The other day a friend of mine sent me a video of a guy that had a large snapping turtle attached to his face. Apparently, the nitwit had been noodling for catfish, came across this turtle, and tried to grab it by the tail. Needless to say, it didn’t end up well for him. However, what it did do was remind me that it won’t be much longer until the Mississippi hand grabbing, or noodling, season opens up.
Some of you might be thinking that you’ve got to be a little bit crazy to stick your hand in a dark hole under the water to catch a fish. And you know what, you’re right. But it’s soooo much fun. Is there a little danger involved with the sport? Sure there is, but it’s dangerous eating at Waffle House after dark and we all still do that too. The season opens in Mississippi on May 1st and runs through June 15th. If you’ve never been before, try it out, but I suggest you go with someone with a little experience…for safety reasons.
I mentioned safety because, in all seriousness, you can get yourself into a bit of a pickle if you’re not careful. Most people are more concerned about where they are putting their hands and what might be in the hole. I’m not saying that you can’t run into a snapping turtle, or beaver, in one of those holes, but the chances of that are pretty slim. I’ve only ever known it to happen to one person over the years and it’s highly likely that he already knew what was in the hole, he just wanted to grab it anyway. His reward was missing part of his thumb, but what’s in the hole is usually the least of my concerns.
My biggest concern when taking people hand grabbing is the water. That might sound stupid, but water has killed far more people than snapping turtles ever will. For me and the guys I go hand grabbing with, we are usually in a river instead of a lake. Moving water adds an entirely new dimension to the equation. Usually, the holes that we fish are facing downstream, which means you’ve got to fight the current to stay in the hole with the fish. If the current is swift, it’s sometimes difficult to keep your body blocking the hole to keep the fish from escaping. A swift current also means that you’d better know what’s just downstream of the hole that you’re fishing in case you get swept out of the hole. More than once I’ve been blown out of a hole and been battered and bruised by debris in the river downstream. Fortunately, I’ve never had a serious injury from this, but I’ve been lucky a few times.
Another concern with fighting a fish in moving water, especially water that’s fairly deep, is bringing the fish out of the hole. Pulling a thirty to forty pound catfish out of a log in neck deep water is no easy task. The fish will spin and do everything it can to try and get away from you. If you don’t have a good foothold, that fish can take you downstream with him, once again potentially injuring you. For this reason, I like to have someone else behind me to keep this from happening. It’s good to always have a partner in moving water with their feet planted firmly and, in a position, to grab you, or steady you, once you come up with the fish.
The next potential hazard, and the least dangerous in my opinion, is these catfish have little spiky teeth. They are almost like a hairbrush that don’t have the rounded tips on them. And yes, they will remove the first layer of skin easily. Think of it as a really bad rugburn. When hand grabbing season is good, my arms look like I’ve got some sort of skin disease. I’ll be missing chunks of skin from my fingers all of the way up to my elbow. I don’t think that you’ll suffer permanent damage, or bleed out, from a catfish wound, but there’s certainly some stinging involved. Some people prefer to wear gloves when they grab the fish, but those people are wimps and should play the piano instead. Wear your battle wounds with pride!
I know that I will catch some flak for this article, and my love of hand grabbing catfish from a couple of people, namely my cousin, for encouraging the pulling of poor ol’ catfish from their nests, and I get it. In reality, you are taking them away from their eggs and potentially destroying the hatch. That said, and as always, never take more than you plan to eat. If you don’t want to eat a thirty-pound catfish, don’t pull it off of the nest…let it be. As for me and mine, my wife had better have the grease hot when I get home.