5 Tips for Flathead Catfish Noodling

Catfish noodling is a primitive form of fishing that was used long before the fishing rod and reel was invented. It’s still used by the adventurous angler today who’s searching for an exciting and unusual way to catch catfish.
Noodling is basically a word that describes the process of catching fish with your bare hands. It’s certainly not a sport that anyone can do and this makes it unique, challenging and thrilling for many.

You must be strong enough to pull the flathead out of the water once you have hold of him. They’re a strong fish that fights back and if you’re not stronger than it is, your efforts will have been wasted. You must also be willing to wade and dive into the water and stick your hands into structures that you cannot see in to. Once you have hold of a flathead, the struggle begins between you and the fish and sometimes, you have to be willing to accept that the fish won this round.

How to Noodle for Flathead Catfish

The concept of noodling is very simple. You choose a spot to fish and wade into the water searching for a structure where you believe the flathead to be. You may need to go underwater to find the best places to fish. Some noodlers wear scrubber diving equipment but others believe this takes away from the experience.

Once you find the location you want to fish, it’s time to reach in and grab that flathead. When your hand invades its home, it will feel threatened and attack by biting your hand. The catfish will hold onto your hand for a little bit (they don’t normally just bite and let go) and this gives you time to take the other hand and grip the fish by the gill cover and pull him out of the nest.

Once you get the flathead to the surface of the water, your spotters will help get it off your hand and into the holding tank. If you run into problems and the fish starts to pull you under or won’t let you return to the surface, your spotters are there to pull you up. Now that you know what noodling is and how it’s done, you need a few tips on how to do it successfully.

5 tips for flathead catfish noodling:

1. Look for a prime location for the flathead. The catfish make their habitat around and in structures such as submerged logs, brush, holes and in-between rocks. Anywhere they can get into, hide and wait for food is a prime location.

2. One of the best times to go noodling is during the spawning season. They are more plentiful during this time of year and much easier to find.

3. After choosing your location, it’s wise to place a stick into the hole first to try and determine if the creature inhabiting the hole is actually a flathead or some other creature you’d be better off not messing with.

4. When reaching into the nest, move very slowly and you won’t startle the fish or be tempted to jerk your hand back when the flathead touches you. It’s also a good idea to use your body to block the front of the nest in case it tries to escape.

5. Never go noodling alone and make sure your partner is strong enough to actually help you out if you get into trouble. It’s even a good idea to have two or more people with you if possible.

Using these tips can help improve your odds of catching a flathead catfish with your bare hands

Dangers Associated with Flathead Catfish Noodling

Even though noodling for flathead catfish can be fun, exciting and gives you a feeling that you can’t get with any other type of fishing, there are dangers associated with this method that you need to be aware you. One of the first things that you need to consider is how well you can swim because drowning is always a possibility.

For the most part, you’ll be wading into waters waist or chest deep but you may need to go underwater to locate the fish. On top of that, you never know when you’ll step into a deep hole or get caught up in a strong current. If you’re not an excellent swimmer, noodling is not a good idea.

One of the main concerns with noodling is getting bit. The catfish is strong and can do a lot of damage when they latch on. Some of the larger ones have been known to peel the skin right off the arm and hand. This is no doubt very painful. Nevertheless, the flathead is not the only thing that you need to be concerned with.

Since you’ll be sticking your hands into holes and structures that you can’t see in, you always run the risk of getting bit by some other creature. You could be bitten by a snake, beaver or even a muskrats. Snapping turtles are a big concern for noodlers because they can bite off fingers before you even know what happened. Sticking your hands into the wrong place can cost you your fingers and even your life in some cases, if you get bit by a poisonous snake or some other lethal creature.

As you can see, the dangers are real when noodling but that is part of the thrill. If you’re not an adventures person willing to take chances, noodling is not for you. If you are up to the challenge and ready to get out there and try your hand at this primitive form of fishing, do so responsibly.

Don’t take unnecessary chances and always have one or more people with you. Not only do you need someone to watch your back and help you out if you get into trouble, but if you grab hold of a big flathead, you’re going to need help getting it out of the water.


Dan Eggertsen is a fellow catfish fishing enthusiast to the point of obsession. :) He's been providing solid advice on catfish fishing since 2004.

One Response to “5 Tips for Flathead Catfish Noodling”

  1. Casey Kirkes says:

    Have been noodling since I was 14 years old and going along since I could swim. Hard to get a figure on the miles of river my brothers and I have covered. I am very comfortable with my knowledge of freshwater critters. Have always heard of the threat of beavers, snakes and turtles. In fact it is not an exaggeration to say that these ledgends come up every time the sport is mentioned. Can anyone please, please, pretty please provide me with a documented case of any of the above mentioned threats REALLY happen. No stories. Hospital or government statistics only. I am also interested in documented cases of nesting flat heads sharing the nest with a beaver, turtle or snake. Or beaver that nest in underwater holes.

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