Girls Gone Grabblin'
by Richard Simms
for Tennessee Valley Outdoors
An on-screen clock counts down the seconds. As the clock ticks to :45, the water erupts into a collection of flying feet, fins and fury.
Forty-five seconds may not seem too long, unless you're five feet underwater in hand-to-jaw combat with a 50-pound catfish. That's exactly what Priscilla Simms was doing in the video, Girls Gone Grabblin'."
Marty Jenkins and his wife Fostana have been grabbling for catfish for 20 years plus. In late May and June, monster flatheads and blue cats seek out shallow underwater caves where they sweep out beds and lay their eggs. The Jenkins and a couple of friends discovered that old concrete boat ramps make perfect artificial bedding structures for the big cats.
I made my first trip with the Jenkins three years ago and captured the adventure on videotape. Back home one of my daughters watched one night and said, "I'd like to try that."
"Really," I asked, not really believing it.
"Yea, it kind of looks like fun," she insisted.
Now when you tell most people about diving underwater, poking your hand underneath a rock and HOPING a huge catfish will bite you -- they'll describe it as anything but fun.
My daughters, Priscilla and Tiffany Simms, are apparently on a different wavelength. But the trip was arranged far in advance, and they had lots of time to fret about it. When it came time to get in the water and dive however, there was little hesitation.
The Jenkins had already produced one catfish grabbling video. For their second video venture, they focused their lenses only on women they'd recruited to sample the experience that even most men call "crazy."
Most holes these grabblers explore are ten feet wide where the huge cats have cleared out plenty of bedding room. The Jenkins use a dull hook to probe the underwater cave, herding or coaxing the fish into arm's length…. those fish that don't come after you, that is.
Harold Eaton located a fish and was providing the girls with a grabbling lesson. Tiffany said she really had not considered the "fear factor" beforehand, although she understands why most folks say "no way."
"You do have to venture into the unknown," she said. "You can't see anything when you're reaching into this dark hole. I kind of thought twice about it the first time I did it, but it was too late then."
Eaton maneuvered the big flathead until Tiffany and Priscilla could both lay hands on it. Those of us standing on top of the boat ramp could feel the vibrations as the huge catfish struggled.
We could also hear Tiffany scream underwater. On the videotape I can time it precisely. They were gone for exactly 27 seconds, but when they surfaced, Harold and Priscilla had the big flathead by the jaw and Tiffany's face was covered by a flopping fish tail screaming, "we got him, we got him!"
"I was proud. I was very proud," said Tiffany Simms. "It gave me a real adrenalin rush."
They struggled to shore and after a brief photo session, the 30-plus pound flathead was released, as are all the fish these grabblers grabble.
It took some serious recruiting, but over the course of the 2004 grabbling season, Marty and Fostana recruited about 30 different women to give it a try. The result is a 90 minute DVD called "Girls Gone Grabbling." Don't worry -- it is G-Rated complete with out-takes, extra clips and even a grabbling lesson called "Grabbling 101."
Priscilla became quite enamored with grabbling, making numerous excursions with the Jenkins's. She is featured quite prominently in "Girls Gone Grabblin'." And both daughters are the "cover girls" on the DVD.
I'm proud -- I think?
Grabblers are taught that when you wrestle a 40-pound flathead from beneath a rock, you are supposed to wrap your legs around his tail so he can't roll and twist from your grip. It's up to your partner to grab you and the fish, hauling you to shallow water.
The 90-minute DVD includes 30 different grappling scenes, Jenkins says, we have also included a segment on the video year called Grabblin' 101. It's for anyone who wants to start grabblin' and needs some tips. We go to the lake in the winter months and show video footage of good catfish holes and different types of manmade setups. We also show demonstrations on how to pull the catfish from his hole and the types of poles that we use when the catfish are too far back in the hole to reach with your hand."
On the grabbling/videotaping scene we started with, Marty told Priscilla that he needed some more "action" shots and asked Priscilla to "not wrap him up" when she grabbled a big blue.
In slow-motion, you get a good look at the monster blue that probably did approach 50-pounds. The water erupts like a volcano as Priscilla hauls that massive catfish to the top. He is NOT wrapped up. It is Priscilla, weighing in at about 120 pounds, versus 50 pounds of slimy catfish.
Both of Priscilla's hands are clamped firmly on its lower jaw but it's hard to tell exactly who has grabbed who. The massive beast flops, rolls and twists like a fish possessed. Priscilla and blue cat disappear back beneath the surface in a flurry of flying water as the fish makes good its escape.
Priscilla struggles to her feet, catches her breath, turns to the camera and asks, "was that enough action?"
No fear, no trepidation… only fun for Girls Gone Grabblin'.