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31 Days, 31 Ways: Noodling for Catfish Legalized

DAY 18 of our month-long series on the effects of new state laws and budget cuts: The sport of catching catfish with bare hands, known as noodling, is now legal in Texas.

David Baggett noodling at Lake Lawtonka, Oklahoma from the film still Okie Noodling2.

31 Days 31 Ways

Throughout the month of August, The Texas Tribune will feature 31 ways Texans' lives will change come Sept. 1, the date most bills passed by the Legislature — including the dramatically reduced budget — take effect. Check out our story calendar here

Day 18: The sport of catching catfish with bare hands, known as noodling, is now legal in Texas.

Bradley Beesley looks every bit the part of a hip filmmaker, from the retro frames on his face to his East Austin bungalow filled with retro furniture and quirky relics. It's hard to imagine him trudging (fully clothed, in jean shorts and a shirt) through muddy waters to seek out a 60-pound fish with his bare hands. But alas, the director of various concert films and music videos for The Flaming Lips says there is nothing outside of making movies that he loves more than the "grimy, dirty" sport of noodling. 

Prior to the legislative session, the practice of hand fishing (or "grabbling") was considered a Class C misdemeanor that came with a $500 fine. Now, noodlers can do it legally. Beesley says the previous prohibition didn't stop him from hunting for catfish nearly 20 times around the state. (He's only caught two fish and doesn't think the rules have been strictly enforced.)

Beesley says catching catfish without reels, rods or fancy boats requires patience and knowledge. During hunting season in the early summer months, catfish are known to be elusive and hyper-aggressive because they are nursing their eggs, hidden underwater in banks and rocks. Beesley says he appreciates this type of hand fishing so much that he has started an annual tournament in his native Oklahoma, made two "Okie Noodling" documentaries, and is the executive producer of an upcoming television mini-series on the topic. He believes Texas is an "untapped" treasure trove for catfish, especially in the northern part of the state.

Watch the Trib's interview with Beesley to understand why he thinks the subculture craze for this southern sport could spread west into Texas. "The thrill of catching a catfish with your bare hands only rivals having sex for the first time," he says. 

To go "noodling," Texans must obtain a freshwater fishing license and freshwater fishing stamp.

Web resources:

Okie Noodling documentaries by Austin filmmaker Bradley Beesley

Texas Parks & Wildlife's recreational fishing and hunting page

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