Using Your Noodle for Catfish

More Passive — but fun — Ways to Catch Cats

It is often said that there is more than one way to skin a cat.

I’m not so sure about all of that. But what I do know is there is more than one way to catch one — a catfish, that is.

Texas is home to a bounty of reservoirs and rivers, and many of them are chock full of whiskered fish. Three sub-species are recognized as sport fish — flatheads, blues and channel cat.

While blues and flatheads rank highest on the hit lists of trophy hunters, there are an army of fishing fans hooked on the channel cat, mainly because populations are plentiful and widespread across the state. Plus, they make excellent table fare and, like blue cat, are regulated by a liberal statewide limit of 25 fish, 12 inches. The following is so strong that Ictalurus furcatus won third in a Texas Parks and Wildlife angler popularity vote behind largemouth bass and crappie.

There are all sorts of ways to catch catfish. The standard hook and line is probably the most sporting. But if you are in it just for the fun and the food, it is hard to go wrong with a passive fishing method like trotlining, jug lining and noodling.

Each method calls for securing a line to a stationary or floating object, suspending one or more baited hooks beneath the surface, then waiting for a spell to see if you get any takers. While all three can be super productive, none will keep you busier out there when the catfish are on a tear than a couple of dozen noodles will.

“Running catfish noddles also is a lot of fun,” says Heath Bragg, a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department game warden based in Nacogdoches County. “I take my kids noodling every spring and they have a ball with it.”

Not surprisingly, the Braggs also catch a lot of fish in the process. In fact, they are usually able to stock their freezer with enough channel cat for multiple family fish fries.

Not to be confused with hand fishing for catfish, setting and running noodles is more akin to fishing with jug lines. The main difference is the style of the floating device used to suspend the bait.

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Amazing Pop-Up Noodle

The Little Stinker Amazing Pop-Up Fish-a-Noodle is a new, fun and effective way to catch fish. Just tie on your baited line, drop your Noodle into the water and get ready. The Noodle floats on its side until a fish takes the bait. Then, the Noodle will pop straight up letting you know you have caught a fish.

There are lots of ways to make noodles and fish them but this one is super easy and is great for someone wanting to get into “noodle fishing” or a veteran wanting to try something different.

These are great ways to help introduce kids to fishing because the excitement of seeing the noodle pop up gets them pumped up. In fact, it’s tons of fun to throw out a few of these within view of where you’re rod and reel fishing to keep things interesting.

An added feature is that it glows in the dark, making things conventient especially as the catfish bite often goes to night in the summer.

—Chester Moore


The typical jug line is made by tying a length of heavy line to a one-gallon anti-freeze jug or a liter Coke bottle with several hooks spaced out to cover the water column.

The noodle serves the same purpose, but is generally built for applications in fairly shallow water with only one hook. Not only are noodles inherently easier to manage than jugs, but they are also way less cumbersome to store when not in use. For storage or transport, wrap the line and stab the hook into the foam to keep everything tangle free.

You an easily fit more than a dozen catfish noodles neatly into the same space it takes to hold 2-3 jug lines. That’s because the devices are small in profile measuring roughly 3-4 inches in diameter and about 15-18 inches long.

Another neat thing about catfish noodles is they are relatively easy and inexpensive to build, or you can purchase them already assembled. One of the most popular manufactured catfish noodles on the market is made by Little Stinker, which also offers all sort of hooks, baits, jugs and other gear designed especially for the whiskered fish connoisseur.

Fittingly called the Little Stinker Pop-Up Fish-a-Noodle, the cyclinder-shaped device is made using a 17 1/2 inch section of soft and flexible water noodle commonly used for floating in a swimming pool. There is a rigid metal rod inside with durable line tie on one end. At the opposite end is a glow-in-the dark cap, which stands out nicely to help you keep up with the noodles after the sun goes down.

“Our noodles are built to last and they are designed so they lay horizontal on the water until you get a bite,” says Little Stinker’s Matt Bianich. “When you get a fish on the noodle lets you know it because stands up in the water with the glow in the dark cap on the topside. That takes a lot of the guesswork out of running noodles, because you know which ones have been messed with and which ones haven’t.”

Academy advertises the noodles for $4.19 each, which means you can get a couple of dozen units for around $100. And trust me. You won’t need any more than that. When the fish are really biting, two dozen noodles will keep you as busy as you want to be.

If you’ve got the time and basic hand tools you can build your own army of noodles for less money. Materials you will need are several water noodles, a few joints of 3/4 or 1 inch PVC (depending the diameter of hole in water noodle), end caps for the PVC, some small eye bolts, a tube of silicone and a few joints of 1/2 inch rebar cut about 3-4 inches long.

Begin by cutting the PVC into 18 inch sections and the water noodles into 12 inch sections, then insert the PVC inside the water noodle. Drill a small hole in one of the end caps and secure the eye bolt (that’s your line tie). Seal around the inside of the eye bolt using silicone to prevent seepage and allow to dry.

Insert the rebar into the PVC so it can slide freely back and forth, then secure both end caps using PVC glue. The rebar will shift when you get a bite, causing the noodle to stand erect in the water.

To make the noodle visible at night, tape the cap opposite the line with reflective tape. There are a passel of good instructional videos for building noodles on the Internet. To find them do a good search for “building catfish noodles.”

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Getting Legal with Noodles

• In Sept. 2014, TPWD amended a state law requiring that noodles used for recreational fishing be white in color. The new law states that noodles can be any color except orange. Commercial fishermen are required to use orange exclusively.

• All noodles must be equipped with some sort of gear tag listing the user’s name, address, phone number and the date the device was set out. You can also write the info on the PVC using a sharpie.

• Each licensed angler is allowed a total of 100 hooks.

• It is not legal to retain largemouth bass and crappie that are caught using noodles, jugs or trotlines.

—Matt Williams [/box]

There are a couple of ways to fish with noodles. You can fish them stationary by securing the main line to bottom with a weight, or allow them to free drift with the wind. Some noodlers like to bait up right at dark and run the noodles at first light. Others prefer to stay with their noodles until they are done fishing. The latter is usually the best option, especially when fishing with free floating noodles.

Free floating rigs work great when fishing in shallow coves or pockets with an incoming breeze. Bragg likes to build his using 80-pound monofilament line so the bait (a live perch, shad, shrimp or cut bait works great) hangs about three feet below surface. He places a 1/8-ounce slip sinker on the main line then adds a barrel swivel to prevent line twist. He finishes out the rig with a 12-16 inch leader and a 2/0 or 3/0 worm hook. One noodles drift too shallow Bragg will retrieve them and start the process all over again.

Charlie Shivley of Huxley prefers a stationary noodle on shallow flats that are around 5-6 feet deep. Shively owns a fishing camp at the upper reaches of Toledo Bend, which is well known for its whopper blues and flatheads. For that reason he builds his main line from No. 36 tarred nylon and his hook staging from No. 15-18 tarred nylon.

Shivley makes his main line about eight feet long and secures it to bottom using a railroad spike or a manufactured weight. He adds in a 2/0 barrel swivel about 18 inches below the float. He prefers a hook staging about 16 inches long and always uses 6/0 stainless circle hooks when fishing with live perch or cut bait. He says the staging should always be secured to the top ring of the swivel to prevent line twist.

Building, setting and running noodles ranks among the most productive methods around for sacking up a mess of catfish for the freezer. It also is among the most enjoyable, especially when there are youngsters in the boat.

Story by Matt Williams

TF&G Staff:
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