ANIMALS, MISSISSIPPI, SPORTS
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Tune in to Animal Planet tonight at 9 p.m. to see three Mississippi noodlers compete

noodleIf you think noodling is something you play with in a swimming pool or add to chicken soup, think again. It’s another word for a type of fishing called hand-grabbing or grappling, and you can watch a Mississippi team compete in a new show called “Catfishin’ Kings” at 9 p.m. Monday on Animal Planet. The three-part series will air March 11, 18 and 25 at 9 p.m.

Noodling is a sport that involves catching monstrous fish using only your bare hands.

“You have to locate the fish nests or homes, check them to see if they are home, block the entrance with your body and try to retain them,” said Brandon resident Stephen Bowden, 40, a self-described “adrenaline junkie,” who is a member of the Mississippi team that will appear on the Animal Planet series. “Then, you hold your breath, go under water, feel around and try to catch them with your hand. This sport may not be for everyone.”

Bowden said noodling or hand-grabbing season runs from May 1 through July 15 in Mississippi during the time of year when catfish spawn and nest in holes, hollow logs and other underwater structures. It is legal in Mississippi, but not in every state, because many people are concerned that the sport will deplete local catfish populations.

The Murrah High School and Hinds Community College graduate, who works at Jackson’s Eaton Aerospace, has been noodling the past 15 years and said he was excited that his team was selected for the show.

“The experience was great,” he said. “We got to compete and represent our great state in something we usually just do for fun. We caught some good fish in the competition.

“I would like to take this opportunity to emphasize that we, Team Mississippi, are active conservationists. We believe in only taking from nature what we need and giving back to nature all we can with the intent to preserve the abundance of wildlife in all outdoor sports for years to come.”

Team Mississippi includes Bowden, Michael Willoughby and Gerald Moore.

In the series, America’s top eight noodling teams from Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina, Alabama, Texas and Arkansas compete to get down and dirty while bringing in the biggest, baddest catfish around. They are vying for a prestigious Catfish Cup and hometown bragging rights.

Hosted by Texas native Brady Knowlton, a local folk hero who legalized the sport in his home state, the teams were dropped into the murky waters of a 30,000-acre lake in Terrell, Texas, last summer, where they participated in the bracket-style competition.

Madison resident Willoughby, 44, began hand-grabbing about 24 years ago.

“The excitement and adrenaline rush you get from going under water and wrestling a monster catfish on his terms does it for me,” said the the Murrah High School graduate and owner of Willoughby Painting. “You hold your breath, go under water, grab a fish in its lower jaw or let it bite you and wrestle it to the surface.”

Sound fun?

“We adapted to the different style of fishing and caught some really big fish,” he said. “We would like to add that we practice ‘catch and release.’ We only keep enough fish for us and our family. We also build structures so catfish have a safe place to spawn and reproduce.”

Moore, 67, another team member who is nicknamed “The Master,” has been noodling for more than 50 years.

“Back in the day, it was a good way to put food on the table,” he said. “Now, it’s still a good way to put food on the table; plus, it’s a very big sport and something I still enjoy doing. We still just catch what we want to eat and call it a day.”

The Madison resident, who attended Jones County Junior College and now owns Moore’s Carpet Care in Madison, said the competition is about which team can catch the most pounds of catfish with a limit of two in the morning and two in the afternoon.

“It was a lifetime experience,” he said. “To look in the eyes of 15 huge TV cameras was the worst part of the experience, because knowing what you said and did was going to be shown all over the world,” he said.

Tune in tonight night to see the competition begin.

Got a comment? E-mail me at endyanna@earthlink.com or Tweet me at @lareecarucker.

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