Woman with catfish
Woman with catfish via Shutterstock

Where can I learn to handfish?

Woman with catfish
Greg Melville

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I tend to divide the handfishing world into two groups: those of us who knew about and appreciated the sport called noodling (or catching fish with your bare hands) before the Animal Planet show “Hillbilly Handfishin’,” and all of the wannabes who are just now jumping on the bandwagon and thrusting their arms deep into catfish nests in muddy riverbanks. Howstuffworks.com has a good primer on handfishing, but it’s absolutely not a sport I’d want to learn without an experienced practitioner by my side. You should also know you can’t do it in Vermont. Noodling is only legal in 11 states, all in the South and Midwest:  Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Kansas, Illinois, Arkansas, and Missouri. Here are a couple of the better known handfishing resources.

Tennessee River
The muddy banks of the Tennessee River via Shutterstock (Melinda Fawver)

Catfish Grabblers, Tennessee
Marty and Fostana Jenkins, and their company Catfish Grabblers, are fixtures in the sport of noodling. They’re famous within handfishing circles for a DVD they produced, “Girls Gone Grabblin’,” and have been featured several times on national TV. The pair leads trips on muddy reservoirs along the Tennessee River near their home in East Tennessee. The cost for a day of guiding and lessons is $800 per person for two people, and $400 per person with groups of five or more. Lodging, meals, and transportation included.

The Annual Okie Noodling Tournament, Oklahoma
Now in its 13th year, this competition  takes place every June on the catfish-rich Washita River in the town of Pauls Valley, in central Oklahoma. Legends such as Lee McFarlin (the Dale Earnhardt of noodling) are fixtures at the event. The whole tournament is one big party, from the crowning of the noodling queen to the catfish cookoff. There’s nowhere better to find an expert to give you tips.

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