A fistful of fish for the Fourth
Kubat Otorbaev, a journalist from Kyrgyzstan, grabbed a catfish on his first try.
July 4th, 2011
11:14 PM ET

A fistful of fish for the Fourth

Editor's note: Douglas M. Jones of CNN International tagged along as a group of international journalists went "catfish noodling" in a Tennessee lake during the Fourth of July weekend. Here he describes how the outing went.

“Just stick your hand down in there further and see if he bites it," Marty told me.

With a determined look on my face I took a deep breath and sunk back under water, using my arm as fish bait.

Earlier that morning, before sunrise, a crew and I met a group of visiting international journalists at their hotel in Atlanta.  We giggled like kids at the idea of sticking our hands into the mouth of a fish and ripping it out from under the water.

It’s called catfish noodling, or grabbling, or fisting; the list goes on. Simply put, you find a lake or river; stick your hand under rocks or logs where catfish lie, in the hopes that a fish will bite down. When the catfish chomps, it allows you to grab onto its mouth or a bone inside the fish so you can pull it out of the water. You are catching fish with your hands; and they are big.

As the story goes, it is believed that for people in the United States, this practice was passed down from Native Americans as a way to catch food and survive. Now many people see it as an adrenaline rush, or a curious piece of Americana that, to us, seemed perfect for a U.S. Independence Day weekend.

We loaded up a bus and headed a few hours north to Watts Bar Lake in east Tennessee.  At the banks were Marty and Fostana Jenkins, waiting with a smile and a wave.

We all stood in a circle, getting a crash course in grabbling and hearing stories of how the fish’s bite can draw blood. Unsure who was actually going to try it out from our group, we met three young girls who could be on the cover of next month’s popular teen magazine, ready to pull dinner from the lake. Apprehensiveness turned into embarrassment.

We loaded our gear, and persons, onto the boats and set out. We were a spectacle. A boat full of curious journalists from places like Japan, Kyrgyzstan, Vietnam, the Philippines, South Africa and the United States, all fixated on a few down-home southerners from Tennessee submerged up to their eyes in brown water feeling around for catfish below underwater rocks.

Then Fostana Jenkins, as if the excitement were as fresh as day one, sternly warned us.

“Oh, there he is! Put your hand up next to mine!”

Everyone leans over the edge of the boat as the brown water reveals a splashing, frantic catfish attached to three sets of hands. It’s huge, brown and slimy.

It’s an exciting show. Every photographer who hadn’t planed on getting wet, found themselves waist deep in the water hoping to get the best shot. A rouse of applause was heard from the other boats mixed with screams and cheering.

Time flew by that day. We made around 10 more stops at different parts of the lake looking for more fish to catch.

Really for us it was the ultimate icebreaker for new friends who couldn’t all speak the same language. Kubat Otorbaev, a journalist from Kyrgyzstan, knew few words in English and was quiet all morning. He boldly jumped in the water and became our hero after catching two huge fish on the first try. He was then our best friend. The smile on his face said everything.

We headed back to camp to enjoy some fried fish and moonshine.

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Filed under: Animals • Fish • Kyrgyzstan • Tennessee
soundoff (23 Responses)
  1. ajd041

    I'm not really sure what the purpose of this article was there have been many articles printed about this topic and tv shows and specials as well

    July 4, 2011 at 11:27 pm | Report abuse |
  2. American meth-head in ogden,ut

    im holding a fist full of meth and am gonna make a puddle in a new glass piece while black shadows fly all over the front-room !!. We're gonna b Smok-kkiinn !!!! .

    July 4, 2011 at 11:55 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Stone Children Not Adulterous Wives

    I saw 2 minutes of a noodling TV program and it immediately dropped my I.Q. by 30 points. I'm recovering from it now, but the doctor says I will never be 100%. *sigh*

    July 5, 2011 at 12:45 am | Report abuse |
  4. RUFFNUTT

    When i look in the mirror every morning before breakfast it seems i have Fish-Lips ..... I think my lips are too big ! I dont wanna live anymore ! I HATE my LIPS!!

    July 5, 2011 at 12:47 am | Report abuse |
    • Miche

      Oh just tell your self next time the bigger the better and smile...LOL.

      July 5, 2011 at 1:05 am | Report abuse |
  5. Cesar

    U think thats bad u should see my nose "i feel like a elephant seal at time s" and my feet are way horrid dude.

    July 5, 2011 at 12:52 am | Report abuse |
  6. Banasy

    U guys think thats bad well my whole body is little /im 5'5" and my rearend is like MEGA fat and huge !!!

    July 5, 2011 at 12:55 am | Report abuse |
  7. Mr. Fishh Lipps

    @ ruffnut i bet your fish lips r bigger than mine !!!

    July 5, 2011 at 1:00 am | Report abuse |
  8. Mmmmm

    I am Fourthin' in Tennesee too and the only thing I'll be wrangling is BBQ pull pork with 'slaw...LOL..,

    July 5, 2011 at 1:12 am | Report abuse |
  9. Mr. Herpies

    Does any-one need some H.P.V. Warts(genetil) or maybe a little herp in your lives ... Let me know K !!

    July 5, 2011 at 1:27 am | Report abuse |
    • Arnold Swartzenheizer

      Don't get mad get glad! It would be super hilarious if you started a secret society of Wart, Herpes, clap and other carriers. You could lure unsuspecting people into your society, by giving it to them then crank calling them a few weeks later saying "don't get mad get glad".. Oh then you can pretend you never gave it to them and try to ostracize them from society, even though certain sports are really just choreographed std giving parties. You will meet your fate like the rest of us.. Hatter.

      July 5, 2011 at 4:58 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Jimmy smoke crack and he dont care

    Yea , I smoke crack and i dont care !!!!

    July 5, 2011 at 1:31 am | Report abuse |
  11. raven

    I've been fishing all my life...that's because I come from a family of brothers that fish a lot...

    July 5, 2011 at 5:41 am | Report abuse |
  12. banasy

    Hey sista! How are you? I've tried the *catch the fish with your hand* I got finned and it hurt! So how are ya?

    July 5, 2011 at 5:44 am | Report abuse |
  13. raven

    Doing great. So did you make it to Nashville on the 4th? Don't feel bad. I too catch catfish with my hand but get finned a lot. What can I tell ya. Fried catfish is awesome. But you gotta pay the price so to speak...

    July 5, 2011 at 5:48 am | Report abuse |
  14. banasy

    Yep. Made it to Nashville on the 4th. Great food. The fire works were awesome. My kids just loved it. Didn't see you there. Did you make it?

    July 5, 2011 at 5:51 am | Report abuse |
  15. raven

    No. I couldn't this year. Ended up entering a pie contest. Came in 2nd place out of 102 participants. Made a chocolate moose pie. Gotta go. Bye sista. Stay safe...

    July 5, 2011 at 5:54 am | Report abuse |
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