State Republican lawmakers are working to lift a ban on the practice of catching catfish by hand, a practice known as noodling.
Noodling is a type of fishing where an angler wades into shallow rivers and searches for nesting catfish in underwater holes in muddy banks. Female catfish lay their eggs in these holes, called nests, and then male catfish fertilize and guard the eggs until they hatch. During this time catfish are very aggressive and will attack whatever enters the hole, including a noodler's hand. Once they bite, the noodler pulls the catfish out of the water by their jaw.
It's a popular style of fishing in southern states but Wisconsin state law forbids it.
Republican Sen. Tom Tiffany, of Hazelhurst, and Republican state Rep. Treig Pronschinske, of Mondovi, want to change that.
They've introduced a bill that would allow noodling, which has received bipartisan support from State Rep. Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, and State Rep. Beth Meyers, D-Bayfield.
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Tiffany calls the noodling ban a technicality and said there's not a good reason it shouldn't be allowed in Wisconsin.
"It’s actually fairly popular by some people," said Tiffany. "I know I’ve heard from a few people up in my district that they go over to the Mississippi (River) and they noodle catfish, and there’s no reason for it to be illegal. So, we’re going to fix that technicality in the law."
But there is concern that targeting these fish when they're spawning could hurt the catfish population.
The Missouri Department of Conservation temporarily allowed noodling on specific tributaries leading to the Mississippi River. Fisheries Regional Supervisor Christopher Kennedy said after the test period was over, the department decided to ban noodling once again.
"When noodling occurs is at a point in time when the females are laying eggs in cavities and then the males are coming behind them and protecting those nests," said Kennedy. "So, anytime we interrupt that process that nest has a very high percentage rate of failing and it could have dramatic impacts on your populations."
The bill introduced by Tiffany and Pronschinske would also allow anglers to harvest what are known as "rough fish" using a special bow and arrow. Rough fish is a blanket term for less desirable fish species like carp and suckers.