Step-by-Step Guide to Noodling

Sometimes using the newest technology in order to fish or hunt just isn’t what we crave. We want to feel primal and acquire food like our ancestors did. The hunters have their bows and arrows, but for fishermen – there is a wild technique known as noodling. That’s where you stick your bare hands into a hole underwater and wait for a giant catfish to latch onto your fingers.

Many haven’t even heard of it, so we decided to share some of the best tips for catching big catfish with noodling, but beware – noodling is illegal in most states. Noodling is currently legal in just 12 states. The reasons for its illegality comes down to how it affects the catfish population. Noodling targets large males while they are guarding off-spring, so when you snag a catfish by noodling, you are also stamping out a school of new catfish.

Where it’s allowed, noodling is a lot of fun with a fair amount of danger. It’s an extreme sport, but still totally doable, especially if you pick up the right information before stepping into the water. And for all of those that want to try it out but are too scared to actually do it thinking it’s reserved only for the hardest men, we would like to point out Lucy Millsap, a 19-year-old cheerleader who won at the 14th Annual Okie Noodling Festival in Oklahoma by bringing a 72-pound flathead catfish! Ready to start?  

Work in a team

You want to fish like your ancestors, no gadgets, no nothing, and that’s ok, but even cavemen had the help of other cavemen, so you should always have two or three guys around to help you with the catfish when you go noodling. We’ve all heard urban legends of men being dragged and drowned by the monster cats, and this is one story whose veracity we don’t want to test out first hand.

Spring and summer activity

Noodling — also known as handfishing, hogging, tickling, grabbling or stumping, is best done during the spawning season in spring and summer when the catfish are more prone to staying in their holes to protect their eggs, so the right time to wrestle catfish is when the water reaches about 70 degrees. Noodling is so effective that it affects the catfish population drastically and that’s why it’s forbidden in a lot of states.

Scope the sweet spots  

When you find a potential catfish hole it’s much smarter to check the holes with a stick than with your hands as snapping turtles love to crash catfish cribs and you could actually lose a finger, but they are not the only danger in the water as they might be water moccasins lurking and other animals like muskrats, beavers, and even alligators, so a spotter should always be vary but is also used to find the big catfish swimming around you.


Just remember the slogan of the Okie noodling tournament – No hooks. No Bait. No Fear. You need to be decisive but smart. Once you find a promising spot, you need to barricade any possible escape routes, using rocks, sandbags or your friends. When you start fighting the fish you ought to wiggle your fingers into the fish’s gills, that will make it harder for the catfish to bite you, and it will be easier for you to control it as it won’t be slippery.

Go deep

The real monsters always hide in the deep so don’t afraid to come to their turf, you’ll probably have to even go underwater for the really big ones, so you need to swim really well and to hold your breath long.  Remember when we said it as an extreme sport? Believe us now? So you might be wondering how will you get to the holes if you’re really deep, and the answer is by using a long stick to probe the bottom, and when you hit a big catfish it will be much different than hitting the dirt and rocks at the bottom. It will have a feeling like you’re poking an old tire, the fish will move and you need to be quick and pounce on it!

Be ready for battle!

And we do mean battle, not a brawl or a fight, but battle as the biggest catfish will surely bring it to you, so the right mindset from the start will ensure you don’t let your prey slip away or even worse – injure you. Some of these battles can last up to 15 minutes and more so your spotters can jump in and help you if there is a need for assistance.

Dress properly

Noodling is obviously very different than regular fishing and so are the clothes you should be wearing while doing it, as for the regular fishing people tend to wear wide, comfortable shirts so their skin can breathe in the sun, but when noodling you should never wear loose clothing. The danger is of course that you’ll get stuck to a tree branch on the bottom and that can be extremely dangerous. That doesn’t mean you should be naked, just wear tight clothes that get glued to the skin, long sleeves and gloves are really recommend if you don’t want scars.

Note: This is where you can legally noodle, sometimes with restrictions on the species or sizes of fish, and on the specific methods that may be employed: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia,Texas, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Kentucky, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Wisconsin.

Photo credit: Flickr CC