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The Daily Whim

The Daily Whim

Tue. Jul 05, 2005

The Freedom to Handle Fish

I hope you had an enjoyable Fourth of July weekend. In Georgia, it’s the first time we’ve been able to buy “legal” fireworks (though they are so legislatively crippled that calling them “fireworks” is about like calling paintball “war”).

There’s a quite a few things that recently became newly legal, or illegal, as the fine handicraft of our state legislature’s session (“it will be against the law to obscure license plates with fake body parts”) went into effect on July 1.

I suggested to the wife that we take advantage of one of the newly legal activities in Georgia. No, not that.

Noodling.

Yeah, Susan said it sounded kinky, too, but I told her, hey, we’re married, and the Georgia Legislature says it’s OK.

What’s noodling? Well…

What do you do when you’re stuck in the water, watching the occasional snake swim past, and the catfish aren’t biting your fingers?

You insult your buddy, of course.

“You sure got a little head,” said Owen, 39.

AJC: Noodlin’ away a summer afternoon

Why, I think we’d all agree there’s nothing wrong with a little head. But, as I said, this isn’t about that.

“We’ve never done this before,” said Brown, an energetic 32-year-old from Concord who works on heavy machinery for a living.

“No,” Owen said, a smirk roaming his bearded face. “Never.”

Yet, for two guys who want you to believe they’ve never tried noodling, they looked right at home…

I said, this isn’t about that.

It’s not just some Georgia redneck thing. Noodling just became legal in Missouri, too:

For men like Anderson, noodling is a proud tradition passed down through generations. Many people on the river recalled vivid tales of learning to noodle from fathers and older neighbors, even if it was illegal.

“There’s a lot of fellows who aren’t living anymore who’d have loved to see this day,” said Lyndall Bartels, walking with his wife down the river.

STLtoday: Wet noodler is catch of day

So, what the heck is noodling? It’sChurnin’ water, fins a-thrashin’ and men a-yellin’ – that’s what it’s all about.” (there’s a great old photo on that page)

OK, for a proper explanation of noodling, perhaps we should turn to the Brits:

First you strip to the waist and clamber into the river. Next, you bend under water and rootle blindly along the muddy riverbank with your bare hands. When you find a promising hole, you waggle your fingers – or toes – so alluringly that a large catfish locks its jaws around your arm or leg. Then you simply wrestle the 100lbs (45kg) giant out of the water and serve it fried with cayenne pepper.

It is thought that the name noodler is derived from southern slang for crazy fool. Some noodlers have drowned trying to grab big catfish while many bear the scars of their sport, including missing fingers bitten off by the fish – or snapping turtles and beavers that take umbrage at being disturbed.

Guardian Unlimited: Extreme fishing: dogged noodlers who wrestle catfish from the depths

Back to our noodlin’ buds, Perry and Dusty:

They bumped five miles up the Flint, scraping rock and root as the boat’s 25-horsepower Johnson beat against a steady current. They prowled holes deep and shallow, poked in old logs. One, an ancient hardwood stretching 20 feet, was partially hollow, with a 6-foot-deep hole perfect for hiding a fish. Or a snake. Or a snapping turtle. Maybe a beaver?

Owen eyed its dark center, then glanced at his pal.

“Brave enough?” Brown called.

Owen hung his camouflage-pattern baseball cap on one of the log’s limbs. “Foolish enough,” he answered. Floomp! Owen was gone, wriggling into a black space about the same dimensions as a coffin.

Gee, that sounds like a splendid way to commune with Mother Nature! And for their efforts, what was the take? “One little speckled catfish that Owen grabbed in 2 feet of water. Brown stuck it in the front pocket of his denim shorts.

Oh, it could have been worse. Much worse: “Thai fishermen caught a 293-kilogram (646-pound) catfish that may have been the world’s largest freshwater fish, wildlife conservation groups said.” Check out the photo on that page, and imagine wiggling your fingers in front of the mouth of a fish about as big as a grizzly bear.

I know, you’d think it would be impossible for a wading human to even get close enough to a fish that size. Maybe. Maybe not: “Due to the very nature of the sport, noodling has traditionally been restricted to the more shallow rivers and streams. But contestants have now begun to venture out in deeper bodies of water since tournament rules were changed to allow fish caught while using scuba gear.

Yes, they have Noodling Tournaments. With scuba gear.

Where am I going with this? Nowhere. It’s just that I’m someone who [1] doesn’t eat fish, and [2] can’t swim. So the fact people go to these extremes for fun is … oddly fascinating.

As is the fact our legislators took the time to make it legal. Gosh, the freedoms we enjoy in this country are sometimes just … stupefying.


Peanut Gallery

1  Todd H. wrote:

Heh- it’s always funny to see the media realize there’s something wierd out there they didn’t have a clue was happening. Doubly funny when it’s been going on for decades (or centuries). Triply funny (for me anyway) when I have known about it all along.

I have no recollection of where I first heard of noodling for catfish, but it was a long time ago. I knew a few folks who would put open-ended boxes out in the Mississippi river, staked to the bottom. Catfish love a place to hide, so they’d get in the boxes, and the noodlers would then know right where to go looking. Downside is that snapping turtles and snakes like the boxes too..

A few years back, a friend and I went to a guided duck hunting outfit in northwest Mississppi. When we entered the lodge, and were looking about, my buddy asked me to look at a picture on the wall- it was a man standing belly-deep in a muddy stream, holding the lower jaw of a huge catfish out of the water. I said “oh, that’s just a guy who’s noodled up a big catfish. That and evidence the guide we’re using is nuts.” I’ll save the long story for another day, but I was right on the money in my quick assessment. On both counts, no less.

2  edudude wrote:

Who knew there was a noodlin’ lobby? Wonder how much those guys get paid

Comment by edudude · 07/05/2005 08:18 PM
3  Reid wrote:

Todd: “Triply funny (for me anyway) when I have known about it all along

It must be some kind of cultural hole for me. I grew up around a lot of fishing (evidenced by the pop-up photos found on item 9 on this page ). I watched my granddaddy reel in record tarpon, a 500 pound hammerhead shark, even a sea turtle. And I’ve spent time with my Dad wading in incredibly clear Vermont streams to go trout fishing, so I understand the appeal of being in the water. But noodlin’ is new to me…

And as for noodlin’ lobbyists, I imagine they get paid all the catfish they can noodle.

4  Paul wrote:

Does this activity require any skill, or is it what it looks like: Sticking your arm in the water to get a catfish to suck on it?

Now, if they were snatching fish with their bare hands as the fish swam through the stream, that would be something.

5  andy wrote:

I thought this was the best article about noodling I could find.

“They say big cats will swallow your entire hand, start spinning and rip the skin off your arm. What will that feel like? How did my noodling instructors get the nicknames Nubbins and Three-Fingered Jack?”

6  Reid wrote:

That is a damn fine noodlin’ article, Andy. Paul, you should read it, and I think you’ll agree. It’s not so much a skill as a state of mind.

And I’m not going there.

However, the article also points out the first recorded mention of it was in the 1700’s when some white man observed “Southern Indians” (i.e., Redneck Indians) noodling in rivers. So, I’d say it’s a part of our hunter-gatherer history that’s fallen by the wayside, like taking down bison with spears.

7  emcee fleshy wrote:

God Bless America!

Comment by emcee fleshy · 07/06/2005 07:54 PM
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