Missouri fishermen no longer have the option of leaving their rods, reels and other tackle at home. The Missouri Department of Conservation ended experimental seasons for hand-fishing — also known as noodling — during a Conservation Commission meeting Friday in Lebanon, Mo.
The Commission discussed information from the Catfish Harvest Evaluation Project.
“The project looked, in part, at the size and number of catfish harvested by hand-fishing,” said Steve Eder, fisheries division chief at the Conservation Department.
Data collected by the fisheries division and analyzed by an independent research service played a role in the decision to end the experimental seasons, Eder said.
The Department of Conservation believes that the final results of the study will show that noodling will hurt copulation and catfish reproduction because catfish sit around their nests during mating season.
The controversy began in 1919 when the General Assembly passed the first laws banning noodling in Missouri. Hand-fishing is legal in several nearby states, including Oklahoma, Tennessee and Arkansas.
Hand-fishers replace a hook and line with their bare hands in search of trophy-sized flathead, blue and channel catfish. The fish are often found on their nests in hollow logs or holes in stream banks during the summer spawning season.
Ending the hand-fishing seasons will protect larger catfish for anglers, according to a news release from the Department of Conservation.
The evaluation project conducted at Lost Valley Hatchery, near Warsaw, Mo., looked at the effect an annual hand-fishing season might have on catfish populations. Fisheries division researchers removed flathead catfish from the nest as if they were harvested by hand-fishing, said Eder.
“In each case where we did that, they, the eggs, all died,” he said.
A series of surveys by the Department of Conservation found that hand-fishermen look for flathead, blue and channel catfish weighing 17 pounds or more. Catches weighing 30 to 50 pounds are not unusual, the surveys found. Some hand-fishermen report catching 70- to 80-pound catfish.
The experimental hand-fishing seasons allowed Missourians to purchase a special permit for June 1 through July 15 in 2005 and 2006. However, only portions of the Fabius, Mississippi and St. Francis rivers were open to bare-handed fishing during the two-year test.
The complete ban on hand-fishing in Missouri takes effect immediately.