The Noodling Craze That Swept the Nation
Noodling is one of the most extreme outdoor sports and is only legal in a handful of states with very few anglers even partaking in the art, even though it is legal in their home waters. Noodling was first discovered as a method used by Native Americans to supply their families with a great source of protein throughout the early summer months.
Fast forward to the culture shocking reality TV craze in the early 2010’s when everyone became familiar with it. Thankfully, that TV craze has now run its course and noodling has became something not often talked about and forgotten by many. The basis of many TV shows horribly over exaggerated a “for TV” myth… the fact the fish will try to “Drag you to your death” which is far from the truth. The misleading TV reality series were full of overacting, useless facts, and a plethora of false truths from the true art of the method and left a sour taste in the mouth of many veteran noodler’s. The purpose of this article is to, let’s say, “Clear the Mud” and give several true facts about the art to help explain some methods and fact based info.
The Beginning of My Noodling Days
In 1999, I was invited out on my first noodling (also known as “Grabbling”) trip with Marty and Fostana Jenkins of Etowah, TN. Both were veteran grabblers who had produced their own video series known as “Girls Gone Grabblin”, to counter another series of films at the time. They blessed me with an unforgettable experience, gave me the drive to explore waters of my own and after my first solo fish, I was obsessed.
For almost 20 years now, I have trudged the riverbanks of East Tennessee in search of the perfect looking structure that could possibly hold the right fish.
Breaking down each rock pile, log jam, rock outcrop, and anything similar with a critical eye. Then, like a rebel without cause, diving head first into the structure below, feeling in every nook and cranny waiting on that all so familiar thump as a bedding catfish engulfs my entire hand up to my elbow.
The Perfect Storm for Noodling Catfish
Noodling is often misunderstood and most people think that the catfish live in these holes year round. The truth of the matter is there’s an extremely small window of about 6 weeks throughout the entire year that the fish bed in these holes.
When water temperatures reach 68 degrees, that’s when the excitement begins. Male blue and channel catfish begin to scour the shallows in search of the perfect hole where a bubble bellied female will join him in the darkness and they can christen their newly found home. This process takes an estimated 7-10 days and during that time, the fish turn into defensive caretakers guarding the hole with an ungodly aggression towards anything that comes within range. The catfish do not eat their victims during this time but will do all they can to eliminate the threat to their whisker faced kiddos.
This is where the method of noodling comes into play and why finding the right hole at the right time of year can produce some of the most exciting fishing known to man.
The catfish will bed from water temperature ranging from 68-78 degrees with the Blue and channel catfish bedding early while the flathead begin later in that temperature range. Once you locate what is assumed to be a catfish hole, the method of quantifying your finding is simple, stick your hand in and see what happens!!!
The Art of the Catch
The true “No strings attached” method is the only one that seasoned noodler’s recognize due to the idea of giving the fish an equal opportunity on the playing field. You will have many claim they are noodler’s, but in my humble opinion, when you run a stringer in the gills of a holed up fish, you eliminate the fair game aspect.
There are many other methods that are inhumane, brutal, and classless that include gaffs, treble hooks on nylon ropes, and wasteful types who simply haul the fish around for show then discard them at the end of the day to rot away as buzzard feed. These cases are not common, but I’ve seen a lot of crazy stuff in my 20 years…
In most cases when you locate a hole, there will be a pair of fish there to greet you. The male will take the lead in protection and typically be the first to “shake your hand”. The males will have larger heads and thin frames from all the work they have done creating the bowl in the sediment of the river, creek, or lake. Red clay is their preferred cover and these holes can range in size from an opening the size of a softball leading into a 2ft diameter bed to a man sized cavern leading into a bed as large as king sized mattress.
Either way, these catfish know how to defend their temporary homes. Check out some crazy noodling action on my YouTube!
Catch and Release Noodling Catfish Methods
Many people are critical of catfish noodling due to the time of year and the fact that these fish are being removed from their beds. In all reality, when the fish is released, they return to the hole and are able to complete the spawn without issues. Very similarly to how bass act during their spawn.
Additionally, the sheer number of fish caught in a single day of noodling rarely hits the double digits. If we catch more than 10 fish in an outing, we are having a record breaking day. The best day our group can recall was a day that began at 4 a.m. and ended at dark. We caught 11 fish with 9 weighing in over 40 pounds and 2 over 50 pounds.
Practicing CPR (Catch, Photo, Release) on these river giants as the years go by forms a relationship with these temperamental slime balls.
This is due to the fact of the same fish returning to the same local holes to spawn year to year. We have been quantifying this idea through a tagging system that fellow noodler, Erik Almy, developed. In short, it is a series of color coded tags used to identify the fish. We also help combat the theoretical impact by supplementing their natural bedding habitat with a network of barrels and bedding boxes that are checked in a predetermined rotation to ensure the fish go without multiple interruptions throughout their 7-10 day stay.
In closing, noodling is an art. Plain and simple. It can be passed down by many and enjoyed for years to come, just like any other sport fishing technique. There are some that will never try it and some that will be just like I was and become consumed by it.