What Is Catfish Noodling? A Quick Guide to Catch Catfish by Hand!

Catfish are one of the most sought-after fish among anglers around the world. However, they are challenging to catch and there are various techniques you can use to catch them. One particular fishing technique that has gained a lot of popularity recently is known as noodling.

What is catfish noodling? Catfish noodling is a fishing technique where you stick your arm in a catfish’s mouth when it hiding underwater, then drag the catfish out. In this case, your fingers act as bait, so you need to be wearing protective gloves. Noodling is also referred to as hand-fishing or cat-daddling. 

Keep reading for more information about the history of catfish noodling and a step-by-step guide on how to noodle for catfish.

What Is Catfish Noodling? – A Brief History on Catfish Noodling

a photo of an angler holding a catfish to show what catfish noodling is

Catfish noodling is a fishing technique where you stick your arm in a catfish’s mouth while it’s hiding underwater, then drag the catfish out. In this case, your arm is your gear, and your fingers basically act as bait.

This technique is also referred to as hand-fishing or cat-daddling, and it’s mostly used to catch catfish during their spawning period.

I’m sure a lot of you might be wondering where catfish noodling came from. The truth is, catfish noodling has been a thing ever since people could swim. The first ever people in recorded history to noodle with Native Americans.

Some Europeans saw this act and tried to imitate it, but it didn’t really become popular until the Great Depression. During that time, people had to do the most to get food on the table, and noodling was the perfect solution for that.

Many people speculate that noodling is mainly an American thing, but it is not. Noodling is practiced among many cultures in the world.

It’s almost as popular in Europe. The only difference between cultures depends on the size of the fish noodlers catch.

One of the first records of noodling was marked by historian James Adair. He described Indians grabbing catfish. Modern hand-grabbing for catfish has many different names. In the southern part of the United States, it can be called hogging, tickling, graveling, stumping, and even dogging.

Why are Catfish the Best Noodling Targets?

Catfish teeth to show why they're prime noodling target
Catfish teeth are the real reason they’re prime noodling target

Some people might think it is quite strange that people would want to noodle for catfish. Looking at their size, they do not seem like such a welcoming type of fish to noodle. They can weigh over 40 pounds, and they can get quite aggressive and dirty. So why do people choose to noodle catfish?

The main reason people choose to noodle catfish is that they do not have pointed teeth like those of sharks. Their mouths are more like sandpaper, and that makes them easier to grip. It helps catfish when hunting, but it also helps noodlers when grabbing them from underneath hiding places.

Another reason people choose catfish to noodle is that catching quite a large-sized fish can be a huge achievement. It is something to be proud of among the catfishing community, especially if it’s a big catch. Noodling often, if not always, guarantees a big catch since anglers go for male catfish. 

Is Catfish Noodling Illegal?

Noodling takes place in many states even though people are divided on whether this technique is ethical or not. There’s also a lot of debate about how dangerous it is. That’s why noodling is illegal in 34 states.

Here is a list of states where noodling is illegal:

  1. Arizona
  2. California
  3. Colorado
  4. Connecticut
  5. Delaware
  6. Florida
  7. Georgia
  8. Idaho
  9. Illinois
  10. Indiana
  11. Iowa
  12. Kansas
  13. Kentucky
  14. Louisiana
  15. Maine
  16. Maryland
  17. Massachusetts
  18. Michigan
  19. Minnesota
  20. Missouri
  21. Montana
  22. Nebraska
  23. Nevada
  24. New Hampshire
  25. New Jersey
  26. New Mexico
  27. New York
  28. North Carolina
  29. North Dakota
  30. Ohio
  31. Oregon
  32. Pennsylvania
  33. Rhode Island
  34. South Carolina

There are various reasons why catfish noodling is illegal in these states, including the disruption of the catfish ecosystems and the potential danger to people and other fish. In addition, stealing catfish from their natural habitat is viewed as inhumane.

Many anglers do not enjoy the fact that noodling is legal in some states. Since catfish noodling is getting more popular in some areas, it ruins the catfish’s reproduction cycle, which puts anglers at risk of not being able to find catfish when fishing at peak water temperatures.  

Where Is Catfish Noodling Legal?

On the other hand, some states allow noodling. Some only allow it during a specific time frame, while others allow it all year long. Catfish noodling is still dangerous, so these states provide a warning before you intend to go.

Some states such as Alabama and Arkansas have made catfish noodling legal all year long. While states such as Oklahoma, Mississippi, and Texas have made catfish noodling legal during specific time frames.

For example, in Oklahoma, catfish is only legal from the 1st of June till the 31st of August, and the fish must be 20 inches long. Likely, in Mississippi, noodling is only legal from sunset to sunrise. Catfish must be 30 inches long. Both states require you to fish in legal areas as well.

There are only a few states where noodling is legal. Many surveys have been done on this matter, and the vast majority agree that it is inhumane to noodle for catfish after learning what this practice involves. 

Is Catfish Noodling Cruel?

Many have wondered if catfish noodling is inhumane, and some consider it to be so for several reasons.

Catfish noodling affects the catfish reproduction cycle. Since catfish are vulnerable during their spawning periods, noodling for them during that time is considered cruel as you will be stealing the catfish from their natural habitat and disrupting their natural spawning process.

What Are the Dangers of Catfish Noodling?

Catfish noodling can be very dangerous for many anglers. To be a good noodler, you’ll also need to be a good swimmer, even in shallow bodies of water.

Some catfish have been known to bite on people’s arms when they are being grabbed from the mouth. Catfish are a very strong type of fish, especially when they are threatened, so it’s easy for catfish to pull people underwater, which may result in drowning.

It’s very dangerous to go catfish noodling alone. If you’re planning to noodle, it’s best to take someone with you to be able to assist. In case any catfish latch onto your arm, a helping fisherman could pull your arm out before it causes any real damage.

Catfish also have sandpaper-like teeth. Knowing this, they are able to spin their heads around with someone’s arm inside their mouths, which would cause their skin to rip off.

Some anglers wear gloves to prevent that from happening, but it still also poses a significant danger as the gloves could get caught in a catfish’s mouth, resulting in a person being dragged down into the water. Anglers avoid wearing long-sleeved shirts for the same reason. Check out this guide for information on how to safely handle Catfish.

How to Noodle for Catfish? – A Step-by-Step Guide

Although controversial, noodling for catfish takes much effort and a lot of planning. Knowing the right ways to noodle for catfish is vital. There are safe ways to practice this act and guarantee a big catch. Keep reading to find out how to noodle for catfish successfully.

  • You will want to get your timing right. The best time to noodle for catfish is in the summer.
    • Catfish spawn during this time, and if you’re aiming for a big male catfish, your best bet is to reach for them when they’re vulnerable while protecting eggs during their spawning period.
  • You will need to find the right location. This won’t be so hard to do since catfish spawn nearly anywhere they consider safe.
    • Catfish usually spawn near rocks, caves, banks, and logs. You must block the catfish from escaping as soon as you spot them. 
    • A good tip is to avoid deeper areas of the water. Most catfish will spawn in hiding places, so it’s a good idea to look for those.
    • However, many catfish will be swimming at the very surface in shallow water. Therefore, this is the best place to noodle catfish. 
  • Grabbing and pulling the catfish can be very dangerous. To do this, you have to first feel for the catfish and if you find one, stick your arm out until it bites on your arm, then grab it. The next step is to pull it out as hard as you can and place it safely on land. 
    • As mentioned earlier, having a helping angler could make or break your noodling trip. In case of any trouble, bring at least one other person on your noodling adventure. This will also help when trying to carry heavier catfish.
  • Being careful when practicing this sport is key to guaranteeing your safety as well as other anglers present on your noodling trip. 

What Gear Do You Need for Noodling?

You don’t really need much gear for catfish noodling. You can save yourself the trouble of having to find the right rod or reel. All you need is some tight clothing that won’t get you pulled into the water, a truck or a car so that you can maneuver freely, and a First Aid Kit.

If you decide to wear gloves during your noodling trip, I recommend the Berkley Coated fishing gloves. They are durable and offer enough flexibility to be able to feel for catfish. They are also super affordable, which makes them a great option.

You can check my full guide to fishing gear here for more gloves recommendations.

Some noodlers would rather use a small hook to grab the catfish while noodling. This practice is called gaffing. However, this act is illegal in many states because it defeats the point of hand grabbing. It causes unnecessary suffering as well.

The Impact of Catfish Noodling

Catfish noodling has plenty of impacts on the environment as well as on catfish. People who noodle for catfish usually target bigger male catfish while they are taking care of their eggs. When reaching out for those bigger catfish, the eggs are left unattended, which leads them to their deaths.

Some people might think that putting catfish back in their spawning areas could prevent any damage from happening to their eggs, but that is far from the truth. It has been noted that grabbing and pulling catfish alone does major damage to the catfish’s jaw, guts, and more.

This could lead to their deaths as well, and if it doesn’t, their eggs would eventually die anyway due to the violent pulling of the parent catfish. As a result, it is extremely dangerous for catfish to be noodled by anglers.

Not only that, but grabbing and pulling catfish disrupts the natural spawning cycle of catfish, which reduces the amount being produced and eventually leads to the lack of abundance of catfish in the water. This completely destroys the catfish ecosystem.

Unbelievable Catfish Noodling Videos

For some people, catfish noodling is a hobby, sometimes a sport. There are many anglers around the world who enjoy this practice. If you think catfish noodling sounds crazy, wait until you see it. Check out these unbelievable videos for more insight. 

Notice how these anglers have people with them to accompany them on their noodling adventure. This is your safest bet when practicing this sport. Although, we do not recommend you go as deep as they have, especially if you’re a beginner angler. 

This also shows that you do not need that many tools, if any when noodling. All you need is a good pair of gloves, as mentioned above. Perhaps you’re good to go with a stick to tease the spawning catfish. It is not recommended to take another beginner angler if you’re a beginner angler. 

Conclusion: Should the Catfish Noodling Tradition be Kept Alive?

Now that you know plenty about catfish noodling, you might be wondering if this tradition is worth keeping. Everyone’s different, so it depends on your personal opinion. Some see it as a tradition that their families have kept on for years and would like to continue; others deem it too dangerous.

According to a 2005 survey, more anglers who seek catfish are opposed to the idea of noodling. Anglers who are passionate about catching catfish see that it is unfair and dangerous for the fish, and they fear the risk of them being underpopulated as a result of noodling.

However, another study shows that 9% of anglers will try to noodle even if it is illegal. Some people are very stuck on their traditions and hobbies, and they strongly believe that this tradition should be kept on, so anglers could have the chance to explore different fishing techniques. 

It’s safe to say that catfish noodling is extremely controversial. Anglers, and people in general, will probably never agree on whether it should be illegal or not. However, if you are ever tempted to go on a noodling trip, make sure you take extra caution and don’t forget to bring someone with you. 

If you instead decide to go “normal” fishing for catfish, make sure to check out these superb picks for gear that have never failed me and I guarantee will be a level up for almost everyone:

Outdoorskilled’s Recommended Gear for Superb Catfishing

I’ve tested dozens of reels, rods, and lines for Catfishing, and after years of testing, here are my quick picks that will definitely improve your current setup and results!

My recommended reel is the Abu Garcia Ambassadeur Reel C3-7000 which is ideally suited for catfish.

The rod I always recommend is the KastKing Perigee II Fishing Rod. It’s lightweight, durable, and affordable. Furthermore, you’d have a wide selection of models to choose from, whether you’re looking for a spinning or casting rod. Lastly, it comes in twin-tips models, which means you’ll be getting two rods rather than one.

What I use is the Berkley Trilene Big Game Monofilament Fishing Line as it’s the strongest, toughest mono I’ve ever tested and because it has exceptional shock strength, great knot integrity, tremendous abrasion resistance, and a high-visibility color option, you really can’t find better options

Related Questions

Why Is Catfishing Called Noodling?

Catfishing is called noodling because anglers wiggle their fingers and arms like noodles to attract catfish to bite. When the catfish does bite, the angler pushes his arm down its throat, grabs it, and pulls it up.

Why Is Catfish Noodling Illegal?

Catfish noodling is illegal because it can damage the catfish ecosystem. Noodling catfish counts as stealing the fish from its natural habitat. It can also be dangerous for the catfish as well as the person trying to catch them. There are overall many reasons why noodling is illegal.

Do Catfish Bite when Noodling?

Catfish bite when anglers are noodling for them. They often view their dangling fingers as bait and latch on to them almost instantly. Catfish don’t have the sharpest teeth, but their grittiness helps them hold on to anglers’ hands. The catfish can then spin in their hands, however.   

Is Noodling Catfish Safe?

Noodling catfish is not safe, neither for the catfish nor the angler. Noodling can cause damage to the catfish habitat as well as a person’s well-being. If one isn’t careful noodling, it could also lead to death. There are ways to go about it carefully, however. 

When Should You Start Noodling?

You should start noodling around spring or summer when catfish start their spawning period. When the water temperature reaches about 70 degrees Fahrenheit. They start moving into their nests about that time and shouldn’t be too hard to find. 

Why Is Noodling Illegal in California?

Noodling is illegal in California because it affects the catfish population. It can decrease the amount of catfish spawning, which would cause a lot of them to die quickly. The same reason applies to many states, and they are illegal for the same reason. 

Helpful Resources

A Beginner’s Guide to Catfish Fishing

Resources for Catching Catfish Faster and More Easily

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