It’s been just over a week since we returned home from the boreal forest of Northern Saskatchewan where we bear hunted on blue glacier-made lakes. Ryan Greb was on the hunt too, and as if we didn’t get enough time on the water, he invited my family down to do some noodling in some of Arkansas’ muddy waters. We love the taste of big flathead catfish so we took him up on the invite.

            My 13-year old daughter, River, enjoys wrestling these big catfish. She’s been after me all spring to take her down to try it again. Last year was her first trip, and with Ryan’s help, she handled a 36-pound flathead. Noodling involves using your hand as bait and sticking it into dark places it shouldn’t be. These big fish find cover in holes, rocks, under logs or any manmade structure they can find. You stick your hand in the cavity and the fish strikes your hand in defense of its position. When it strikes, the noodler latches on to the bottom lip of the fish and the fight is on. Often it takes two grown men to get it to the surface. The trick is being able to hold your breath long enough to catch the fish – it isn’t easy. These big fish have such power, it’s easy to get a hand twisted, a finger jammed, and get scraped by their big sand-paper lips. In the words of Ryan, "The snakes, turtles and beavers are just going to have to excuse our presence for a few hours."

            River had the aid of a veteran noodler by her side, but she pulled the fish out by herself while Ryan bear-hugged it once it was out of the hole. When I asked her if she was afraid she said, “Honestly, I wasn’t afraid of the fish, but being under the dark water for that long is scary.” The fish weighed 30.7 pounds.

            We caught four fish on this short trip, but let a good one get away as soon as it got to the surface.  The second biggest was a 24.6 pound fish of Ryan’s. However, these were just average fish. To Ryan a big fish is over 40 pounds, and even way over. Last week they got a 63-pound Flathead. Ryan’s biggest fish was in the low 70s.

            Ninety-five percent of these fish are immediately released. These guys are really good about this as they’d rather eat crappie. These big fish are located in places where they aren’t very susceptible to rod-and-reel fishermen or even commercial fishermen. However, we did keep this one and it will put to good use in some hot oil sometime very soon. 

river newcomb noodling

River with her 30.7-pound flathead catfish. She admits that she wasn't scared of the fish but the muddy water was her biggest fear. In the words of Ryan Greb, "The snakes, turtles and beavers are just going to have excuse our presence for a few hours." 

Ryan Greb noodling

River and Ryan Greb with the evening's catch. Sometimes the hardest part of this type of fishing is just getting in the water. It helps to have a veteran by your side. 

Ryan Greb noodling

Ryan Greb with what he'd call an average fish...24.6 pounds. This fish was quickly released to wreak havoc on the perch and other fish in this water system. Flathead catfish only eat living feed, unlike many other catfish species. 
river newcomb noodling
River with the big fish in the fading light of an Arkansas summer evening while her little brothers look on. 

Ryan Greb noodling

Ryan with a 63-pound fish they caught just last week. The biggest he's ever caught was in the low 70s.