Catfishing by Hand a Secret Love

Hand fishing for catfish, or "noodling (search)," is a tradition with deep roots among rural fishermen across the South.

In the practice, catfish aren't caught with a rod, a reel or a net but with the fisherman's bare hands.

“I was taught by my dad, my dad was taught by my granddad and I taught my son,” said seasoned noodler Howard Ramsey, who is also president of Noodlers Anonymous.

Noodling, also known as "grabling" or "hogging," is legal in 11 states. It’s been illegal in Missouri since 1919; conservationists think the noodlers are killing off the catfish.

But now, from June 1 to July 15 and from sunrise to sunset, as long as they have bought a $7 permit, noodlers can use only their bare hands and feet to catch a daily total of five catfish (search). All blue and flathead catfish under 22 inches long must be thrown back.

Permit holders will have to provide a detailed report of all hand fishing activity at the end of the season. The Missouri Department of Conservation will, after five years, evaluate the experimental seasons before making any final decision about the future of handfishing. During this time, according to the department's Web site, research will study harvest impacts to catfish population dynamics.

The most productive time for hand fishing is early summer, when female catfish lay their eggs in natural cavities. After the females leave, the males take over guarding the nests. It's then that noodlers reach inside cavities, hope the catfish will be interested enough to bite his hand and if and when that happens, the fisher grasps the fish by the jaw or gill plates and pulls them out.

Noodling enthusiasts in the Show Me State claim that hand fishing is the only way to catch the most mature catfish in a river, some of which can weigh close to 100 pounds.

“I’ve always said if you ain’t bleeding, you ain’t hand fishing,” said Ramsey.

But noodlers hope the fish are the only thing biting. Beavers, snakes, and snapping turtles also call the underwater holes and hollow logs home.

“Snapping turtle — he’ll take your finger off if you get a hold of one,” Ramsey.

So why not wear gloves?

"If you have gloves on, you can't tell whether its a fish or a beaver ... and if you pin that beaver, he's gonna turn around and bite yout," said veteran noodler Gary Webb.

This hobby may be dangerous and illegal, but the pastime lives on as noodlers risk fingers and fines for a thrill.

Click in the box near the top of the story to watch a report by FOX News' Eric Liljegren.