Have you ever wondered how to noodle? Do you even know what it is?
If you’ve been paying much attention to fishing news over the past few years, then chances are good that you’ve seen “noodling” in the headlines a few times.
“Noodling,” the term given to the practice of fishing for catfish with your bare hands, frequently inspires controversy, largely because it is only legal in about 12 states throughout the country. If you live in the northern United States, opportunities for noodling are limited because laws prohibit the practice.
Noodling is legalized in Wisconsin and Illinois, but is otherwise mostly confined to the south, where it is significantly more common.
The laws are also changing: as recently as 2011, anglers in Texas were forbidden to use noodling methods on catfish. Governor Rick Perry turned that around by getting rid of the law.
Noodling is contentious because many argue that it hurts catfish populations by taking advantage of spring and summer spawning patterns in order to catch adult fish as they guard their eggs. Since noodling not only removes the adult from the ecosystem, but also leaves their eggs undefended against other hungry fish, opponents certainly have a point.
With that said, there is a certain thrill to catching a fish with your bare hands. If your state allows it – check local laws to make sure – and you are looking for a different kind of fishing experience, then noodling is certainly worth a try.
If you are going to noodle, you have to understand catfish nesting behaviors.
When catfish lay eggs in the spring or summer, they will do so in small holes or hollowed areas near the shore or riverbank. By hiding away in the holes, the catfish essentially remove themselves from more traditional fishing game. They won’t see your lure or bite your hook if they are hiding away to defend their eggs.
However, by nesting in a fixed location, catfish open themselves up to other dangers, one of which is noodling.
The more you noodle, the better you will become at noticing the telltale signs of a catfish nest. Until you learn the ropes, however – and even after – it is good to noodle with someone who brings a good amount of experience to the table. In other words, seek out a noodling mentor. They can teach you how to find nests – underneath rocks, in hollow tree logs, etc. – help you block the holes while you try to noodle, or help you out if you end up injured.
That’s another thing you need to know if you are going to noodle: you may well go home with a catfish prize, but you will also likely go home with a few bite marks on your hands or arms. The risk of injury with noodling is high, and if you want to avoid fish bites, then stick to traditional rod-and-reel methods.
If you aren’t afraid of getting your hands dirty (and possibly a little bloody), then dive right into the water, stick your hands into the nest, and try to get a hold of the fish’s lower jaw. Some say the jaw is like a suitcase handle, and can easily be grasped despite murky water and an unclear line of vision.
Since catfish will fight back – especially if they are defending eggs – you should wear a pair of thick, long gloves in an effort to avoid a bite wound that draws blood. As soon as you get a hold, pull and wrestle the catfish toward the surface.
You can reach all the way through the fish’s gills to pull it to the surface, but keep in mind this will likely kill it.
If you are with a friend, he or she can help you wrestle the fish onto the boat or riverbank.
There really isn’t much more to it than that, though a seasoned noodler would tell you that we’ve just scratched the surface.
Ultimately, experience trumps technique in the noodling game. The longer you work at it, the better your odds of catching catfish become.