Catfishing Noodling: What Is It and How to Do It Correctly?

What is Catfish Noodling Feature Image

Catfishing noodling is an age-old fishing technique extremely popular in Louisiana and other southern states with a twist that has gained popularity among fishing enthusiasts worldwide. But what exactly is catfishing noodling, and how are catfish caught? 

This extremely primitive method of fishing involves sticking your bare hands into a hiding hole to catch catfish, relying solely on touch and instinct. In this article, we will dive into the fascinating world of catfishing noodling, exploring its history, techniques, and safety precautions. 

Whether you’re a seasoned Louisiana angler looking to try something new or a curious beginner seeking an adrenaline-filled adventure, read on to discover everything you need to know about catfish noodling and how to enjoy this sport correctly and safely!

What Is Catfish Noodling?

Catfish noodling weird fishing
Catfish noodling is a fishing method where people use their bare hands to lure and catch catfish from underwater hiding spots.

Also known as hand fishing or grabbling, the sport of catching fish with noodling is an unconventional primitive fish-catching technique that requires you to grab hold of a catfish using only your bare hands.

Unlike traditional fishing methods that rely on rods, reels, and bait, this sport method to catch fish will have you enter the water and search for catfish in their natural habitats by sticking your bare hands and feet into different hiding spots. 

The process involves anglers reaching into underwater crevices, holes, or submerged structures where catfish hide and coaxing them to bite or latch onto their hand. Once the catfish has caught you, you will use your grip to pull the fish out of the water hole and toss it onto the shore or into the boat.

Why Noodle for Catfish?

Noodling for catfish offers a unique and exhilarating fishing experience for flathead catfish enthusiasts. Here are some reasons why people might decide to noodle for catfish instead of using a typical rod and reel:

Adventure and Thrill

Noodling provides an adrenaline rush like no other! The hands-on approach, diving into the water, and the anticipation of not knowing if you will get a catfish to bite or run into a snapping turtle or alligator can create an exciting and adventurous experience at your favorite catfish hole.

Connection with Nature

Noodling allows you to connect more intimately with the natural environment. By immersing yourself in the water of your local catfish hole and exploring underwater structures with your bare hands and feet, you will gain a deeper appreciation for the ecosystem and the habitats of big catfish.

Minimal Equipment

Unlike traditional options in how fish are caught, noodling requires minimal equipment and no boat. Many noodlers rely solely on their bare hands and their ability to locate and capture flathead catfish and blue cats, making it a simple and cost-effective method to put food on the table.

Physical Challenge

Noodling is a physically demanding activity that will test your strength, agility, and underwater skills. It requires swimming, diving, and maneuvering in sometimes challenging conditions without a boat, providing a unique physical challenge for anyone seeking an active noodle experience.

Cultural and Historical Significance

Noodling has a rich cultural and historical significance, particularly in regions like the southern United States. It has been passed down through generations and represents a connection to traditional hand-fishing practices and your local heritage.

Origins of Catfish Noodling: Where Did It Originate?

Noodling can be traced back to various regions and has a long history in primitive fish-catching traditions as well as food production during the Great Depression. While it is difficult to pinpoint a single specific place of origin, noodling is believed to have originated in the south and midwest United States.

Going out to noodle for catfish has deep cultural roots in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Arkansas. The Choctaw and Chickasaw Native American tribes in these regions practiced similar hand-fishing techniques long before European settlers arrived.

The practice of noodling likely emerged out of necessity, as it provided an alternative method for catching flathead catfish and other species when the traditional fishing gear was scarce or unavailable. Over time, noodling evolved into a recreational and cultural activity that is deeply ingrained in the fish-catching traditions and folklore of various areas.

How-To: Basic Noodling Techniques

Catfish Noodling image

1. Find the Holes

The first step in catfish noodling is locating the hiding spots of large catfish in water that is up to waist deep. Look for underwater structures like logs, rocks, or submerged debris, as these are often the preferred hiding places for catfish. 

Gently explore crevices and holes with your hands, feeling for any signs of movement or the presence of a catfish. Be cautious of potential hazards and other underwater creatures, such as turtles or snakes, that may also inhabit these spaces.

2. Let the Fish Bite You

Once you have located a potential catfish hiding spot, you need to make the big fish bite your hand. Stick your hand in the hole or crevice, keeping your fingers loosely curled to avoid injury. Gently wiggle your hand around to mimic the movements of prey or bait and encourage catfish to strike

This action can attract the curiosity or hunting instincts of the catfish, leading it to bite your hand as it attempts to secure its prey. It’s important to be patient during this process since catfish can take some time to bite.

3. Pull Out the Fish

When a catfish latches onto your hand, you need to react quickly but carefully. Maintain a firm grip on the catfish’s lower jaw or gill covers to secure your hold. Use your strength and leverage to slowly and steadily pull the catfish out of its sunken hole. 

Maintain control of the female or male fish while keeping your arm and body positioned for stability. Once you have the catfish fully exposed, carefully lift it out of the water and onto dry land or into your boat.

Catfish Noodling: Grabbing Flatheads with the LEGENDS!

Is Noodling Dangerous?

Yes, a good noodle trip can be dangerous, and it’s important to be aware of the potential risks involved before you get started.

Physical Hazards

Noodling requires entering the water and exploring underwater structures, which can present various physical hazards. These hazards during a noodle trip include sharp objects such as rocks, branches, or broken glass, which can cause cuts or abrasions. 

Additionally, underwater creatures like snakes, snapping turtles, or even alligators may also inhabit the same areas as catfish, posing a risk of injury or attack.

Catfish Defense Mechanisms

Catfish have powerful jaws and sharp teeth, which they use for defense when they feel threatened. While most catfish are generally not aggressive, they can bite when they feel cornered. Being bitten by a blue catfish, for example, can cause painful injuries and puncture wounds and may result in infections if not properly treated.

Water Conditions

Noodling often takes place in natural bodies of water such as the Mississippi River, South Carolina lakes, or West Virginia ponds. Strong currents, deep water, poor visibility, or sudden changes in weather can pose risks in deeper water.

Lack of Experience and Training

Noodling requires a certain level of experience, knowledge, and physical strength to ensure your safety. Without proper training or guidance, beginners may be unaware of the best practices and techniques for noodling, increasing the risk of accidents or injuries.

In order to reduce the chance of becoming injured or getting on the wrong side of the law, here are a few things you can do  before you step into the water:

Learn From Experienced Noodlers

Seek guidance and training from experienced anglers that love noodling and who can share their knowledge and teach you the proper techniques and safety measures to keep in mind even during the adrenaline rush.

Use Protective Gear

Wear gloves and other protective clothing, snorkeling goggles, or water shoes to minimize the risk of cuts, abrasions, and fish bites when you attempt to catch a good haul.

Know the Local Regulations

Familiarize yourself with local fishing regulations, including size limits and catch limits, to ensure that you are complying with the law and helping to promote sustainable fish-catching practices. Be sure noodling is legal, and you are not disrupting the spawning season or any catfish nest spots.

Assess the Environment

Before entering the water, carefully assess the surroundings, water conditions, and potential hazards. Avoid areas with swift currents, submerged obstacles, or signs of dangerous wildlife and other crazy things you may want to avoid.

Practice Caution and Respect

Approach noodling for big cats with caution, have respect for the environment, and consideration for the well-being of the fish. Release any undersized or protected species unharmed.

Is It Legal?

The legality of catfish noodling varies depending on the specific location. It is important to familiarize yourself with the local fishing regulations and laws in your region or the area where you plan to noodle.

Legal Status

In some places, catfish noodling is legal and fully regulated as a legitimate fish-catching method. These locations often have specific rules regarding seasonality, size limits, catch limits, and licensing requirements for most noodlers, just as you would see when using a rod and reel to fish.

Restricted or Prohibited Areas

Some regions or bodies of water may have restrictions on noodling due to conservation efforts, safety concerns, or the protection of endangered or sensitive species. National parks, wildlife sanctuaries, or private properties may not allow noodling at all.

Local Regulations

Fishing regulations can vary significantly between states, provinces, or countries. It is essential to consult local fish and wildlife agencies or access official fishing guides and regulations to understand the specific rules and requirements for fish you catch by noodling in your area.

Tribal Lands and Native American Rights

In certain areas, such as reservations or tribal lands of Native Americans, catfish noodling may be allowed as part of traditional catching practices or cultural heritage. Permission from the local tribal authority may be required.

Why Is It Not Legal Everywhere?

Conservation is a significant consideration when determining the legality of noodling. Fishing regulations are often implemented to help maintain the sustainable management of giant catfish populations. 

Catfish, like other fish species, have specific breeding seasons and growth cycles. Fish caught by noodling during these periods of the year can slow or stop the natural reproductive cycles, potentially leading to a decline in their overall populations.

Safety is another important factor in the legality of noodling. Catfish caught with noodling involves entering the murky water and exploring sunken structures where catfish may be hiding. This can be risky, as underwater conditions can be unpredictable, and there may be hidden hazards such as sharp objects, strong currents, or dangerous wildlife.

In What States Is Catching Catfish by Noodling Legal?

While regulations may change over time, the following states generally permit or have specific regulations regarding catching catfish via noodling in certain areas or during certain parts of the year:

  • Alabama
  • Arkansas
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Nebraska
  • North Carolina
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Wisconsin

More on Catfish Noodling History

Catfish noodling in Louisiana became legal only in recent times. This NPR report featuring catfish noodlers John Robert Blake, Jack McFarland, and Eli Spangler out on Caney Lake tells the story of how dedicated catfish noodlers helped make Louisiana the 17th state to legalize it.

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Jeff Knapp is an expert fisherman, guide and outdoor writer whose work is widely published across a range of sites including Tackle Village. Jeff is based in Pennsylvania and loves exploring the waterways of that state in pursuit of smallmouth bass, largemouth, panfish and trout.
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