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Catfish Noodling – The Complete Guide

Catfish noodling is one of the most unique types of fishing in America, and interestingly, many anglers don’t even class it as fishing at all.

Catfish Noodling

Throughout the South and across the Midwest, it is not uncommon for people to spend their summers half-submerged in the water trying to get their hands on Catfish. 

This is something that is illegal in most states, which is why you should ensure that you are following all of the rules and regulations that are in place in your local area before you take part.

This is quite an extreme side of fishing, and it can often be a controversial topic among freshwater enthusiasts. 

freshwater catfish swimming in the water

If this is enough to catch your attention, you might be left wondering more about Catfish noodling and what it is. You might also be curious to learn why this is such a controversial activity.

The good news is, we are here to help explain it all to you. Just keep reading to find out more.

What is Noodling?

In simple terms, noodling involves finding a Catfish that is hiding under the water. You are supposed to put your arm into its bare moth and pull it out of the water using nothing but your hands.


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Your fingers will be used as the bait, and the bite of the fish is considered to be the hook. Due to this, Catfish noodling has also been called hand fishing or grabbling.


Where Did Catfish Noodling Come From?

Catfish noodling has been around for quite a long time, and most likely first occurred when someone thought that it would be a great idea to simply pull one out of the water using their bare hands. This might not sound like the most ideal way to fish, and it isn’t for many people, but it is a common occurrence. 


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It is widely known that this method was used by Native Americans, who had nailed this activity by the time that the first European explorers had arrived. Some settlers also learned how to do it themselves, but it didn’t become popular until the time of the Great Depression.


This is because it was used as one of few ways to put food on the table. Since this time, noodling has become a tradition in many parts of the country.

However, this isn’t something that is limited to America, as cultures all over the world have developed their own ways of catching fish with their hands. 

Where is Catfish Noodling the Most Popular?

Catfish noodling is something that is really popular along the path of the Mississippi River, from Wisconsin all the way to Louisiana. This activity is legal in 16 states, which are mostly within the South and Midwest regions.


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More states are starting to legalise this every year, and the most recent addition was West Virginia, who made it legal in June of 2018.

Where is Catfish Noodling Illegal?

Catfish noodling is illegal in most states, but it is legal across the majority of the SOuth and Midwest. However, these are not the only places where it is popular, only where it is legal.

Catfish noodling is legal across most of the South and Midwest. That’s not the only place it’s popular, only where it is legal. Outlaw fishing is something that has become a big problem in many states. 

Why Are Catfish Used for Noodling?

If you know anything at all about Catfish, you wouldn’t think that it would be the best fish to manhandle. This is a fish that can weigh more than 40 pounds, and they are known to be aggressive and slimy to the touch. 

However, there is a good reason why people specifically look out for Catfish, and this is because they do not have teeth. The mouth of a Catfish is like sandpaper, and it is designed to grip onto anything that goes into it.

This is to stop it from coming back out again. This makes it really easy to pull a Catfish out of the water.

How Do You Noodle for Catfish?

Now that you know the ins and outs of noodling, if this is something that you want to try for yourself there are a few things that you need to know first. We are going to tell you exactly what you need to know below.

Timing is Important

Noodlers are not looking for any old Catfish, they are specifically looking for large males that are guarding eggs after breeding. Catfish spawning season will typically last for the duration of the summer, so as soon as the weather turns warm, people will usually start Catfish noodling.

Find a Hole

The smallest creeks will usually be home to the biggest Catfish. Catfish will nest almost anywhere that they can easily guard their eggs. Places like rocks, logs, caves, banks, and more are all great places to look.

Once a noodler settles on a spot, they will usually block all of the potential exits in order to stop the fish from escaping. Usually, one person will tackle the fish, and others will help to block its path and ensure that no issues occur.

Protective Clothing

You don’t have to go noodling with no protection. More often than not, people will wear special sleeves that can help to prevent things like river rash, which involves cuts and scrapes that occur from the bite of a Catfish.

Interestingly, the first recorded sightings of Native Americans hand-grabbing fish mention them wrapping their clothes around their arms for protection.


This is when things can get difficult. You will need to test the location and feel around for a Catfish. Once you have found one, you should put your arm in further until the fish bites. Once this happens, you should hold on.

After this, you will need to put your efforts into fulling the fish out of the hole and onto land. 

Catfish Noodling Controversy

There is a lot of controversy surrounding Catfish noodling, which is the main reason why it is illegal in so many different states. There is no law against catching Catfish in general, but hand-fishing does have its fair share of criticism and controversy. 

Some people don’t like the fact that the fish don’t have the chance to escape and are forced to bite in order to protect their eggs. However, for most people, the issue is that hand-fishing is dangerous for those that take part in it and for the fish.

The Impact of Catfish Noodling

Catching Catfish does have an impact on the waters that these fish typically live in. Noodling specifically involves catching large breeder males while they are guarding their eggs, and the harvesting of these fish leaves the eggs unprotected.

These eggs will usually develop algae and die soon after their protector is taken away. So, this activity wipes out thousands of the next generation of Catfish.

Not everyone will decide to keep the Catfish after they have caught them, but this doesn’t have a happy ending either. Catching a Catfish by hand will usually damage the fish. The most common places to grab the fish are at its jaw, its gill plate, and its guts.

Damaging any of these things will usually mean that the fish will not survive. Even if the fish did manage to survive, all the moving about during the noodling process can lead to the destruction of the eggs.

Overall, while noodling might be a good way to harvest fish, it is the worst way to ensure the protection of the Catfish population.

The one positive is that it can help with invasive Catfish populations, especially in parts of Oklahoma, Georgia, and the Carolinas, where invasive Catfish threaten local fish stocks.

Is Catfish Noodling Dangerous?

Yes, Catfish noodling is an activity that can be dangerous at times. Attempting to wrestle a 40lb fish out of a small hole while you are partly submerged in water will come with its own set of risks.


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If your clothing was to get caught under the water, you could easily drown. This is why you should never go alone, and you should always have others around you to help in case something goes wrong. 

As well as this, there are also lots of other dangers that are hiding under the surface of the water. Larger Catfish are known for putting up a fight, and they are even capable of breaking your bones.

Some other things like snapping turtles, muskrats, beavers, venomous snakes, and even alligators can also be hiding in the water. Obviously, none of these things are what you want to encounter.


There are many arguments for and against Catfish noodling, but many who take part in it see it as a tradition from the past that they are honoring. More often than not, their families have been doing it for generations. On the other hand, this activity is a threat to Catfish populations.

Unfortunately, this is something that happens in many remote places, which means that people will keep doing it, even when it is illegal. Research has shown that around 9% of anglers have tried noodling, even though it is illegal.

So, people are breaking the law to take part in this activity, which comes with its own set of issues.

It is up to you to make your own decision surrounding whether or not this is something that you want to take part in, but you should carefully consider the implications of doing so.

You should also take into account the legality of the situation, and make sure that you are not getting on the wrong side of the law.

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