The Fine Art of Noodling
Dr. John Woods 05.19.15
No guys, this is not about making out in the back seat of the Camaro. Noodling is the sort of unofficial nickname given to the fishing style of using a floating device to suspend a fishing line for the catching of fish, usually catfish, but other species as well.
When I was in college back in the old days (and this example will illustrate just how old), we used to solder together two metal oil cans open ends to end to make a fishing float. We would tie on a heavy duty nylon cord and wrap it around the can. On the cord was affixed a heavy lead float, a treble hook, and bait. The bait was everything from hotdogs, bologna, hard cheese, and pieces of bait fish.
The float cans were then tossed into the river, creeks, or lakes. The lead weight would sink, thereby quickly spinning the cans until all the line was off and the fishing line was taunt.
The cans would be free-floating in the water. If a fish would take the hook, then the cans would bob up and down, indicating a fish was “on.” This crude system worked pretty darn well.
Today, the fishing tactic of noodling is basically the same in terms of the principles of how it is done. However, the noodles themselves have been copied and commercially produced in many forms that can be purchased ready to bait and go.
Crafty anglers with just a little skill can manufacture their own noodles of many varieties. It all depends on how customized you want to go. One friend of mine collects large drink bottles with a neck on them. He slushes the inside of the bottles with orange paint to make them highly visible while floating in the water and then he glue seals the screw on lids in place.
Next he cuts fishing line or cord in lengths of about 6-10 feet depending on the depths he intends to fish. He double ties the line onto the necks of the bottles to secure them in place. Then he adds the appropriate fishing lead weights and hooks.
When this guy fishes with his “jugs” he mainly uses old shrimp for his fishing bait. Shrimp has a way of emitting a scent into the water that attracts fish to the hook. Of course there are all kinds of natural and unnatural fishing baits that can be used for fishing with floats.
Another popular way to construct your own fishing floats or noodles is to use the round soft foam tubes with a hollow center that are used in swimming pools for kids to float on. These tubes are cut into pieces about 18-inches long and fixed for fishing in a number of ways.
The simplest way to fix a noodle tube is to simply insert the fishing line down the center of the tube and tie it off in a loop, tight up against the tube material. From that loop continue more line for the sinker and hook or attach a separate line to do the same thing.
Use at least a half ounce lead weight attached to the line up from the hook about 2-feet. Choose a sturdy hook that will be able to handle heavy fish like a catfish up to 30 pounds. Bait the hook, then toss the line wrapped noodle into the river or lake and let it free float.
For a more elaborate noodle, some fishermen insert a piece of PVC pipe down the center of the tube. On one end they glue on a pipe cap into which they have inserted an eye-bolt for handling the noodle tube. On the opposite end another cap is glued on to seal the tube. The fishing line is then tied to that end with the appropriate weight, hook, and bait. Again the line is wrapped around the tube and the hook secured into the foam tube until ready to bait and use.
When these type of noodles are put into the water, they stand on end once a fish is hooked on the line. Many anglers wrap a strip of reflective tape at the top of the tube so they can be easily spotted at night by floodlight or flashlight. This set up really works well.
There are two theories of fishing strategies for using noodles. One is to drop the noodles and let them “soak” aka Deadliest Catch and come back the next day, or drop in the morning, then return in the afternoon to remove catches, re-bait, and leave them for overnight.
The other idea is to toss the noodles then sit on them in the hopes that bites and catches will come quickly. To my way of thinking just sitting and watching 20-30 or more noodles floating about in a lake is pretty boring fishing, but each to his own I guess. It would be a good time to sit back to relax, listen to the radio, read a book, or take a nap.
I know of others that toss half of their noodles in one spot, then motor down about a quarter mile into a different area to drop the balance of the noodles. Then they circle back to check on the first bunch, bring catches aboard the boat, put on new bait, toss again, then cruise back to the second flotilla of noodles and repeat. Whatever strategy works.
Recently when crappie fishing on Lake Washington in Mississippi, we tossed ten noodles into a cove and left them. Later that afternoon we went back to check on them. The noodles were scattered all over the place. We caught two fish, but most of the hooks were bare. We don’t know if they caught fish that got off or if somebody took the fish. There is no way to know. We baited them up again and left them for later on to check that evening.
After dinner we motored back up the lake in the full moonlight. It was a beautiful night on the lake. Using a spotlight and assorted flashlights we were able to shine the reflective tape on all ten of the floats, but none had fish on. Again there were many blank hooks. We decided the weights on the lines were not heavy enough to keep the baits down deep in the water. Again we added new baits to test leaving them overnight.
The next morning before crappie fishing we checked on the noodles one more time. We are only able to find eight of them with no fish on the hooks. We searched and searched but never found the other two floats. I guess this is part of the investment in the process to expect to lose some. We did learn that we needed to rethink our line weights and try some new things on the next noodling trip.
Noodling is just another different and fun way to fish. It can be very productive as proven by other anglers I know. So, if you are looking for something new to try, then I highly recommend you making up some noodles and give it a go.