You’ve probably seen television shows like Hillbilly Handfishin’ and Mudcats, where they pull up monstrous flathead catfish with their bare hands and wondered how they accomplished such a feat. This technique of catfishing is known as noodling. Some anglers like noodling catfish because it’s been a long-time family tradition passed down through generations. However, many anglers disagree with the sport and feel it is immoral.

Therefore, in this article, we will cover what the sport entails, where and how to do it legally, and talk about the controversy of whether it is ethical or not.

What Is Catfish Noodling?

To illustrate, catfish anglers typically noodle for catfish, during spawning season, by sticking their hands in natural holes in riverbanks or other fishing structures, where male catfish are likely nesting and guarding their eggs.

During the spawn, the male catfish are more aggressive and are likely to strike a noodler’s hand. Once the catfish bites, the noodler grabs the catfish by the mouth or gills and yanks it out of the water.

What States Allow Noodling?

A map of the United States of America depicting where noodling catfish is legal.

Noodling is legal in various midwestern and southern states across the country. Here is a complete list of what states allow this catfishing method:

  • Alabama
  • Arkansas
  • Georgia
  • Illinois
  • Kentucky
  • Mississippi
  • North Carolina
  • Oklahoma
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Wisconsin

The Controversy of Noodling

There’s a reason noodling is only accepted in twelve states across America. For example, many states say “no” to noodling because it can likely deplete the catfish population in local fisheries. Also, it affects ecosystems, introduces litter into the waters, and anglers can get seriously injured.

How Noodling Affects Ecosystems

Research conducted by the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) shows noodling impacts the catfish population in smaller tributaries where hand-fishers prefer to fish. Studies indicate that the catfish population is more vulnerable in these smaller rivers and streams due to less than 25 percent of catfish migrating from large rivers to smaller tributaries during the spawn. Thus, noodling in these smaller bodies of water may lead to the over-harvesting of existing catfish.

Furthermore, research shows hand-fishing negatively impacts the catfish population because, within 12 hours of the male catfish’s removal from its nest, a fungus forms on the eggs, resulting in the eggs’ inevitable death.

How Hand-Fishing Introduces Litter Into Waters

In 2011, MDC agents pulled 142 illegal noodling boxes and containers out of Truman Lake, MO. These agents found various items, modified for noodling, from old water heaters to tractor tires and even metal tanks abandoned at the lake.

Noodling Is Dangerous for Both Catfish and Anglers

Above all, noodling can be potentially dangerous for catfish and those participating in the sport. For example, while hand-fishing, anglers can get punctured by a catfish’s spines or even shed blood from having their arm in a catfish’s abrasive mouth.

Additionally, hand-fishers should take precautions when entering murky waters because they could also be injured by snapping turtles, venomous snakes, and even alligators, depending on the location.

What Gear Should You Bring?

The best part of noodling is that it doesn’t require any catfish bait or fancy fishing gear. For example, all you need to enjoy this sport is:

  • Goggles
  • Fishing gloves
  • Fish stringer
  • First aid kit
  • A couple of fishing buddies

How to Noodle for Catfish

Step One: Plan Your Noodling Trip During Spawning Season

As I’ve stated above, most noodlers are more successful during the spawning season for catfish, typically in the spring and summertime. During the spawn, it is easier to predict a catfish’s movement and where you would likely be able to locate them.

Step Two: Locate Where the Catfish Is Nesting

For example, you can usually find a catfish’s nest in natural underwater crevices like hollow logs, downed trees, and depressions in stream banks.

Step Three: Stick Your Arm in the Hole

Then, once you have located where a catfish is nesting, stick your arm in the hole, wiggle your fingers, so they look like floating noodles, and wait for the catfish to strike.

Step Four: Grab the Catfish Out of the Hole

Next, after the catfish bites down on your arm, grasp it firmly by grabbing its bottom lip or gills.

Step Five: Pull the Catfish Out of the Water

Then, after you get a firm grip on the catfish, pull it, and muscle it out of the water.

This step is the most dangerous one, as the catfish can cause you bodily harm as it thrashes its body trying to fight back. It is even possible to get punctured by one of its three spines. So, make sure to handle your catfish correctly, even in the heat of the moment.

Step Six: Put Your Fish on the Stringer

Lastly, now that you have completed your noodling conquest hook your catfish on the stringer, and take it home to clean it for your next meal.

Is Noodling Catfish Ethical?

Ultimately, it is up to you to decide if catfish noodling is sportsmanlike or not. However, if you decide to try your hand at noodling for catfish, please do so ethically and responsibly by making sure it is a legal fishing method in your state.

Above all, when noodling, please remember to carry any trash or items you bring in out of the waters.

Do you believe noodling is an ethical way to fish? Are you planning on hand-fishing next spawning season? Let us know what you think in the comments below. Did you find this article insightful? Consider clicking that share button.

Stay safe out there, everyone!

Featured image credit: Shannonpatrick17 via Flickr