I first heard about noodling on NPR (considering the stereotypical NPR listener, it's amazing how much one can learn about rural life from it, especially on the weekends). I tuned in in the middle of the program, so while I learned that it was popular in Oklahoma, I wasn't sure what it was for a while. Considering the activity is called "noodling," I thought maybe it produced baby Okies, but that is not the case at all. By the time I pieced together what noodling is, not only had I reached my destination and it was time to turn the radio off, but I was all shades of "Are you effing kidding me." Surely those mellow-voiced, eloquently homey radio hosts were pulling a fast one!
When I got home I turned to Wiki, and, well, the proof is in the pudding. And by "pudding" I mean "open-source encyclopedia entry." I might as well just cut and paste, because I'm sure you're getting impatient:
Although the concept, catching fish with only the use of the arm in the water, is simple enough, the process of noodling is more complicated. The choice of catfish as the prey is not arbitrary, but comes from the circumstances of their habitat. Flathead catfish live in holes or under brush in rivers and lakes and thus are easy to capture due to the static nature of their dwelling. To begin, a noodler goes underwater to depths ranging from only a few feet to up to twenty feet, placing his hand inside a discovered catfish hole. If all goes as planned, the catfish will swim forward and latch onto the fisherman's hand, usually as a defensive maneuver in order to try to escape the hole. If the fish is particularly large, the noodler can hook the head around its gills.
If you're having trouble wrapping your head around that, here's a montage to illustrate, courtesy of YouTube.
Yankee that I am, the thought of sticking my hand in a giant fish's gill strikes me as kind of gross. It's also a pastime that involves the very real possibility of pissing off snapping turtles, gators, or whatever angry, sharp-toothed, aquatic animals might live in your region (including the catfish themselves-- a 60 pound fish must be a formidable opponent). TILfW's official stance: consider taking up macrame instead.