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Catfish Noodling

Catfish Noodling

Catfish noodling has become a very popular topic over the last ten years or so but this is something that has been taking place for a very long time.

Catfish noodling (like many other things that originate in the South) has a number of other names like graveling, hogging, and dogging for catfish. These are all just different terms that mean the same thing.

These terms are synonymous for catching flathead catfish. The basic concept behind grabbling sounds simple enough at first blush, which is that you stick your hand in a hole, run it into a fish mouth, grab it and now you are noodling, but it is actually much more complicated than that and is actually quite an involved process.

To most sane people catfish noodling sounds like an insane hobby but it actually is quite popular in certain parts of the country. The fact that it sounds so crazy is probably the reason why it is such a popular topic when people start talking about catfishing. Rarely do I have a guide trip or phone call go by when someone doesn’t bring up the topic of catfish noodling.

The Basic Catfish Noodling Process

How to go noodling (as it has been explained to me.

Let me start this by saying I am not in any way proposing that you should go do this or that it is a good idea, and if you decide to do this you not only need to research your local laws and make sure that catfish noodling is legal in your state but you should also learn from someone that knows what they are doing. If you go off and decide to start hand fishing and get killed don’t come whining to me about it.

Flatheads often live in holes or under brush or sunken logs in lakes and rivers. Due to the fact that they often live in these holes or combines spaces it creates a confined space for noodlers to capture their prey.

The basic process is that the noodler identifies a “hole” which will either be a traditional hole underwater in a river or lake bank, underneath a sunken log or brush pile, or some other structure like sunken road bed, or building foundation.

Once the person catfish noodling identifies this hole, they run their hand up into the hole using their body to block the fish from leaving the hole and hopefully as the flathead goes to escape it Noodling Catfishwill latch on to the noodlers hand and allow them to grab it (typically by the gills) and pull it out of the water. This process often involves the noodler going under water while they are blocking it from leaving the hole and attempting to get the fish to bite their arm and pull the fish from the water.

“Noodlers” will often use their foot, or a long stick to identify the holes that may hold they prey and will often “probe” these holes before starting their venture.

People who go “noodling” typically will work in teams and have a spotter working with them, in case they get into trouble. There are a multitude of things that can go wrong, despite the fact that you going under water to attempt to catch a fish with your hand that very likely will come out and smash into your body and bite your arm. The simple fact of having a fifty pound cat biting your arm in muddy water would be enough to stop most people from ever trying  it. Drowning with a big catfish hanging off your arm is not on most peoples bucket list. The spotter will typically help the fisherman get the fish into the boat or on the bank and provide assistance as need for safety reasons. It has been explained to me that if a big flathead bites on to your arm they will then drag you under the water and then drag you towards deeper water (sounds like being being attacked by an alligator).

When you add the prospect that you could run your hand into the hole and grab hold of a snake, beaver, or god knows what else the fear factor increases greatly for most people.

Traditional noodlers use their body and maybe a pair of gloves and occasionally a dive mask or a snorkel to help them see in the muddy waters.

There seems to be more and more people using scuba diving equipment allowing them to stay under water for longer periods of time. There also seems to be great debate among traditional noodlers about this. Like anything else you are going to have people who have different ways of doing things and noodlers are no different.

Catfish Noodling In Mainstream Media

Catfishing GrabblingThis has been getting increased exposure in mainstream media over the last 10 years or so. Here are some highlights on “noodling” from TV, newspapers and magazines. These are just some major highlights as there are literally hundreds of references on noodling we would have to reference.

Late Night With David Letterman – In 1989 Jerry Rider appeared on the David Letterman show, climbed into a tank  and caught a flathead using his bare hands. Jerry Rider became the face of noodling for a long time and was all over television, magazines and in newspapers. Many of these articles and interviews were very tongue in check “look at these crazy rednecks and what they are doing” type articles and information.
• Okie Noodling – In 2001 a documentary film maker released a documentary called Okie Noodling about noodling in Oklahoma. During the course of this Okie Noodling documentary it was realized there was no official noodling contests and the first annual Okie Noodling contest was formed in Paul’s Valley Oklahoma. The Okie Noodling documentary aired on PBS and it seems everyone suddenly became aware of catfish noodling. There is no doubt that the Okie Noodling documentary put people grabbling in the spotlight and contributed greatly to the sport. The Okie Noodling tournament is still held today in Paul’s Valley Oklahoma. You can get more information about the Oklahoma Tournament at these links. The Okie Noodling documentary can still be seen on PBS, you can also view the trailer for Okie Noodling here and also buy the DVD as well.

• Okie Noodling II – The Okie Noodling Documentary even spawned a second one hour documentary called Okie Noodling II where the documentary film maker cover some of the same basics and then discuss how the sport has gained so much popularity and become more accepted since the release of Okie Noodling. The show also covers part of the weigh in at the Pauls Valley Okie Noodling Tournament.

Dirty Jobs – In 2003 Mike Rowe from Dirty Job’s filmed a pilot episode about noodling. The show filmed Mike Rowe with some guys in Oklahoma and shows Rowe catching a flathead, and him and the other men then clean it and eat it.
Cougar Town – In 2010 The TV Show Cougar Town shows the TV Shows father and son on a fishing trip catching a monster flathead catfish with their bare hands in a pond, you can view some information on this here

The popularity of noodling has even spawned a video series called “Girls Gone Grabblin” and features a bunch of young ladies. The “girls gone grabblin” have even received mainstream media exposure and have been featured in a number of TV shows as well.


Catfish noodling is not legal in all states. I did a significant amount of research on the legality of it and as far as I can tell it is legal in the following states:

South Carolina

There may be additional states where it is legal. As always if you want to start doing this you need to research your local and state laws and determine if it is legal in your local lakes or rivers.


Everyone that knows me knows that I am a huge promoter of catch and release for catfish over ten pounds. Noodling seems (for the most part) to be very centered around catch and eat instead of catch and release.

There are long term ramifications from pulling big numbers of monster fish from lakes or rivers and this should be considered. The fish that we remove from the lakes today are the fish that keep the lakes stocked in the future. – Website of a group of Okahoma noodlers – Official website of the Okie Noodling Documentary
Pauls Valley Noodling Tournament and Noodlling Festival
New Coverage of the Okie Noodling Tournament On Fox News

Most popular noodling videos on Youtube

All Photo’s Courtesy Flickr Creative Commons

Have you ever been noodling ? Tell us about your experience!

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About Chad

Chad Ferguson is a professional catfish guide and founder of Learn To Catch Catfish. Click here to subscribe for more exclusive catfish fishing tips by email and then follow on Twitter or Google


  1. butterbean carpenter says:

    Howdy yall,
    Noodlin is called grabblin in Texas.. I’ve done it while growing up and it
    is an exciting slice of life!! About the biggest catfish we ever caught was a
    fifty-five pounder in the Sulphur River in NE Texas.. My uncle went down
    about 15 feet, to a hole in the bank, stuck his arm in and ‘grabbled’ this fish.
    The fish WOULD NOT BE PULLED FROM ITS HOLE and James couldn’t free his arm… After what seemed a awful long time I went in after him and got
    hold of him and him me, together we pulled the fish out… When we had it out of the water James was still trying to get loose and tore his arm out of the fish’s mouth, leaving his skin on the teeth… His arm healed, but it was slick and never had any hair grow back on it…

  2. hi chad i was readn your post as as i read it i ws thinking of you and your wife out in the river making a vid ,i was already laughn but hope you add me to the drawning ,we do some here in kansas and have gotten up to some 60 pounders , half man half fish but keep up the good work read you daily ,dobie

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