Although one of the oldest ways of fishing, noodling fishing has started to gain popularity and worldwide attention in recent years. In this article, we’ll guide you through all you need to know about noodle fishing so you stay protected, safe, and get the most out of the experience.
Before You Start
The first step you’ll have to take before you decide to start your engines and head to your destination is to make sure it is not forbidden. Some locations don’t allow noodling fishing and the last thing you want is to get fined instead of pure enjoyment and adrenaline rush. Most states consider it illegal, so check the local rules on the local fishing community website or contact the local marina and ask for further instructions.
Currently, it is legal in 16 states, mostly based in the South and the Midwest, while it has most participants along the Mississippi River. The fact that since 2001 twelve states have legalized this type of fishing shows how much its popularity has spread, but still, many others consider it a part of their “outlaw fishing” rules, so make sure you’ve familiarized yourself with these laws and rules well before you decide to give it a try at some location. If it is not allowed, then skip it or change your destination.
Noodling Fishing Explained
Noodle fishing is in theory quite simple – all you have to do is to find the Catfish in the shallow waters and catch it by letting it grab your hand, then dragging it out of the water using nothing but your hands, without fishing rod and reel. This type of fishing is also known by the names of “hand-fishing” or “grabbling”, but it is not uncommon for every place to have its variation.
It is also regarded as one of the traditional fishing techniques among Native Americans, but similar techniques can be found all over the world, especially in Europe. Just make sure to check local rules.
Catfish – Species Made For Noodling Fishing
Every location has its targeted species, but the most often and the most popular one for noodle fishing is Catfish. They are massive and can go over 40 pounds, they are fighters and it takes a lot of effort to get them out of the water. But that’s not all – this type of fish is also suitable thanks to the lack of teeth. Their mouth is most similar to sandpaper and it provides a good grip for every fisherman.
How To Noodle Fish
In theory, it is simple – all you have to do is to locate the fish, put your arm in the water and let it bite so you can take it out of the water, but there are some details you’ll have to pay attention to if you want your session to be successful.
Time Makes All The Difference
For fish noodling, you’ll want to locate and engage in a battle with large males, not any Catfish you run into. That’s why it is good to learn when the spawning season is. Catfish generally spawn during the summer and this is when those large males stick to shallow waters to protect the eggs after their breeding process.
Now it is time to find the Catfish location. Look for just about any place where it is easy enough to lay and guard the eggs, like logs, caves, banks, rocks, boat ramps, or anything that looks like a good hiding place. If you’ve found the location and you know the fish is there, it is time to act.
Don’t Noodle Fish Alone
This is one of the main rules for noodle fishing, not only because it is recommended to give you the best possible chance in a positive outcome, but also because this type of fishing can be quite dangerous. Spread your group around the hole so they block the fish from getting away while you – or someone else from your party – take on the fish.
As one of the oldest and most primitive ways of fishing, noodling doesn’t require much equipment. You won’t need anything else than your own, bare hands. This doesn’t mean you can’t have something to protect you and you can wear special sleeves made for this purpose to keep your arms from possible battle scarves in the shape of cuts and scrapes from Catfish, or, if you don’t have these, an old t-shirt wrapped around the arms.
For your hands, you can choose to use special gloves or you can also go bare hand, although it is important to know that both gloves and sleeves bring their risks and dangers – we’ll get back to that later. Another option is to use a catfish hook and catfish bait instead of your fingers to grab the fish.
Grab, Pull And Let Go
Now it is time to test the hole. If you’ve spotted a hideout, use your hands to inspect the hole. This should provoke the fish enough to either bite right away or to try to chase you away and get out of its hole. When/if the fish bites, grab it as firmly as possible and work your way up to the surface and out of the water. Now it is completely up to you and local regulations what you’ll do – you can put it back into the water, or take it with you if the rules allow you to. Be careful to read them thoroughly, though, because sometimes there are limits on the number of fish you’re allowed to take per day or how big they have to be. If you decide to eat it, here is how to clean and fillet a catfish.
Noodle Fishing Dangers
Noodling fishing is probably one of the most dangerous fishing techniques thanks to many different factors.
First of all, catfish are strong and can be quite heavy, so one wrong move can bring you under the surface or straight to the bottom of the body of water. That’s why you should never do it alone. If something goes south, other noodlers can pull you back up. And avoid fishing in water deeper than your chest.
Another possible issue is the wrong animal. Sometimes instead of catfish, you may run into a turtle, beaver, or muskrat and you could lose a finger or two, or even worse if you’re dealing with something even more dangerous, like a snake or alligator. This is also the reason why the vast majority of noodle fishermen choose to go bare hand, without gloves. Wearing gloves makes it harder to identify the animal, which is essential in knowing when to back off.
And lastly, gloves or sleeves can hang onto a log, a rock, or anything firm under the surface and prevent you from getting back up. In a situation where every second is important, this can lead to severe health damage or even death in some situations.
As you meet other fishing enthusiasts along the way, and you end up telling them that you’d love to try or that you enjoy noodle fishing, it is more likely than not that you’ll run into at least a few words of disapproval. It is one of the most controversial and criticized ways of fishing even in states where it is approved, and we’ll try to explain to you why is that a case.
One of the main arguments against hand fishing is the lack of opportunity for fish to escape. Catfish will stay and do their best to guard their eggs, which will eventually lead to bitting in a desperate desire to chase away the intruder, and this way sealing their fate.
The second issue is connected to both fish and human safety. As we’ve mentioned above, there are many risks involved in this type of fishing, one wrong step and you may end under the surface, fighting for your life. As they fight their own battle, catfish can break bones, force the air out of your lungs by hitting you… and it can all end tragically.
However, the main issue is the fact that you’ll be targeting big males during their spawn period, as they guard the eggs. Taking the male out will leave those eggs without any way to defend themselves, and unprotected eggs most often die soon after. Catfish can lay from 4000 up to even 100,000 eggs, which means thousands of catfish will end up being destroyed either by the algae or by the fight itself.
It may sound like this problem is easily fixable by simply releasing the fish back into the water, but it is a bit more complex than that. As you grab the fish, the chances are you’ll be grabbing either the guts, gill plate or jaw of the catfish. All of these are necessary to survive, and the chances that it will stay intact or in a shape good enough for the fish to keep functioning normally are extremely slim.
Here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about noodling fishing:
Q: Does noodling hurt the fish?
Yes, and it hurts in more ways than one. When the fish bites, you’ll grab it to its guts, jaw or gill plate. These fish won’t give up so easily, which will lead to lots of fighting before you manage to get it out of the water. All that wiggling, throwing around and spinning can cause serious damage to these parts of the fish body. Besides that, during the fight, it is possible you’ll step onto the nest and this way destroy thousands of fish eggs.
Q: Why do they call it noodling?
There are lots of theories about the origin of the term. By far the most popular one comes from the fact that you’ll have to wiggle your fingers in order to grab the fish’s attention and along the way your fingers will look like noodles. Another theory that is quite popular claims that noodling got its name thanks to fish being slippery, much like a wet noodle. The third and a bit more gory one says that noodling got its name from the fact that, after a fight, fisherman’s arm tends to hang like wet spaghetti, simply dangling from a shoulder. Another interesting theory claims that the term “noodling” is used to describe people who explore underwater holes to get the fish to bite with their bare hands as those “off their noodle”.
Although, the most probable one comes from the Scottish language, where the term “guddling” is used to describe “catching fish with bare hands”.
Noodling is allowed in the following 16 states: Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Wisconsin, Ilinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, West Virginia, and Maryland. However, the rules and regulations are not the same at each place, so it is essential to learn them to avoid all the possible problems.
Q: How does noodling for catfish work?
By simple words, noodling is searching for catfish holes, inspecting them and catching the catfish with nothing else but your bare hands.
Q: Does a catfish bite hurt?
The catfish doesn’t have teeth so it won’t cause serious damage, and their mouth feels like sandpaper. However, they do have a strong grip and they can break your skin with their mouth. Combined with the fight they usually put on when a fisherman tries to catch a catfish, it can quickly go from a light wound that will heal fast to more serious damage to your skin and bones. If the catfish bites you and breaks your skin, wash the wound and clean it with antiseptic, then protect it with bandage or bandana. It shouldn’t hurt much and it should heal quickly, but if it doesn’t, head to a doctor.
Globo Surf Overview
Controversial as it is, noodling fishing is without a doubt one of the most challenging fishing techniques you’ll run into. It is one of the best bravery and agility tests you’ll ever face in the fishing world. However, this type of fishing has its problems and it is up to you whether you’d try it out or stick to some of the more humane and popular types of fishing. If you do, check out our ultimate guide for catfish fishing.