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. banasy

    Chocolate pie. Red ribbon. Sounds *great* Until next time sista. So long.

    July 5, 2011 at 5:57 am | Report abuse |
  2. Trollie McTrollenstein

    Godda.n hillbillies.

    July 5, 2011 at 9:55 am | Report abuse |
  3. banasy

    Well, to each it's own.
    *I* wouldn't do it.

    Keep trying, Troll.
    Not there yet.
    Here's a hint: timing.

    July 5, 2011 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
  4. banasy

    Actually, sorry for the Jacassio.
    You are one of the more entertaining trolls here.

    July 5, 2011 at 1:43 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Seb

    Catfish noodlig. That sounds like a lot of fun. As a kid I used to to the same thing with trout sort of. We would lay on the side of the bank next to a river or small creek and run our hand underneath the bank. We called it petting the fish. We would gently run our hands up the fish to its gills and then clamp down. We didn't get but it was a ton of fun.

    December 14, 2011 at 10:40 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Sannep Verniet

    Hi there children, you all have to watch hilarious video tutorials, however take into account that first study then enjoyment ok.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:14 am | Report abuse |
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