CATFISH CONSERVATION -Trophy Catfish for the Future
No Noodling in Missouri
by Ron Presley
Catfish conservation takes many forms. In some instances, the conservation rules and regulations run contrary to the wishes of the catfish seeker. Noodling, for example, is a form of recreation that matches man and beast in hand-to-hand combat. Noodling may better be described as hand-to-mouth combat.
Many people practice the method of seeking out catfish in an underwater cavity, sometimes handmade and placed, to grab the fish by the mouth and pull it from its lair. It is a form of fishing that dates back many years. Like other angling pursuits it was first used as a way to put food on the table, but has grown to be a sport enjoyed by some adventurous anglers.
The process is legal and accepted in many states, but in Missouri, where catfish are regulated as gamefish, the process is illegal. The decision to retain the regulations against allowing noodling came after a trial season opened certain parts of Missouri waters to noodling in 2005 and 2006. This experiment followed a period of 90 years when the method was illegal.
The Missouri Department of Conservation ended the noodling season in 2007 after scientific studies indicated that the process was detrimental to the long-run catfish population.
The major problem Missouri found with noodling was the fact that the most prevalent time to hand-grab the catfish was during their spawn. The fish are easily found on nests where they are protecting their eggs and facilitating the hatch.
If the catfish were taken for the dinner table, the fishery would lose the fish and the potential fish that would have been born if the eggs had not been disturbed during the hatch. Scientists reported that even if the fish was CPR’ed, the eggs were likely to be disturbed and destroyed during the subsequent battle with the hand-fisher.
Scientific studies also suggested that hand-fishing would impact smaller bodies of water in Missouri.
In the April 2009 Missouri Conservationist Magazine, author Tom Cwynar wrote, “The math argues that Missouri’s small streams, where 90 percent of hand fishing takes place, would soon be devoid of large fish. Catfish anglers who use traditional bait, hook and line methods to harvest fish wouldn’t have much luck. What’s more, our stream ecosystems would suffer because large flathead catfish help control populations of less desirable fish, such as carp.”
Based on scientific studies, angler surveys and the Conservation Department’s philosophy of regulating catfish as a gamefish, Missouri has chosen to keep noodling illegal in the state.