The Great Noodling Experiment, hand-fishing for giant catfish now legal
Tina Butler, mongabay.com
June 1, 2005
In the deep South and parts of the Midwest, there exists an extreme type of fishing that has nurtured devotees and opponents alike. Noodling involves the catching of massive catfish — creatures that can weigh up to 100 pounds (45 kilograms) — with the fisherman’s bare hands. These fisherman, known as noodlers, wade in the shallows along riverbanks looking for holes in the silt bottom. When a noodler finds a hole, he wriggles his fingers inside it in hopes of attracting catfish that make these depressions home. Should a noodler attract such attention, a skilled hand-fisherman will force both his hands down the throat or gills of the catfish, wrap his legs around its sizeable tail and drag the animal out of the water.
Noodlers have been described as idiots, wrestlers and brutes, depending on an individual’s personal opinion of the sport. Conservationists are not supportive of noodling–their concern being that noodlers’ penchant for large, spawning fish could reduce the population. Female catfish can take seven years to become sexually mature. Noodlers counter that big catfish prey on smaller catfish and more importantly, due to the fairly visceral and dangerous nature of the practice, not enough people will ever become involved to affect the population.
Regardless of one’s position, noodling has remained an underground and illegal practice with enthusiasts facing fines of up to $500. However, Missouri will open its first season of legal hand-fishing in June, due to persistent lobbying by a group called Noodlers Anonymous. The season will consist of a six-week trial period, in which registered noodlers report their catches to the state’s Conservation Department for analysis.
The department may loosen regulations depending on the findings. One conservation official considers the season primarily as an opportunity to learn more about catfish, which have been infamously difficult to track and study.
Despite the allowance of noodling, albeit in a limited range, few sportsmen have legally embraced the season. There are 2000 estimated noodlers in Missouri, but only 21 have applied for the new $7 hand-fishing permit. For this reason, and the fact that only three rivers have been designated as being authorized for hand-fishing, and only one of these rivers is well-suited to noodling, the accuracy and success of the trial season seems questionable at best.
Fishermen catch 646-pound catfish, believed to be world’s largest: Thai fishermen caught a 646-pound catfish believed to have been the world’s largest freshwater fish ever recorded, a researcher said Thursday. The 8.9 foot long Mekong giant catfish was the heaviest recorded fish since Thailand started keeping records in 1981.
This article uses information from a May 26th 2005 article in the Economist.