I read an interesting article out of California the other day.
A reader, who used to enjoy noodling for flathead catfish back home, asked an outdoor writer if noodling was legal in his new place of residence.
The answer from the scribe was that noodling was illegal in California because the sport was dangerous. People have drowned while noodling, he said.
This is true. People have drowned while noodling. They have also drowned while swimming, boating, fishing, scuba diving and everything else you can do on or in the water.
Noodling, like anything else, can be dangerous if you don’t use a little common sense. But I don’t think safety is the real reason noodling is illegal in California.
I think California – like every other state that outlaws noodling – doesn’t want to be associated with the redneck image of the sport.
Filmmaker Bradley Beesley certainly found some colorful characters for his “Okie Noodling” documentaries, which branded Oklahoma as the king of the handful of hand-fishing states.
Sure, there are toothless and tattooed Okies who enjoy noodling. Several Oklahoma game wardens also enjoy noodling.
Missouri is another state that doesn’t allow noodling. As a result, some fishermen there formed “Noodlers Anonymous,” a modern day group of Jesse James types who practice hand-fishing outside the law.
Missouri uses a wildlife conservation argument to ban noodling. They say the catfish population would be severely harmed if noodling were legal.
Since flathead catfish are on the nests when they are noodled, too many catfish would be taken and too many eggs destroyed if hand-fishing were allowed, according to Missouri wildlife officials.
It’s a better argument than noodling is dangerous, but I don’t buy this theory either.
Jug liners and trot liners harvest more fish. There are not enough noodlers out there to do that much harm to catfish populations.
According to the 2007 angler survey by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, only .03 percent of all fishermen in the state are noodlers.
Noodlers get more than their share of publicity because it is an extreme sport, but there are only a few thrill seekers brave enough – or crazy enough – to blindly stick their hands and wiggle their fingers in an underwater crevice to get a flathead catfish to bite them.
So, in my opinion, California and Missouri are just noodling snobs. Instead of making criminals out of noodlers, they should embrace the sport, like Oklahoma.
Look at all of the attention we have gotten from noodling. I still say a flathead catfish on our state quarter would be a better conversation piece than a scissor-tail fly catcher.
Last year at the annual Okie Noodling Tournament in Pauls Valley, I even met a man who brought his whole family from Canada to Oklahoma, just so he could stick his hand in a huge flathead’s mouth.
He went noodling on the Red River and had a great time. Those are tourism dollars that California and Missouri will never see.