Saturday, August 24, 2013

Noodling for Channel Cat

If you've never noodled, you've missed out one of those great lost sports -- like going javelina hunting in arroyos, dry washes, and blind canyons with only a .22 pistol. You might live, and even have something you can taxidermy onto your wall, but it's unlikely.

Noodling is a kind of "body-fishing" that you do when you want a fish to eat, but it turns out you don't have anything to fish with but your fist and a mind full of reckless delusions.

You find a muddy, zero-visibility body of water - preferably a pond or a lake, but it could be a slow-moving bend in a river -- then you stick your hand and arm along the bottom of the stream. I guess the fish think you're good eating because they take your arm as though it's bait.

Which fish? Those fish. Those olive-toned, slimy, big-mouthed, spiny-finned catfish. They're "channel cat" and they can be neolithically large.


But, you're hungry. You want a fish to roast over the fire you've managed to get started in a little alcove under the 23rd-street bridge. You're burning boxes you fished out of the dumpster behind the QuikTrip a few blocks away.

Okay. So you use your body as a fishing lure. What's so wrong with that?  Nothing, if you are depressed and hating life. You see, the cats that lurk around in these waters are no kittens. They're "channel cat" -- catfish that can reach 50 - 75 pounds of pure fish muscle, and if you don't think they can't take you to the bottom and keep you down there until you stop flailing about like a fish caught on a hook, then you're just wrong -- dead wrong.

Random question to you: Would you swim in a river that is filled with discharge from a reservoir contaminated with toxic algae and chicken farm run-off? Would you eat fish that had been living in that slimy, turbid, miasmic fluid?

I can tell you in a word what my answer would be. It's a simple NO.

The Arkansas River is not exactly a noodler's paradise. It does, I believe, have channel cat, although I'm not sure how or why, when you consider that most of the fish in the river are only there because they've been swept away with the water released from reservoirs upstream. For a fish, I suppose it's the ichthyologic equivalent of the end of days - but with a rather depressing twist. You assume you've been raptured up, carried up to the heavens, and not "left behind" with those who failed to find salvation in time, but to your dismay, your fishy confreres you thought were squealing "rapture" were actually saying "rupture" -- and then you found yourself in dark, thick straits, churning through a slim "swim-space" under a dam.

Suffice it to say, you, as a fish, *hated* it, and you would warn every other fish against this horrid dark night of the soul, but you have no way to communicate back to your buddies, lazing about, bloated on algae and chicken offal, back at the reservoir "ranch" upstream.


The Arkansas River is what I consider an industrial, utilitarian river. As it exists now, it’s used for flood control, the source of cooling water, and an urban beautification project with bike trails, walking trails, informal arboretum, shoreline benches, picnic tables, and the loveliest array of flowering shrubs and trees I’ve seen outside upstate New York (specifically, Voorheesville).

The fauna of the river's edge is also interesting – I’ve seen turtles sunning on logs, groundhogs scampering on dry winter grasses, lots of hideous fish, Canada geese, ducks, egrets, seagulls, and lots of frogs. And, there are the people: fishing from the pedestrian bridge, biking, skateboarding, running, rollerblading, walking, eating lunch, walking their dogs (or being walked by their dogs).

I know I've shared that my favorite thing to do is to walk, but I have run a few times. I prefer walking. It gives me a chance to think and to listen to recordings of classic literature that I download from Librivox. I have walked as long as 2 hours while listening and thinking, and, when the weather’s right and the foliage is blooming, it’s absolutely utopia.


That said, there is no way that I’d want to swim in the river. It’s inutterably foul when it’s low, and it smells like pond scum.

When the river is high, it runs fast and deep because the civil engineers have released water from Lake Keystone.

That scene, too, fills me with horror. Last year, there was a surge of red-green-blue-variegated algae that sickened swimmers, water skiers, and anyone who had contact with the water. Someone said it was due effluent from poultry farms, or perhaps a hog farm.

That does not stop the channel cat.

And, it does not stop the anglers. People fish from the bridge and presumably eat the fish they caught. Some even stand in the shallows in waders and fish as water flows over the dam.

They may noodle, too, and it would not surprise me. I've seen police cars near the places where the best fish seem to be, and I have always wondered if they're fishing the drowned out with grappling hooks and ropes mounted on the back of pickup trucks.

Of course, there may be the occasional doomed lover -- Millais's Ophelia, face up amongst the lily pads -- but that would be near the Ampitheatre in an oxbow lake, and not in the rapids on the downriver side of the dam.

Somehow, though, Ophelia's drowning persists as a fascinatingly romantic self-sacrifice to love.

Being noodled to death by a huge catfish possessing a gigantic slimy mouth, big lips, what appears to be a long drooping moustache does not.

In fact, the spectacle of it leaves me gaping in horror. There are just too many parallels in the dating world, but that's another story altogether.

Anyway, I read somewhere that in a noodling contest somewhere in southeast Oklahoma (near Antlers, Idabell, or Broken Bow), the winner dragged up a 90-pounder. One time I watched a documentary on "low tech" fishing for Hemisynodontis membranaceus ("Moustache Catfish) in the lakes of equatorial Africa, and I thought that what they did was child's play in comparison with noodling for catfish in Oklahoma.


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