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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Ticklin' and Noodlin'

An Oncorhynchus Mykiss, or Rainbow Trout
Image courtesy of Jonathunder/Wikipedia.

The ancient Greeks did it; there is reference to it in the Halieutica, considered the greatest work from antiquity on angling.  Aelina, another Greek from 230 C.E., wrote about it in De Natura Animalium, which was published in England in 1565. In 1624, it was mentioned in a ribald English play, Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher's Rule a Wife and Have a Wife.  Shakespeare wrote about it in Twelfth Night and Measure for Measure.  Even Mark Twain mentioned it.

The Salvelinus Agassizi, or Silver Trout (now extinct), 1902.
Image courtesy of Frank MacKie Johnson/Wikipedia.

"It" is trout tickling, the art of rubbing the underbelly of a trout with the fingers.  If it is done right, the trout will go into a trance and then can be caught by hand. Popular among those who don't have any fishing equipment, and by poachers who don't want to be caught with equipment.

Golden trout, image courtesy of Rayfound/Wikipedia.

In Scotland it's called ginniling or guddling.  In England it is illegal, presumably because of the danger of overfishing because of the ease of doing it.  It gives new meaning to the phrase "tickled to death"!

A Greenback trout, image courtesy of Kriscotta/Wikipedia.

There's a similar way of fishing for catfish, called noodling.  Again, this entails using only the hands, and it is primarily done in the southern United States.  It is also called catfisting, dogging, grabbling, graveling, gurgling, hogging, stumping, and tickling.

Lee McFarlin, the noodling guru.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

The choice of catfish for this "art" is purposeful.  Since catfish live in holes or under brush in rivers and lakes, they are easy to catch since they tend to dwell in the same place.  A noodler goes underwater in depths ranging from a few feet to sometimes twenty feet, depending on their courage or insanity, depending how you look at it.  The noodler finds the dwelling and puts his/her hand in the hole.  If all goes according to plan, the catfish will latch on to the hand, usually trying to escape the space.  If it's a large catfish (and the largest on record is 650 pounds in Thailand, but most average 40-50 pounds that are caught by noodling), the noodler can then grab onto the gills.

The channel catfish is the one most often caught by noodling.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Usually a spotter is needed to help bring in the catfish.  Once it bites it tends to hold on for a while, and if the noodler dove to get at the catfish hole there may be some difficulty coming up for air holding on to the catfish.  There are dangers involved.  The bite can result in superficial and minor wounds, or in the extreme can lead to loss of fingers, which can be prevented by wearing gloves.  If the noodler dives for a deep hole there is the risk of drowning.  But more importantly other aquatic life may be in the hole.  Things like alligators, beavers, muskrats, snakes, or snapping turtles.

An Eel-tail catfish, image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Catfish are unusual in themselves.  For one thing they have no scales.  This saves them from being eaten by those following a kosher diet.  They have small eyes, since they use their barbels to seek food.  These whisker-like organs, which gave catfish their name, house their taste buds, and they use them to search for food in murky water.  Catfish are bottom-feeders, which is why noodlers sometimes have to dive to noodle them.

Drawing of a catfish's barbels by Pearson Scott Foresman/Wikipedia.

Currently it is only legal in eleven states in the U.S.:  Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Tennessee. Laws change frequently, and a noodler needs to check state laws and regulations. It is illegal, again as in trout tickling, so as not to threaten the population if too many mature fish are caught, and because of the dangers.

The Pylodictis Olivaris or Flathead Catfish.
Image courtesy of Eric Engbretson/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

These two age-old angling methods are at least more of sport than using equipment - mano a mano, so to speak.  But I prefer real cats, and tickling their bellies.

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