Home > Noodling - Catching Catfishing with Your Bare Hands
Noodling - Catching Catfishing with Your Bare Hands
Noodling for Catfish
Noodling is fishing for catfish using only bare hands, practiced primarily in
the southern United States. Many other names, such as catfisting, grabbling,
graveling, hogging, dogging, gurgling, tickling and stumping, are used in
different regions for the same activity. Noodling is currently legal in eleven
of the fifty United States.
The term "noodling", although today used primarily towards the capture of
flathead catfish, can and has been applied to all hand fishing methods,
regardless of the method or species of fish sought. Noodling as a term has also
been applied to various unconventional methods of fishing, such as any which do
not use bait, rod & reel, speargun, etc., but this usage is much less common.
How to go Noodling for Catfish
Although the concept of catching fish with only the use of the arm in the water
is simple enough, the process of noodling is more complicated. The choice of
catfish as the prey is not arbitrary, but comes from the circumstances of their
habitat. Flathead catfish live in holes or under brush in rivers and lakes and
thus are easy to capture due to the static nature of their dwelling. To begin, a
noodler goes underwater to depths ranging from only a few feet to up to twenty
feet and places his hand inside a discovered catfish hole. If all goes as
planned, the catfish will swim forward and latch onto the fisherman's hand,
usually as a defensive maneuver, in order to try to escape the hole. If the fish
is particularly large, the noodler can hook the hand around its gills.
Most noodlers have spotters who help them bring the catfish in, either to shore
or to their boat. When a catfish bites onto a noodler, it holds on for quite a
while. With some of the biggest fish caught weighing in at up to 50-60 pounds,
very few noodlers are strong enough to attempt noodling by themselves. Although
carrying the fish after they have been subdued is not difficult, trying to
secure a fish and remove it from one's hand at the same time can be a challenge.
Lee McFarlin with a fish caught by noodling. In 1989,on Late Night with David
Letterman Jerry Rider climbed into a tank with a catfish and caught it using his
bare hands. For a time Rider became the face of noodling, and appeared in
countless news stories and numerous newspaper articles around this time as well.
Rider even traveled to India to demonstrate noodling while visiting the country
for the weekend. Most of these stories were light-hearted variety pieces with
little information — very few of them looked at the practice as a serious sport,
as noodlers may have wanted.
The closest thing to a serious examination of noodling accessible to popular
culture was a documentary released in 2001 called Okie Noodling, directed by
local documentarian Bradley Beesley. The documentary covers the history and
current practice of noodling as it is practiced in Oklahoma. During the course
of the documentary the realization that there were no official noodling contests
spawned the First Annual Okie Noodling Tournament held in Pauls Valley,
Oklahoma. The tournament brought in young blood from across Oklahoma to a sport
mostly passed down from father to son. The release of the documentary and its
subsequent airing on PBS affiliates has, if not made the sport more popular,
raised its profile to more than just a local phenomenon.
Although not mentioning women in noodling explicitly, through interviews Okie
Noodling helps to explain women's relationship to the sport. Although some women
relate stories of times they have noodled, the majority of practicing noodlers
were and are men. Many of the male noodlers explained how they began noodling
when their father took them out, and how they planned to bring their sons into
the world of noodling. Also, as others who have written on noodling have
expressed, if noodling is to be considered a sport, then it is most definitely
an extreme sport, which tend to draw a disproportionate number of male