Someone is bound to do it if they haven’t already.
Grabbling, or handfishing, for blue and yellow catfish is legal in Texas. Although the rule has been in effect for almost eight months, conditions are just now getting ripe for those willing to stick their hand in an underwater hole and grab a fish.
Long popular in a number of states including Oklahoma and Louisiana, grabbling, noodling, grappling or whatever you want to call it is something new to Texas fishermen … at least those who stick firmly to the legal side of the law. And it took the Texas Legislature to make it legal. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department didn’t want to touch this one with an underwater 10-foot pole.
What most of us know about handfishing we learned on television or the Internet. (Never a good idea, but just about the only way for newcomers to at least get started.) The rest is going to be trial and error, and possibly a little on the painful side.
Having never handfished, it is hard for me to describe the feeling. A friend once said the best way to understand the nervous anticipation is to walk outside and stick your arm down a dark hole. You don’t have a clue what — if anything — you are going to grab or is going to grab you.
Now dive underwater and reach into a hole in the bank. Will you find nothing? A catfish or a snake?
My first encounter with noodling came in the mid-1980s, when a 122-pound, potential lake record yellow catfish was caught on Lake Tyler. After interviewing the fishermen who reportedly caught the fish, a game warden tipped me to hold off on mentioning the fish until I heard from him.
A couple hours later he called back and said the man had been cited for noodling. I asked how he knew. He asked if I had noticed the cuts and scratches on the man’s forearms.
Catfish have become the extreme fish for Texas freshwater fishermen because of their potential size.
In the winter it is fishermen dressed in cold weather gear fighting giant blues with a rod and real. Now, in the spring, they strip down to almost nothing to pull them out of holes.
Mid-April through May is the optimum time for handfishing because that is when the big cats move into the holes to spawn. While it works out perfectly for fishermen, biologists are concerned that if it becomes too popular it could impact a fishery. It can take a catfish as long as six years to become sexually mature and the bigger ones may be well into their teens or older.
Neither have game wardens.
“We have had a lot of people call asking about rules and regs,” said Capt. Quint Balkcom of the TPWD’s Tyler Law Enforcement office. “We know there are some out there doing it, but none of my officers have had a field contact with them yet.”
“They cannot use anything but their hands. No other aids can be used like a spear or grabs,” the warden explained.
And while some states allow fishermen to plant traps or pipes in the water to attract the fish, those are illegal in Texas.
Someone has to be first. Go ahead. I am right behind you.
Have a comment or opinion on this story, contact Outdoor Editor Steve Knight by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Steve Knight on Facebook at TylerPaper Outdoors and on Twitter: @tyleroutdoor.