It’s not often I blindly stick my hand into a dark crevice, hoping to feel something bite me, but a girl will do silly things for a catfish. I don’t know if it’s the whiskers or the shear girth of cats that get me, but whatever it is brought me to an undisclosed (but legal) location in Kansas to try my luck at noodling.
Let me just preface this column with the fact that I have a newfound, unadulterated respect for noodlers. Noodling is an all-that-is-man (or woman), true-blue, no-bathroom-breaks, get-your-head-straight form of fishing. So why did I try it? The same reason any teenage boy did anything, ever – it sounded like a good idea at the time.
My preparations for the morning’s festivities were just like any other day. I got some food in my belly, put on some comfy clothes, swiped on some mascara and threw on a ball cap. I should have been shaking in my boots, gloving up, saying prayers to Saints that probably don’t even exist yet, because naïve little me was heading hand-first into the murky, mysterious world that is hand fishing.
Unfamiliar and inexperienced, I intelligently tagged along with a very patient and fearless guide, Toby. Now Toby, who has been noodling many, many times, was kind enough to give me some pointers on the way out to the location, which we will not name.
Rule 1: If you feel an air pocket at any point in time, immediately remove your hand. (Unbeknownst to me, apparently creatures that we don’t want biting our hands, such as beavers, like to inhabit areas that give them some breathing room. Who knew?)
Rule 2: Cover all your bases. When these catfish perceive something as a threat, they will try and find the nearest possible exit as quickly as possible. For this very reason, a noodler must block all the available escape routes.
Rule 3: When the fish takes a bite (and it will)- DON’T LET GO. Your first instinct will be to pull your arm back, removing yourself from the uncomfortable situation. In this particular instance, a noodler must do the exact opposite of what his or her brain tells them to and maintain a firm grip.
|This channel catfish was fished out from underneath a rock while guarding a nest|
of eggs. Since flathead catfish are the only legal species during the handfishing
season, this fish was released back to it’s den shortly after the photo was taken.
Now I’m no expert, but I think there is one small thing that Toby left out of his “crash course” in noodling – I think to be a noodler, you have to be just a little bit “off your rocker.” Some might say I’m crazy for trying it, but for those that know me, it would have been crazy for me not to. And although no behemoths were fished out that day, this won’t be the last time I stick my hand in the den of the almighty catfish. The feeling of that silky spot on the ground that’s been worn smooth from nesting, the echoing boom a fish sounds as it defensively slams up against a rock, and the hospitality of my guide Toby are just a few of the memories I’ll take with me… along with all ten of my fish sticks.