While you may have heard jokes or poked and prodded southerners jokingly about catfish noodling being a redneck sport, you probably are not sure exactly what the method entails and why a fisherman would care to try it. Just to set the record straight, let's discuss the details of what catfish noodling really is and what would drive an individual to try something like this that is potentially dangerous when it is so simple to pick up an inexpensive rod and reel. Catfish noodling, also referred to by some as hogging, tickling, grabbling, or dogging, is regarded by some as a very primitive sport. The practice involves absolutely no fishing equipment, with the exception of the fisherman himself. All work to catch the catfish is done with bare hands. Basically, the "angler" wades into a body of water where catfish are known to be found and begins searching the waters below the surface, looking for various holes in the bank, in logs in the water, or under rocks.
These are places that female catfish will confine themselves to spawn and into which males will move in to guard the eggs. When a hole is found, the catfish noodling begins. The noodler will submerge himself and insert his hand into the hole in search of catfish.
Now, keep in mind that several other creatures also lurk in these holes beneath the surface, including beavers, snapping turtles, and even snakes, any of which may determine that your fingers will make an excellent snack. This part of what makes the practice so dangerous. If the noodler finds that the hole is empty, he will resurface and move on to look for other holes. Let's say that there is a catfish in the hole.
The noodler actually coaxes the catfish to bite (yes, that's correct to BITE) his hand, allowing him to grab either the jaw or the inside of the fish's gills and pull the catch out of the hole. Now, if it's a smaller fish, this is not as much of a struggle, though catfish do tend to fight tremendously, and because they have sharp teeth, they can take the entirety of your skin off of your arm (this being another reason that catfish noodling is considered so dangerous). Once he has hold of the catfish, the noodler will resurface and fight the fish to shore. If the catfish is large, it is entirely possible that it will take off downstream, dragging the noodler, whose arm is locked inside its incredibly strong jaws, with him.
In fact, practicers of this sport have been drowned in the past (the final reason that noodling is so dangerous and actually against the law in many states). Sometimes, if large Flaheads are the target, several fishermen will band together to assist in pulling the fish from the hole. Many fishermen have lost fingers (or parts of fingers), been scarred from the loss of skin on the arm, or as mentioned earlier killed in the sport, so this is not something for the nervous fisherman to attempt.
Dan Eggertsen is a fishing researcher and enthusiast who is commited to providing the best catfish fishing information possible. Get more information on catfish noodling here: http://www.askcatfishfishing.com