John's Journal...

Hand-Grabbing or Noodling for Catfish in Mississippi

One Big Party

Click to enlargeEditor’s Note: When you’re hand-grabbing catfish (noodling), most of the action takes place underwater, but when the catfish and the fishermen come up, the action’s almost like grabbing a tiger by the tail. When you’re underwater, and you grab a big flathead catfish weighing 20 pounds or more in the mouth and pull it out of the box you’ve sunk to create a hole where it can spawn, you’re in for a dramatic catfish fight. I learned about hand-grabbing for cats from five-time world-champion turkey caller and founder of Preston Pittman Game Calls Preston Pittman of Pickens, Click to enlargeMississippi. “My friends Michael Willoughby and Steve Bowden are the real hand-grabbers,” Pittman says. “They’ve been doing it for years, and they’re the best I’ve ever met.” Willoughby and Bowden build boxes and sink them on Ross Barnett Reservoir, near Jackson, Mississippi, before hand-grabbing season arrives, which generally runs from May until about mid-July in Mississippi. Then, when hand-grabbing season starts, they check their boxes to see if the boxes have any catfish in them. Willoughby and Bowden always leave someboxes undisturbed to give the catfish a spawning place to reproduce more catfish. “A hand-grabbing trip is fun for the entire family,” Pittman explains.

On our recent hand-grabbing for catfish trip, two-different times we had two cats in one box. The trick to catching both cats is to let the first person go down, stickhis or her hand in the box, wait on the catfish to bite and then try to slowly pull that cat out of the box and wrestle it to the surface. Then the blocker, which is usually Michael Willoughby or StevClick to enlargee Bowden, will put their bare feet in the box to try to block the remaining catfish, so it can’t come out of the box. The second person then will go down and try to catch the second cat. Catching two, 20-pound catfish out of one box is not uncommon, because many times there will be a male and a female cat in the same box. This is when hand-grabbing is a lot of fun, because you’ll have two catfish, two catchers and one blocker in the boat at the same time. Click to enlarge

When those catfish start coming to the surface, a fourth person will get in the water with a stringer to string-up the catfish and bring them back to the boat. A catfish-grabbing trip is more than a fishing trip; it’s one big party. We had four or five boats on our catfishing trip to Ross Barnett Reservoir, and everyone got involved. After everyone saw one or two cats being caught, they wanted to stand on the box and wait for the catcher to go underwater and grab the cat. When you’re standing on the box, through your feet, you can feel the catfish moving around, the grabber trying to get the cat, and many times you can tell when the catcher catches the cat and pulls it out of the box. A hand-grabbing-for-catfish trip is more than a fishing trip; it’s a party, an event and a trip you’ll remember for a lifetime, at least it was for me.

Be sure to visit our YouTube Channel at to learn more about hand-grabbing for cats and to see more hand-grabbers catching cats. Maybe next year, you can go hand-grabbing, too.

Today's Video Clip
One Big Party

Content on this page requires a newer version of Adobe Flash Player.

Get Adobe Flash player

Tomorrow: Why Use a Box for Hand-Grabbing Catfish

Check back each day this week for more about "Hand-Grabbing or Noodling for Catfish in Mississippi"

Day 1: Hand-Grabbing for Catfish – Fun for the Entire Family
Day 2: Catfish-Grabbing with Two Hands
Day 3: A First-Time Hand-Grabber Better Wear a Glove
Day 4: One Big Party
Day 5: Why Use a Box for Hand-Grabbing Catfish


Entry 568, Day 4