One of the few freshwater fishing seasons in Mississippi is the hands-on noodling season for catfish. It opened May 1 and will close on July 15, making June the peak month for activity.
The season is set to coincide with the mating habits of the giant blue and flathead catfish, which move to shallow holes to procreate.
“Just like deer and turkey seasons, it’s all about mating,” said Tommy Sanford of Canton, an avid grabber. “Seems cruel, but if it weren’t for that, we’d never get our hands on a giant cat. We love grabbing and for us, it’s all about the sport. We let all the really big ones go. We keep a few of the small ones, and if somebody really wants to shell out the money, we’ll let them keep one over 50 pounds only if they plan to have it stuffed and mounted.”
Many noodlers prefer taking fish only from natural nests, like holes in the river channel banks, stumps, holes forming under boat ramps, and old logs. Others, like Sanford and his team, put out houses.
“We build wooden houses and put them in Eagle Lake and Barnett Reservoir, which are the two places we hit the most,” Sanford said. “We recorded all we put out on a GPS so we can find them, and so we can check them during the rest of the year to make sure they have not become a boating obstacle.
“Most of them are in between 5 and 6 feet of water, although some people like to go shallower. We like to be out closer to deeper water because we feel the bigger blues and flatheads, 50 to 100 pounds, like that.”
There is no limit during the grabbing season, but it isn’t really needed.
“Grabbers are more interested in preserving the future of the sport,” Sanford said. “If we want to eat fish, we jug for them. That’s fun, too.”