Wilson: 'Noodling' isn't legal or safe

Question: I saw a story about "noodling for catfish" in Oklahoma. This reminded me of when I lived in South Carolina where it was legal to "noodle." I know it sounds crazy, but it's a lot of fun. I would like to try it again. Is it legal in Californai?

— S. Freeman, Riverside

Answer: I have good news and bad news on this one. The bad news is that despite how much fun it probably is, noodling for catfish is not legal in California because catfish (and nearly every California fish) can be taken only through angling — meaning with a hook and line. The only exceptions are for bait fish, and only if you're a member of the Pit River Indian Tribe in Shasta County.

Now for the good news: You get to keep your fingers!

"Noodling" is a type of hand fishing for catfish that is legal in rivers, lakes or ponds in a handful of southeastern states. A person wades into chest-deep water then inserts a hand into holes under mud banks, rocks, or inside of hollow logs. Then he wiggles his bare hands as bait, hopes a monster catfish will strike and attempt to swallow their hand. The noodler then must pull the fish out of the water without being pulled under.

In the states where noodling is common, catfish can weigh more than 100 pounds, making this a dangerous sport. Some people have drowned trying to catch these monsters, or have lost fingers or been bitten by snapping turtles or snakes which take the bait.

By the way, there are goliath catfish in our state, too — you just have to use a hook and line to catch them. The state record blue catfish was 113 pounds in taken by a San Diego angler in July, 2008.

Q: Can a convicted felon apply and receive a hunting license? If so, can a felon use a bow and arrow to hunt?

A: Yes to both questions. Convicted felons cannot possess firearms, but Fish & Game code does not consider a bow and arrow a firearm for hunting. So anyone not on parole can hunt using archery equipment.

A crossbow is another story. Codes treat the crossbow like a firearm, so they cannot be used.

Wilson is a marine biologist. Send questions to CalOutdoors@dfg.ca.gov.