The first time I experienced the fear and excitement of watching someone noodle for catfish, it scared the heck out of me. Noodling, or grabblin as it's called in some circles, is fishing for large catfish with nothing but your hands and maybe a pint of Jack Daniels. It's a dangerous sport!
That day I was fishing on the Tennessee River for anything that would bite. About a hundred yards downstream from where I sat, there were two men looking up and down the bank searching for something. As I watched, one of them waded into the water with his clothes on, and began slowly walking down the bank, feeling for something on the bottom of the river. His head started gradually disappearing under the now muddy water.
In less than a minute the man shot to the surface in an explosion of water, his arm stuck in the mouth of an enormous catfish which was squirming and flopping around, fully intent on escape. From my vantage point I couldn't tell who was winning the battle, the fisherman or the fish! The fisherman was trying to stand in water that was up to his neck, holding the fish close to his body, while trying to move to the bank.
If drowning the man who was clutching the fish's gills through the fish's mouth, was part of his escape plan, the catfish appeared to be winning the fight. The man went back under once again, clutching his struggling prize.
Once again they exploded to the surface with water spraying everywhere as the man and fish each battled for their life. I was sure the fish was going to win because the man kept slipping on wet rocks and falling back into the water, but hanging onto the fish for dear life. The man in the water kept yelling for his partner to help him! Finally the other fisherman carefully waded into the water and tried to help his buddy who by this time was completely worn out.
When the second fisherman finally figured out where to grab hold of the catfish with out pulling it out of his buddy's hands, they both were able to bring the fish in and dump him on the bank far enough from the water for him to roll back in and get away.
Raising his right arm, which was scratched and bleeding from being gnawed on by the fish, the conquering fisherman let out a screeching rebel yell. "Oooooowahhoooo!" I later learned that this was a semi-official yell of every red blooded southern noodler.
I ran over to the two guys and the catfish and voiced my congratulations! This was one humongous fish! Grinning from ear to ear, they told me that this was a little one, only about 45 pounds! It may have been small by their standards, but to me it was monstrous!
I've been a fisherman most of my life, but I will have to admit that despite not having lived a completely clean and virtuous life, I still have most of my brain cells. I'll even acknowledge that I've never had the desire to stick my hand in a dark and spooky hole under the water where there could be a catfish. There could also be a snake or snapping turtle, not happy with an uninvited guest sticking their hands where they don't belong!
In late spring and early summer, catfish spawn. The females find a suitable site in water 3 -20 feet deep where she can lay her eggs undisturbed. Sometimes an old tree, a brush pile or a hole under submerged rocks near the shore, can hold enough cover for the mother to be to lay her eggs. After they're deposited in the bed, the big male fish come in and protect the eggs until they're hatched. This is the time of year noodlers find big fish!
The sport, if you can call it that, has attracted quite a few participants in the last several years. There is even a video out that has a catchy title, "Girls Gone Grabblin". There are actually women who go out and wrestle these gigantic fish from their nests, obviously not caring if they lose an arm or even a finger to these monsters.
I've even heard rumors about noodlin becoming a Olympic event. If that ever happens, I have a word of advice for anyone crazy enough to even get in the water. The advice is this: You don't get any points for dragging a water moccasin out of his hole!