Imagine wading through waist or even chest-deep water,
feeling with your feet and hands as you go. You encounter a
hole and your heart rate quickens. You take a deep breath
and submerge to the entrance of the hole, sticking your hand
slowly inside. All of a sudden and without warning, a huge
catfish chomps on your hand and the battle is on. Sound like
fun? Depending on your perspective it could be, but most
people have another word for it.
"Different areas of the country call it different
things," said Fostana Jenkins of the typical terminology of
fishing with your hands. "Some call it noodling, tickling,
hogging, grabbling, but the number one thing is probably
Tennessee resident Fostana Jenkins proudly
displays one of the monstrous flatheads she
caught while grabbling on one of the Tennessee
River system lakes.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of grabbling
for Fostana Jenkins, left, is introducing new
people to the sport. She poses with newbie
Cristi Snyder and a nice flathead they wrestled
from a hole.
Grabbling isn't just a guy thing, and you can
see how in the DVD, "Girls Gone Grabblin'."
Jenkins, along with her husband, Marty, reside in
Etowah, Tenn. Both are well known in the hand-fishing
world and they even have their own Web site
They produced a DVD several years ago on the technique
and Fostana and several dozen other females recently
produced their own DVD, "Girls Gone Grabblin'." It has
proved popular and has been featured in Outdoor Life,
ABC's World News Tonight, Country Music Television and
will appear this month on CBS's Early Show.
Fostana's first experience with grabblin' was when she
started dating Marty.
"He's been doing it for over 20 years now and I just
started going with him and blocking the hole," Fostana said
of her introduction to hand fishing. "I actually had a fish
come out and grab me and it was a 35-pound blue cat.
"Once you catch that first big fish with all the
excitement and catching something with your bare hands,
you're hooked and it keeps you going back."
The husband-and-wife duo probably go grabblin' 60 out of
the 80 days when it's good.
"That can be pretty rough on your hands if you don't wear
gloves so we do wear gloves," Fostana said of the catfish's
People are attracted to the sport for many reasons and
Fostana likes many aspects of it. However, one sticks out
more than others.
"I like taking people that have never been before,"
Fostana said. "It's neat to take someone and have them run
their hand in there and have a fish bite them, and seeing
the expression on their face is priceless."
The couple typically fish during the summer months when
the water warms up and catfish — channel, blue and mostly
flatheads — look for a cavity to nest in. They fish lakes on
the Tennessee River system.
"We don't do a lot of mud banks because that keeps us
away from turtles and other creatures," Fostana said with a
laugh. "We do a lot of rocky areas and some boat ramps, any
place where it's sheltered and it goes down to soft dirt
where they can make a bed."
Once they find a hole, they'll run their hand in the hole
and they can often tell if it's occupied or not. Sticks and
debris in the hole likely means nobody's home, but a smooth,
clean hole often means they're in business.
"If you find a hole you put your feet in it to keep the
fish from coming out," Fostana said, "and then you have to
hold your breath, go down and run your hand in the hole to
try to find the fish and if you don't get him the first
time, as soon as your hands come out, you put your feet back
in the hole to keep the fish from coming out. If the fish is
close enough, we'll grab hold of their lower jaw, or
sometimes they just come out and bite you."
If the fish isn't close to the hole's entrance, they use
a stick with a hook to ease the fish into position so they
can grab him (sticks aren't legal in Kansas).
"You pretty much have to do it all by feel," Fostana
said. "You have to figure out where their head is to pull
them to you so you can grab them, because in some of the
areas we do they might be eight feet back in a hole."
The Jenkinses do practice catch and release, although
they keep some during the summer to eat. Tennessee
regulations allow them to keep one fish per person, per day.
There really isn't any time of day better than another,
Fostana said, and it makes sense.
"You're usually under water and you can't see what you're
doing anyway," Fostana said of day versus night. "It's
easier during the day just so you can see what you're doing
when you're not under water."
Fostana said there seems to be an increase in the
interest of hand fishing in recent years across the country,
although it's nothing new.
"The Indians practiced it and that's one of the first
places where people saw it done," Fostana said. "And during
the depression, a lot of people used it to put food on their
table and it's something that's been around a long time."
The response to their "Girls Gone Grabblin'" DVD has been
great, Fostana said. They've introduced more than 60 women
to the sport and plans are underway for a sequel.
Some women worried about being able to handle a fish that
was mad as hell weighing more than 50 pounds.
"There will usually be two of us and one of us will grab
its mouth and the other will grab its body to keep it from
rolling and twisting and that's how we can hold the bigger
fish," Fostana said. "Or, we'll actually wrap our legs
around it because once you pull it out of the hole they'll
start doing a big crocodile roll and I don't care how big
you are, or how strong you are, it's really hard to hold
Noodling is fun and not for the faint of heart. The
couple enjoys their time on the water sharing with friends
and those new to the sport.
"We've had a lot of fun making the videos and taking new
people, and that's probably what Marty and I enjoy most is
teaching them the art and tradition of grabbling," Fostana
Marc Murrell can be reached at
NOODLING IN KANSAS
handfishing season in Kansas opened June 15 and will run
through the end of August. Two locations are open to
1) the Arkansas River from the John Mack Bridge on
Broadway Street in Wichita downstream to the
Kansas-Oklahoma border and,
2) the Kansas River from its origin downstream to its
confluence with the Missouri River.
Flathead catfish are the only species legal to take
and a special permit is required ($27.15), in addition
to a regular fishing license. For more information, see