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Noodling: How To Hand Fish Legally

By Holly South | Last updated on

In the muddy shallows of the Mississippi River, a group of friends stands with goggles on, trudging through the water looking for submerged holes or logs. Another group stands near the boat launch looking through the broken concrete or around the dock.

They are on a hunt for catfish habitats. One of the friends finds a hole and dives under the water, reaching an arm into the mud, just hoping one will latch on. A giant catfish suctions itself to the arm, and the friend wrestles it out of the water, victorious.

Noodling (also known as hand fishing) involves catching catfish with your bare hands. Noodlers will look for holes in the waterbed, where catfish are known to burrow in the mud, and reach into them in hopes that a catfish will latch on and they can pull it out. It is most popular in the southern states, where it is popular among families. For most people, it is a fun summer activity, but for others, the DNR may be on their case faster than you can say "OMG! I caught one!"

As of Aug. 1, noodling became legal in Louisiana after a local legislator became interested in the sport and wanted to participate legally. The Louisiana law also allows for bream to be caught in minnow traps.

Conservation and Safety

The problem with noodling arises from conservation and safety concerns. Wrestling with catfish is inherently dangerous to begin with, sometimes requiring noodlers to dive underwater to catch massive fish. Fishermen can drown while noodling even in shallow water.

Sometimes the ordeal of catching a catfish by hand can send the fish into shock, leading to their death. In the process, their eggs may also be destroyed, driving the catfish population toward a decline. Along the way, hand fishermen may accidentally catch other fish that could be protected species, leading to both environmental and possible legal consequences.

Noodle States and Regulations

Currently, the states that have legalized noodling are Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. The regulations governing noodling are generally the same across the board, but they do vary, so make sure to check with your state laws before noodling.

The general regulations for noodling are:

  • A season between June 1 and Aug. 31.
  • A daily time limit between sunrise and sunset.
  • A minimum catfish length of between 20 and 30 inches (check with your state on this one).
  • A prohibition on special devices to coax the catfish into a hiding spot.
  • A requirement that noodlers have a general fishing license. Individual states may require special noodling permits.
  • A catch limit of four fish per day.
  • Catches must be the old-fashioned way, by hand – no use of special tools or bait.
  • No underwater breathing apparatuses.

Again, the regulations mentioned here are just a general guide to get started, so make sure to double-check with your state's natural resources department before deciding to go hand fishing. While noodling can be a fun sport to practice with friends and family, remember to noodle safely.

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