearted, noodling involves becoming completely submerged and reaching beneath sunken logs or into shoreline crevices to feel for large whiskerfish. And yes, it can be dangerous to place one's hands into riverbank holes where not only large flathead cats are known to reside, but also alligator snapping turtles, numerous snake species, and various other critters.
Some members of Missouri Noodlers Anonymous shed anonymity to press the Missouri Department of Conservation and the state legislature to legalize handfishing, which is lawful in neighboring Illinois, Arkansas and Oklahoma. The Conservation Department responded last fall by approving its staff's recommendation for an experimental noodling season in three rivers: the Mississippi, the St. Francis and the Fabius.
Show Me Noodlers In A Stew
At first, the Show Me State's noodling faithful were encouraged by MDOC's move, but now they say they are disappointed with the three rivers chosen for the experimental season. They have concluded the Mississippi and the St. Francis rivers are too dangerous or otherwise undesirable for handfishing, and that a short stretch of the Fabius will be over-fished by fellow noodlers as a result.
Gary Webb, a noodler from Ludlow, said that fellow grabblers believe Missouri's trial season is doomed for failure.
"Two of the rivers (the Mississippi and St. Francis) are no good for noodling," Webb said. "And the Fabius may be OK, but it would only be allowed on a relatively short stretch."
In other words, too many noodlers, and not enough noodlin'.
Missouri handfishers have encouraged some sympathetic rural lawmakers to support legislation to make all state waters legal for their favored "sport."
Conservation officials say they are listening to noodlers, but they believe a first, experimental season will allow the agency to gauge the potential impact of noodling on populations of breeding-age whiskerfish.
Georgia Grabblers Optimistic
Last week, the Georgia House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill that would allow catfish noodling in The Peach State.
Years ago, the practice was outlawed in Georgia to prevent people from gathering fish by hand from isolated river pools during drought conditions.
"What was happening was when the rivers went way down, there were pools of water left with fish in them that couldn't get away," Tim Kendrick, a sergeant with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources enforcement office, told the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. "That's certainly not the most sporting way for someone to catch a catfish. But noodling, or grappling as we call it down here, is another ballgame entirely -- if you're willing to do it."
Without a single opposing vote, House Bill 301 now moves to the Senate, where bill-watchers say it stands an excellent chance of passage.
What's In A Name?
Noodlers often pursue the elusive catfish during the spring, when the fish whisker their way into hollow logs or into holes in riverbanks and creeksides to spawn. There, the female lays the eggs and the male guards them, hovering over the glutinous mass with single-minded intent.
Most noodlers wade along the shorelines with a long pole, poking at the banks to find underwater caverns. The holes are formed naturally by soil erosion and are sometimes expanded by catfish that use them as dens.
Once noodlers find a hole, they run their arms in -- sometimes all the way up to their shoulders. The slick, slimy sides of a catfish are said to be akin to a big, wet noodle -- thus the name.
"I don't think it requires any great deal of brains," Perry Houck, 80, a retired Augusta sporting-goods store owner, said in a recent article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "I never saw any Ph.D.s doing it."
Some noodlers even wiggle their fingers to entice catfish to bite down on their hands. When the fish chomp down, the battle begins, as hoggers drag them from their holes -- a daunting task with a fighting catfish weighing 40 pounds or more.
OK, all you noodlin' fans and Outdoor New Hound readers. We know we'd be remiss if we failed to mention the hottest new entertainment available for the avid handfisher -- the just-released DVD selection, "Girls Gone Grabblin!"
We swear, we are not making this up!
Obviously, no outdoor enthusiast's movie collection is complete without a video featuring attractive young ladies noodling for massive flathead catfish.
A Website, too? But of course! (www.catfishgrabblers.com).
Now that's entertainment!
Quote Of The Week
"To noodle, one must be brave enough, or foolish enough, depending on your point of view, to reach into an underwater hole and extract the occupant. At times, this is quite simple. The occupant simply chomps down on your hand before you can react. If the creature is a catfish, your friends will pat you on the back and tell anyone who will listen how you bravely fought the monstrous beast. If it is, instead, a snapping turtle, snake or muskrat, they'll ask how you could be so stupid as to stick your hand in a hole where you couldn't see, then give you a nickname like Nubbins, Two-Fingered Jack, or Stubby."
"Fishing for Catfish," 1998
J.R. Absher is a freelance outdoor writer whose articles and columns appear in numerous national publications. Visit his Web sites, The Outdoor Pressroom (www.outdoorpressroom.com and The Outdoor Weblog www.outdoorweblog.com ) to find the latest outdoor news of interest. He offers his unique perspective of the outdoors weekly for sportsmansguide.com. You may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.