As a child raised out in the country, a favourite past-time of my brothers and mine was to grab ourselves each a fishing rod and head down to the river and go fishing for the day. He-haw! I feel as though my childhood would have been much more interesting if we had adopted a more extreme attitude towards our leisurely activities and scrapped the fishing rod all together and used only our bare hands. If we had relocated to a Southern state and swapped salmon for catfish, we would have possibly been the youngest noodlers to engage in noodling.
Noodling can be summarized as a type of sport fishing that requires the fisher, called a noodler, to catch a catfish using a very unconventional way of fishing. This may sound relatively easy, find the catfish, and make some sort of contraption to catch the catfish, voila! The method of noodling is not as easy as it sounds. The first issue arises when we find out that the flathead catfish we are preying on tend to live in holes or underbrush in rivers and lakes. This requires the noodler to swim out into the water, whether it is only a few feet deep, or up to twenty feet deep, and find a hole where the flathead catfish is residing. Once the noodler finds the hole, he or she then put his or her hands into the dark hole to try and lure out a catfish. Now, the ‘contraption’ used to obtain the catfish is the most primal of all tools; the noodler rams their entire hand and forearm into the catfish’s gullet and pulls it from the hole.
Now this is all fine and dandy, but there are some dangers associated with noodling that one must be aware of before trying to catch a flathead catfish. Dangers can range from minor cuts and wounds to the noodler all the way to losing finger(s) from a bite or infection – not to mention the chance of drowning while carrying your trophy fish to the surface. These buggers can weigh as much as sixty pounds! But, the real danger is other aquatic life. Who’s to say whether or not the alleged flathead catfish lives in the hole you are about to stuff your hand into? Other dangerous animals, such as alligators, snakes, beavers, muskrats and the ever-terrifying snapping turtle, sometimes inhabit the abandoned catfish holes as their own. Safety precautions are taken during the event to prevent the loss of a finger or worse. Spotters help the noodlers bring the catfish to shore by being in the water, or, alternately, they can just use a boat.
YouTube offers a series of videos on the extreme sport of noodling, and boy, oh boy, the intensity is contagious. The camera guy is shouting curse words in excitement, the spotters have moved in to help the noodler bring the catfish to shore and all the spectators are a-hootin’ and a-hollerin’. Not only is this sport extreme, but it seems to have the real essence of community building.