Grit Blogs > Arrows and Minnows

Noodling for Catfish

By Caleb Regan, Managing Editor

Tags: fishing, wildlife, country living, South,

A portrait of the author, Caleb ReganBack in college, my brother’s friend loaned us a documentary that we became enthralled with for a couple of weeks. We couldn’t get enough of Okie Noodling, a Bradley Beesley documentary about the peculiar practice – also called grabblin’ – of catching catfish with your bare hands, and also the culture that surrounds the method.

The method, for those who don’t know, is basically for the fisherman to stick his hand in a hole – be it a crevice between rocks on the bottom or a small cavern along the bank of a pond, lake or river. Catfish like to hole up here, and when you put your hand in, the catfish will latch on. Then it’s a fight to the surface.

I strongly recommend that movie to anyone curious about the sport or about how admitted rednecks behave. And it’s more about how hilarious rednecks can be in a good, innocent way rather than in any morally wrong way. (The plumber is my favorite of the noodlers. You’ll know him when you see him.)

Shot in Beesley’s home state of Oklahoma, the noodlers in his video not only embrace their rural reputation, they flaunt it.

Looking around YouTube now, you can find noodling videos of both men and women. A buddy sent me a link to “Girls gone grabblin” earlier, and that led me to do a video search for noodling. This sport is more popular than I ever imagined, but I just can’t believe women are partaking.

Inspired by Native Americans, this method of catfish fishing is extreme. Catfish are a big, powerful fish, and people have drowned by being held down while noodling.

I would still do it, though. I want to someday. Catching a big catfish with your bare hands has to be quite a rush. My question, though, is how does one come upon new holes for grabblin’? Trial and error wouldn’t work, just to go down a bank feeling along. At least it wouldn’t work for me. I don’t need to catch catfish with my hands bad enough to risk losing fingers or a hand because of a snapping turtle, or getting bit by a copperhead.

But if someone else had some holes that they knew of, or maybe if the water was clear enough to snorkel and see clearly, I’d give it a try.

The only problem, before you run out and jump into your ponds and lakes looking for crevices and holes, is that the only state I’m aware of which it is legal in is Oklahoma.

First of all, has anyone out there ever done this or have friends who have, and second of all, how did you find your spots?

Caleb Regan and his wife, Gwen, live in rural Douglas County, Kansas, where they enjoy hunting, fishing, and raising and growing as much of their own food as they can. Caleb can’t imagine a better scenario than getting to work on a rural lifestyle magazine as a profession, and then living that same lifestyle right in the heartland of America. Connect with him on .