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A group of Missouri Fisherman prefer to fish with their hands instead of poles

March 7, 2006
By: Amy Becker
State Capital Bureau

A group of Missouri fishermen love to get down, dirty, and dangerous while fishing. They rely only on the strength of their hands and feet to wrangle catfish out of the sandy floors of rivers.

Amy Becker has more.

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Howard Ramsey remembers the first time he was exposed to the world of noodling. He was twelve years old and on a fishing trip with his father.

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"My dad took me the first time when I was tweleve years old and put me on a little four pound blue cat that just chewed my fingers clear to the bone almost. They were bleeding and I simply fell in love with it."

Ramsey is the current president of Noodler's Anonymous, a group dedicated to the art of hand fishing. Noodling as it is commonly called, is catching a cat fish with your bare hands. To do this you must get into the river, feel around in a hole where a catfish may be, and pull it out. It may sound simple, but noodling is not for the faint of heart.

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Contents: "It's a little bit dangerous, you don't want to go by yourself especially if you're in water over your head. Sometimes you have to dive in and swim after the hole in the bank maybe six, seven, or eight feet. When you grab the fish, your buddy has got a hold of your ankles or your feet. You kick your feet, he pulls you out, then you try to subdue the fish after you get him out of the hole."

Until recently, noodling was illegal in Missouri because it was considered dangerous for both the noodlers, and also the catfish. According to the Missouri Conservation Department, the prey of noodling are usually breeding-age catfish.

But the department has decided to allow an experimental season for noodlers lasting from June first to July 15th. During the season, noodlers are allowed to catch five fish and are restricted to only three rivers: the Fabius, St. Francis and the Mississippi.

Ramsey says there are some serious flaws in the new design.

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Contents: The trial season as far as I'm concerned doesn't amount to a darn. They did let us go fishing but they're not going to gain any knowledge or any scientific or biological information by putting every hand fisherman in the state in one river.

Ramsey's fellow noodler, Gary Webb, shares his feelings on the amount of rivers open to noodling. Webb says allowing only three rivers is like allowing only three counties for a trial deer hunting season.

But the noodlers say they will work with what they are given and will continue hand fishing.

The men are always on the hunt for a good spot to hand fish not only in Missouri but many other states as well. But each hand fisherman has their own special spot they like to fish.

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Contents: Anyway, everyone always asks me where I go hand fishing and I always say it's right behind my favorite mushroom patch.

Neither fisherman would say exactly where their favorite mushroom patch was located. They want to assure their special spot remains a secret. A good hand fisherman never gives away his spots.

Sometimes the spots don't produce anything. Ramsey says he once waded twenty five miles on a river and didn't find a single fish.

He says noodling is not an easy sport requiring more than baiting a worm on a hook, you actually have to get into the water and find the fish for yourself.

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Contents: "It's a sport and it's something that gets in your blood."

Both men have been noodling for the majority of their lives and say there is something about getting into the water and enjoying it just like a fish.

From Jefferson City, I'm Amy Becker.