What is Noodling for Catfish?

Catfish noodling is a fishing method. The most unusual American fishing activity has to be catfish noodling. Many fishermen don’t even consider it fishing. It’s no surprise that this is a hotly debated issue in the world of freshwater sportsmen. Southerners and Midwesterners spend their summers elbow-deep in water and waist-deep in massive catfish. This is as extreme as it sounds and is prohibited by law in most of the country.

Catfish noodling

How Do You Noodle a Catfish?

Noodling, or hand-fishing for catfish, is a common pastime in the south of the United States. To catch a catfish, the noodler will stick their hand into a hole they’ve dug. Hogging is also known as tickling, grabbing, grappling, and dogging, amongst other regional variants. These variants are most common in the American South and Midwest.

Although “noodling” is most commonly associated with catching flathead catfish today, the term has been used to describe any type of hand fishing. Unfortunately, we can only speculate as to where this term first appeared. Although it is less common, the term noodling can also refer to other, more unusual forms of fishing that don’t involve using a speargun, rod, bait, reels, etc.

Where Did the “Noodling” of Catfish Come From?

Traditional American noodling technique is centuries old. In 1775, Irish immigrant, trader, and historian James Adair documented the practice of hand-fishing for catfish in the rivers of South Carolina. To catch salmon and trout by hand, many 18th-century Scots emigrated to the United States and learned a tickling technique.

In the United States, noodling reached its zenith during the Great Depression, when it was the simplest way for low-income families to put healthy food on the table. Many states have banned noodling due to its dangers to anglers and its negative impact on catfish populations, which occurs during the spawning season. Noodling for catfish is illegal in all but four states due to the high number of deaths that result from the practice.

While noodling’s popularity grew, it remained in the shadows of the fishing world. Such that the South and the Midwest appeared to experience a noodling renaissance around the turn of the millennium. Twelve additional states legalized noodling between 2001 and 2018, acknowledging the sport’s legitimacy and the sport’s deep roots in fishing culture.

Currently, the practice of noodling is legal in the states of Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. Due to this explosive expansion, many catfish anglers have swapped their heavy rods, limb lines, and stink bait for swimsuits and the same kind of bait.

What’s the Deal With Catfish Noodling? Why is Noodling Common for Catfish?

Catfish are noodled because they don’t have teeth. The mouth of a catfish is rough as sandpaper. That’s helpful when cats are out on a hunt, but it’s easier for noodlers to coax them from hiding places.

How to Noodle Large Catfish

    • Catfish spawning season runs throughout the summer, and people start searching for their favorite honey holes for this year’s trophy as soon as the weather turns warm. Noodlers go after only the biggest and most dominant catfish. They specifically target large males guarding their eggs after breeding.

    • Wherever a female catfish can safely protect her eggs, you’ll find a nesting female. Some good places to look are under rocks, in caves, on logs, in banks, and even at boat ramps. When a noodler sets up shop in one area, they seal off any possible means of egress for the fish. Most of the time, one person takes on the fish while the others help to block its path and watch out for danger.

    • When it’s time to breed, catfish will abandon the area they’ve been inhabiting and move a few miles upstream. They use this time to build their nest in a hidden spot that suits their needs. They use any dense material near the water.

Wearing a Glove While Catfish Noodling

Everyone has their favorite way of fishing. There are as many ways to catch fish, some of which require more preparation than others. The first recorded sightings of Native Americans show them hand-grabbing their dinner with clothes tied around their arms. These days, the most popular way to go fishing is by wearing sleeves that protect your skin from sandpaper bites.

Risks of Noodling Catfish

Large, breeding males are vulnerable to noodling because it attacks them while they are guarding their eggs. After being taken, fish eggs have no chance of survival. Unprotected catfish eggs develop algae and die, killing thousands of potential catfish generations yearly, according to a spokesman for the Missouri Department of Conservation. Catfish are frequently harmed when they are caught by hand. The most common places for a fish to be grabbed are its jaw, gill plate, and guts; all three are essential to the fish’s survival. Even if the fish survives, its thrashing around could crush the eggs. In sum, noodling is great for catching fish but terrible for maintaining fish populations. It could be a helpful tool in the fight against invasive catfish populations, which are a problem in some regions of Oklahoma, Georgia, and the Carolinas.


Noodling for catfish is a sport that many people enjoy fishing for. Noodling is when you use your hands to try and catch as many fish as possible. It can be an exciting sport to watch and a lot of fun to participate in yourself. If you’re looking to catfish, noodling is an interesting way to start. Not only is it a fun activity, but it’s an extremely effective way to catch fish. By using your hands and letting the instincts of a catfish take over, you’re more likely to land a big catch.

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