Flathead Catfish by Eric Engbretson, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Fishing is an attempt to catch fish. Notice I wrote “attempt” because there are no guarantees. One individual brought before a judge for fishing out of season tried to reason with the judge by saying he hadn’t caught any fish, so he wasn’t breaking the law.

The judge responded by saying, “That’s why they call it fishing.”

The poacher was fined, court costs added, and he was sent on his way.

There’s many ways of fishing. For sport fishermen, there are hook and line methods that use live or dead bait, or artificial lures. Some individuals like to catch fish by hand and there are several methods to that bit of madness. Commercial fishermen use nets, seines, traps, pots, or even use a hook and line. If you’re good with a bow and arrow, that works in shallow, reasonably clear water. It wasn’t all that long ago that spears were the most successful method of fishing.

Of all the methods, I think noodling is one of the craziest. Mainly it is used for catching large catfish by hand, but some folks have used it for catching other species.

Why is noodling crazy? Picture a river or lake with an undercut bank or a deep pile of brush. The little underwater caves are the favorite hangouts for big, flathead catfish in the twenty to sixty pound weight class. The flatheads like the holes because they can back in. It gives them a sense of security since a bigger fish can’t sneak up and grab them.

The noodler gets into the water and submerges to carefully feel around in the cave for a fish. When he finds one, he tries to find the mouth, again by carefully feeling around. The catfish will suddenly lunge forward in an attempt to escape, and the noodler puts his hand right into the gaping maw and grabs the fish. Then the big wrestling match is on and there is no guarantee for either side. It’s more than a little nuts if you ask me. People have died wrestling with big catfish. I personally will claim my fifth amendment rights if asked if I ever participated in this sort of adventure.

Another method of catching fish is often associated with trout. It’s called “tickling trout” and uses considerable more finesse than noodling. The tickler finds a place where trout like to rest and waits for one to appear. Carefully, he slides his hand up alongside the fish without touching it, then very gently rubs the belly of the fish.

Here, different methods come into play. The tickler in a hurry will attempt to grab the fish just behind the head. The more patient fisherman will ease his finger back and forth until the fish becomes relaxed. He then grasps the fish without a struggle and dinner is almost ready.

Tickling was once a favorite way of poaching since there was no evidence of illegal equipment.

Once when I was boy of about fourteen, I had this amazing idea. I donned a swimming mask, snorkle and fins, took a short line with a hook and baited it with a worm. I swam to a log that bluegills liked to hide under, and dangled my worm in front of the biggest bluegill I could see. I therein learned a lesson about doing things the easy way.

The bluegill grabbed the worm and it was hooked. About one second later, a northern pike the size of my leg came out nowhere, grabbed the bluegill and disappeared. The line cut deep into my hand before it snapped and I should have gone for stitches, but didn’t want to tell anyone how I tried to cheat the system. I still have the scar, though now faded after too many years.

Of all the stories told, few are more entertaining or more exaggerated than the fish story about the one that got away. A favorite of mine was the one where I lost a huge northern pike on a fishing trip in Canada as 6-year-old boy. When I was about ten, Dad told me the fish was getting bigger every year because I could stretch my arms farther apart. As it turned out, the fish in that story was about two or two and half feet long. I still tell that story now and then, but try to keep the size of the fish in perspective.

Fishing. Give a man a fish and you give him dinner. Teach him to fish and you’ve fed him for life — as long as the fish are biting.

Do You Fish? What’s your favorite type of fishing or favorite fish to catch?

Copyright © 2013 MJ Logan Writer All Rights Reserved

No republication without expressly written consent.