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Conservation Department Says 'Noodling' is a No-Go for Missouri Fishermen

It’s nearly summer and time for outdoor activities, like going fishing. Fishing is mainly used with a rod and bait, but a controversial type of fishing needs neither of those. KSMU’s Scott Butler reports.

Noodling is when a person, often referred to as a noodler, gets into the water, sometimes up to 20 feet deep, and places his or her hand inside a catfish hole. In most cases, the catfish will swim forward and latch onto the fisherman's hand, usually as a defense mechanism, to try to escape the hole or protect its eggs. The noodler hooks his or her hand around its gills to retrieve the fish.

“When the folks reach their hand into the hole, the fish is protecting their eggs and they will be more or less protecting their breed,” said Brandes.

That’s Allen Brandes, the Fishery’s Regional Program Supervisor for the Missouri Department of Conservation in Springfield. He says this hobby has been illegal for many decades in Missouri, due to the protection of the fish, primarily catfish.

“The fish at this point are very vulnerable to being caught. Catfish when they are spawning select for a cavity and try to protect their eggs by fanning their eggs with their fins and keeping all of the filth off of the eggs,” he said.

There are some dangers involved with this hobby. Noodling can result in superficial cuts and minor wounds to the noodler. Losing fingers is also a risk, whether it’s from the catfish bite or infection. Drowning is also a risk, since the noodler doesn’t have the use of one arm after the catfish latches on.

For KSMU News, I’m Scott Butler.