John's Journal...

Hand-Grabbing or Noodling for Catfish in Mississippi

Why Use a Box for Hand-Grabbing Catfish

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, Mississippi. “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.” Click to enlargeWilloughby 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 some boxes undisturbed to give the catfish a spawning place to reproduce more catfish. “A hand-grabbing trip is fun for the entire family,” Pittman explains.

Steve Bowden and Michael Willoughby build boxes for flathead catfish to nest in during the spring. Many hand-grabbers will cut off the ends of a hot-water tanks and sink them to make catfish boxes. Some people will use PVC pipe and all types of structures that have holes in them, so the catfish can go in and create a nest inside that hole. However, when you cut off the end of a hot-water tank or use other structures, Steve and Michael have found that they’re not nearly as efficient as they are with boxes. “We’ve learned that we Click to enlargecan control the catfish better and catch more cats using these homemade boxes than we can with any other type of structure,” Bowden says. “The wooden boxes won’t cut or scrape the catcher like a rusty water tank or a PVC pipe may. Also, by designing our boxes with holes in the front, Mike and I can put our feet in those holes and keep the catfish from escaping, until we can get someone to go underwater and reach inside the hole and get the cat. We also prefer the boxes because we like to take friends with us hand-grabbing. Even in our deep boxes, people can stand on top of the box, feel what’s going on inside the box and watch the catcher come up with the cat. Hand-grabbing for cats is as much a party and a good time as it is actually catching the cats and eating them.”

ThClick to enlargeese flathead cats are delicious to eat, if you know how to clean and cook them. On the end of the video this week, Preston Pittman will tell you how to clean and cook cats. When asked what he thought about hand-grabbing for cats, Pittman explains, “Some people have a problem with it, because we’re catching the catfish off the beds. However, many people don’t realize that there are a number of flathead catfish in Ross Barnett Reservoir, and of course, not all the catfish will be in all the boxes. Catfish have natural places to spawn, too. Also, Steve and Mike never actually go to some of the boxes they build and sink, because they want to make sure the catfish have enough places to spawn to reproduce more flathead catfish. The hand-grabbers are extremely conservation-minded. They know that to continue their sport, they have to make sure there’s a healthy population of flathead cats in the reservoir at all times. So, they put-out more boxes than they can fish to make sure a new generation of flathead cats will be born each summer, and that this tradition in sport can continue. If you’ve never been hand-grabbing for catfish, you’ve missed one of the greatest sports in the outdoors. I was hooked on it from the first time I grabbed a cat by the jaw and pulled it out of the box. Now I try to go every year and really enjoy not only grabbing the cats myself but also watching other people grab cats.”

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
Why a Box for Cats

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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 5