Ah, a quiet day of fishing. There’s nothing quite like it. Bring friends or family, or simply enjoy the serene quiet of the water, then unwind. Paddle out or sit on the pier, bring a cup of coffee or a cold beer, and wait for the fish to tug on the line. Even if you don’t catch anything, it’s the experience that truly counts.
Of course, all that goes for catching fish the traditional way, with a fishing rod and lure and relatively low ambition. But what about noodling? There really is no passive way to go about fishing like this. The southern art of catching catfish with your bare hands, also known as catfisting, graveling, and—my favorite—cat-daddling, takes a certain set of skills, and a willingness to have your whole arm swallowed by underwater monsters of varying size.
So how does someone go about noodling? First you’ve got to go underwater to look for a catfish hole. Then, you’ve got to work up the courage to shove your whole hand in there. The rest, as they say, is history. Ideally, the catfish will take a big, defensive but thankfully toothless bite of your hand before you grab onto its gills and pull it out of the water. Depending on the size of the beast, you may need to use both hands. It’s also advisable that you pick a noodling partner—someone who’s crazy enough to join you on your crazy equipment-less fishing mission—to help you bring in some of the larger fish you may catch.
As you’ll see in the CBS Early Show segment above, noodling isn’t legal everywhere, and has only been legalized in Texas within the last 5 years. Many are concerned that simply pulling the fish out of their habitats will severely deplete population. That said, illegal or not, noodlers will noodle. Before its legalization, Texans enthusiastic about the sport would illegally cat-daddle in the middle of the night.
Of course, there’s competitive noodling too. Most prominently, there’s the annual Okie Noodling Tournament in Oklahoma, which draws enthusiastic noodlers from all over, looking to catch the biggest catfish with just their hands. Winners are judged by the weight of their largest catch. In 2013, former cheerleader Lucy Millsap became the first woman to win the competition at 19-years old. Her winning fish weighed a whopping 72 pounds! When asked by her dad about whether she wanted to compete in the woman’s division, Millsap responded, “Heck no.” She would go on to say, “I don’t want to fish in the women’s division. I want to beat the men.” And so she did.
The yearly competition is still going strong, and while this year’s festivities have already passed (you can check out the ad for it below) there’s sure to be another one next June. That should give any aspiring noodlers out there ample time to brush up on the sport and pick some skills up of their own. Watch your hands!