Texas Bill Would Legalize Noodling

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Good news for noodlers: if a new Texas bill becomes law, it will at last be legal to noodle in that state. Noodling is going on anyway, of course. But noodlers have long wanted equal treatment and a more noodle-friendly legislature finally seems ready to sanction the practice.

If you are somehow not familiar with noodling, here’s how the committee report describes it:

Handfishing, also known as noodling, is the practice and sport of fishing for catfish using one’s bare hands. The method involves locating an underwater catfish hole and using an angler’s fingers and hand as bait. . . . Interested parties have expressed a desire to legalize the practice in Texas.

That is, interested parties find a catfish hole, stick their arm in it, wait for the catfish to clamp down on their hand and then attempt to drag said catfish to the surface. Or at least they hope it’s a catfish – other things also live in such holes, such as snakes and snapping turtles, and unlucky noodlers have lost fingers. But it’s all worth it, apparently, to experience the joy of noodling.

The Wikipedia article on noodling claims that it is also called “grabbling, graveling, hogging, dogging, gurgling, tickling [or] stumping,” and, most heinous of all, “catfisting.” HB 2189, which calls it simply “handfishing,” defines the practice as “fishing for catfish by the use of hands only and without any other fishing device such as a gaff, pole hook, or spear.” (What part of “hands only” needed clarification?) It further provides that a person who holds (in his free hand) a valid fishing license may handfish in public waters to his heart’s content. A House committee has recommended passage.

It’s not clear to me whether noodling is actually illegal now or the legislature is just trying to clarify its status. Nothing in the code expressly prohibits it (yes, I read the Texas Parks and Wildlife Code), but it could be prohibited by rule. There is Section 66.003, which states that “[n]o person may place in the water of this state an explosive, poison, or other substance or thing deleterious to fish.” Not only does that ban explosive fishing, the only kind I really enjoy, it might also apply to handfishing. A hand is a “thing,” and if rammed down a fish’s gullet it would become “deleterious” to that fish. The current bill does not amend this section, but there is still time to fix that.

There actually are conflicting opinions on whether noodling should be legal; some are concerned about the effect on the species (I’m concerned about its effect on both species) while others are less concerned and more pro-noodling. Both sides can point to evidence from other states such as Missouri and Oklahoma, which both have a high concentration of noodlers and have wrestled with the legal issues as well. With any luck, the public noodling debate will continue for years to come.