My spouse, Michelle, chased my little brother out the entrance door, vowing to whip his butt with a spatula. It was the one weapon she might discover to swimsuit her so early within the morning. Matt had woken up and reluctantly advised her that he’d ruined a brand new set of sheets on the visitor mattress due to the open, oozing catfish chunk on his arm.
That fish was price a beating, although. It was an 80-pound flathead that Matt wrestled out by hand from beneath a shallow rock on the mouth of the river. It took two of us to carry the behemoth out of the water for a photograph, and solely after we launched it did Matt say, “Dang, I’m bleeding.”
We caught that fish 4 summers in the past, and it’s nonetheless the largest flathead we’ve ever encountered.
Michelle purchased new sheets and made Matt sleep on the sofa, however he didn’t care. He swears that exhibiting off the scars on his arm helped woo his fiancée, who joined us for her first ever noodling journey final summer season. She caught two good flatheads.
We Brantleys have been noodling collectively for greater than a decade. Michelle took our son, Anse, noodling three days earlier than he was born, and each June and July, we host a rotation of nieces, nephews, in-laws, and pals, all of whom are desperate to wrestle a flathead. On the finish of it, just a few are simply as desperate to go house and by no means come again. However most can’t wait to do it once more.
Even seasoned noodlers are just a little afraid of noodling. It’s at the least half the enjoyable. Should you do it proper, you’re going to get lower, overwhelmed, and bruised. Possibly whipped with a spatula. However you’ll most likely additionally catch the largest catfish of your life and turn into the household nobody messes with at reunions. To actually make your summer season full, you have to get your arm bit by large catfish.
→ It was pushing 95 levels on June 16, 2014. Michelle was 9 months pregnant, and adamant about going noodling with the remainder of the household. I drew the road at her really grabbing a fish throughout her third trimester, however she wouldn’t hear of being left house. Her stomach, lined in a camo bathing swimsuit stretched to the restrict, seemed like a slider turtle as she bobbed round within the lake on her again, relishing a break from the warmth and cooling her swollen ankles. We wrangled some large catfish that day. On June 19, our son was born.
However the principle factor so that you can bear in mind about this story is the warmth. Noodling doesn’t take off till the water temperature hits 80-plus levels. That’s the set off that places flatheads on the nest, and it takes a stretch of blistering summer season warmth to get there. Our season right here in Kentucky opens June 1, simply concerning the time the youngsters are getting out of college, however usually the noodling doesn’t get good till per week or two later, once we’re planning my boy’s celebration.
Channel cats, blues, and flatheads all spawn in underwater holes and cavities (into which noodlers stick their arms to seize the fish). These could be the hollowed underside of a ship ramp, a rockpile, a logjam, or a washed-out financial institution beneath the roots of a tree. Like most noodlers, we’ve established a milk run of fine spots that we examine yr after yr—and we’re all the time looking out for extra.
Some noodlers sink their very own constructions, like 55-gallon drums or coffin-shaped picket bins. That works too, however discovering and reaching right into a pure gap on the financial institution is decidedly extra scary—and actually, why are you doing this if to not get good and scared?
Flatheads spawn in waves, and so the productive fishing ebbs and flows all through summer season as soon as the water is heat sufficient. Early within the spawning cycle, it’s widespread to search out two fish in a single gap, however the females depart shortly after, leaving the males to defend the nest.
Whether or not that nest is a hole log or sunken water heater, the concept is to run your arm inside, wiggle your fingers in entrance of an ill-tempered flathead’s face, and await it to swallow your hand. Then the battle begins.
Household Tip: Hours of diving for catfish and climbing out and in of the boat in 90-degree warmth works up an urge for food. And if in case you have youngsters with you, they’re going to get fussy sooner or later. When Anse acts up, I hand him a hen leg—and seize a thigh for myself. There isn’t a higher boat meals than a bucket of KFC.
Play It Secure
→ Most newcomers are afraid of encountering some international creature hiding in a gap, like a snake, turtle, or beaver. Avoiding these issues is simple sufficient as a result of all of these critters should breathe air. By no means attain right into a gap that’s not fully underwater, and also you’ll most likely be simply nice.
Noodling is most enjoyable with a flotilla of johnboats stuffed with keen rednecks. Ridicule, peer stress, and disgrace are efficient motivators for reluctant noodlers, making it enjoyable for the entire household. However that is additionally a workforce sport for security causes. Getting caught underneath a rock and drowning is a far greater menace than snakes. After we’re fishing, there are at the least three of us within the water at a time, and not more than two of us dive without delay. The third individual’s job is to be the spotter—to know the place everyone seems to be always, and to dive and examine on anybody who’s been underwater too lengthy.
→ I’ve noodling kin and buddies weighing from 80 to 250 kilos. They’re youngsters, males, and ladies who’re college students, mechanics, farmers, artists, advertising and marketing professionals, salesmen, engineers, and lecturers. I’ve seen 12-year-olds who wouldn’t watch a bobber for 5 minutes take to grabbing catfish like their summer season break relied on it. All of them love being exterior and on the water—and deep down, all of them crave a little violence.
It doesn’t matter what you weigh or what number of weights you carry, in case you attempt to outmuscle a 50-pound flathead 6 ft underneath the water, he’ll simply roll round your hand and possibly break a finger earlier than escaping. Bodily power is okay, however correct method is much extra necessary when wrestling catfish. Whether or not your child is sufficiently old for noodling is finally your name, however from my expertise, so long as an individual—man, girl, or baby—is a proficient swimmer and robust sufficient to choose the fish up, she or he must be good to go. The secret is realizing the right methodology.
Catfish battle with their heads and tails. Subdue each ends, and you’ll usually noodle a flathead with out struggling greater than a scratch or two. If the tail will get away from you, the fish will peel the pores and skin off your arm. And in case you let go of the pinnacle, you’ll have to elucidate it to your loved ones, who’re anticipating fried catfish for dinner. That’s method worse than any bodily hurt you would possibly endure.
When your hand is in a fish’s mouth, step one is to pay money for the decrease jaw and pin the fish to the underside. That may maintain him from rolling. Subsequent, slip your different hand beneath the gill plate, being cautious to not harm the gills themselves.
Ease the fish out of the outlet and pull his chin tight in opposition to your chest—once more to maintain him from rolling. Because the tail comes out of the outlet, wrap your knees across the fish’s midsection and cross your ankles. Executed proper, the fish’s tail can be fanning gently between your calves. You’ve all however obtained him at that time. Worm your solution to the financial institution or boat (or have a partner or child pull you if the water is deep) and escape the stringer.
Household Tip: To assist youngsters who’re too little to seize a fish be a part of the motion, we regularly string a fish underwater, guarantee life jackets are tight, after which hand them the stringer. An enormous flathead can almost put a 6-year-old on aircraft.
Beware Massive Blue
→ Blue cats can outweigh flatheads, and any noodler who’s encountered an enormous one will converse of it with quiet reverence. Blues have a vicious nature and a strong chunk. Tangle with a 20-plus-pounder, and you’ll plan on having some scars to point out off later. Fortuitously, blues spawn earlier in spring, when the water temperature is within the excessive 70s, and are principally completed by the point the flatheads start nesting. If you wish to keep away from blues, simply wait a pair weeks.
Noodling Mysteries Revealed
Aren’t there snakes down there?
Snakes must breathe air, so not underneath the water. However that’s a large cottonmouth on the financial institution proper over there.
Ever had a snapping turtle chunk you?
Not but, however one time a Four-inch musk turtle bit me on the pinkie.
Does a catfish chunk harm?
Not more than laying your naked arm in opposition to a belt sander.
Ever seen anybody actually get harm?
One time I took a tattooed-up bodybuilder who was into “excessive” sports activities. We had been preventing a 40-pounder, and it tail-slapped him behind the pinnacle, inflicting him to smash his face proper on the gunnel of my boat. I didn’t notice the human nostril held that a lot blood.
What scares a noodler probably the most?
Crankbaits, since flatheads generally steal them from bass fishermen after which carry them round awhile.
What’s the largest flathead you’ve ever seen noodled?
Eighty kilos. A buddy of mine in Mississippi caught and weighed a 98-pounder, however I didn’t see it.
How do you maintain your breath that lengthy?
Follow within the bathtub.
What’s in a Identify?
→ Quite a bit on this case. My first noodling journey was in Greenwood, Miss., the place they name it hand-grabbin’. Once I mentioned I used to be enthusiastic about going “noodling,” they known as me a Yankee and threatened to go away me on the financial institution of the Yazoo River.
I’ve additionally heard it known as grabbling, tickling, hogging, stumping, snatching, and easily hand-fishing. Should you’re an out-of-state noodling visitor, realizing the native lingo is second in significance solely to realizing the native laws, since being known as a Yankee is nearly as dangerous as getting a ticket.
Is This A lot Enjoyable Authorized?
→ Like correct barbecue and good whiskey, noodling is a Southern factor, with only some exceptions. At present, some type of noodling is allowed in 13 states, from Maryland and Illinois to Alabama and Texas. Seasons and laws fluctuate, however most states have strict limits on the variety of trophy-class cats that may be stored. The regs are sometimes obscure, however you’d higher know them by coronary heart as a result of you’ll appeal to consideration.
Even the place authorized, some query whether or not this a lot enjoyable might be moral. Massive catfish have turn into the darlings of an outspoken group of purist anglers, and a few of their considerations over noodling are legitimate. We do, in spite of everything, goal trophy catfish throughout the spawn. However our crew—and nearly each different noodling household I do know—releases at the least 80 p.c of the fish we catch, together with nearly the entire 30-plus-pounders. You simply don’t want to scrub many fish of this measurement to fill your freezer. I’m suspicious of any rod-and-reel angler who claims to launch a better proportion of catfish.
RELATED: Video: It’s Hot. Go Catfish Noodling
As for focusing on fish throughout the spawn, properly, that’s not distinctive to noodling. Loads of anglers goal spawning bass, panfish, steelhead, and quite a lot of different species. Fisheries biologists in noodling nation will often inform you that we aren’t hurting the catfish inhabitants, nor are we killing a big proportion of the trophies. Accountable members and science-based mostly laws are the important thing, no matter what you’re catching or capturing.
Actually, it is a debate over what’s socially acceptable, like arguing over dry flies and redworms. Should you want a center-console boat and 1000’s of ’ price of kit to catch an enormous catfish, it’s uncertain any noodler you ask will give a flying rattling, as long as you purchase your fishing license and observe the regulation. They might, nonetheless, recognize the identical courtesy in return.
Cat Bellies, Anybody?
→ Exterior of the bones and guts, you possibly can eat close to eachfactor on a flathead. The fillets are alternative, however the stomach meat is even higher. Lower it off in a boneless slab, trim away the membranes, after which slice it into lengthy, finger-diameter strips. Whether or not you pan-fry it or deep-fry it, it’s gentle and attractive.
Flatheads even have two large hunks of meat extending from behind their eyeballs right down to their cheeks. Eradicating that’s best in case you first make a pilot lower, after which pull the pores and skin away with pliers. That exposes the meat, which you’ll be able to then fillet away from the cranium. The cheeks are just a little chewier than the fillets or stomach meat—however scrumptious nonetheless.
The Noodling Household’s Gear Listing
For some cause, all noodlers really feel compelled to chop the sleeves out of their favourite T-shirts. Should you search acceptance, you’d finest do the identical.
Hold the highest of your head from getting sunburned. I like camo, however something with skulls, fireplace, or barbecue ads can also be O.Okay.
The reside properly in your fancy bass boat isn’t sufficiently big for the fish you’ll be catching.
These are excellent for whelping a reluctant first-timer proper out of the boat.
Give your mitts just a little safety from a thrashing cat’s jaws.
You discover holes along with your ft, and footwear provide the phantasm of safety from alligator snappers. Significantly, footwear will defend your ft from sharp rocks, metallic edges, occasional glass, and so forth.
Some fish den up out of arm’s attain. Assuming it’s authorized the place you’re fishing, use a uninteresting painter’s hook on the tip of a brush deal with to tug them to you by the gill plate.
We’ve launched a lot of bikini-clad women to the thrill of noodling, and never as soon as have my buddies complained about them being in the way in which. Michelle recommends swimsuits with shoulder straps, although, as a result of flatheads could cause wardrobe malfunctions worthy of the Tremendous Bowl.