(The Center Square) — Louisianans may soon have the authority to wrestle catfish out of the water with their bare hands after the Senate approved a bill to allow "noodling" in the Pelican State.
The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 419 on Monday, sponsored by Rep. Jack McFarland, R-Jonesboro, to allow for hand-grabbing catfish and the taking of bream in minnow traps.
"HB 419 simply allows for the catching of bream in a minnow trap to be used as bait, noncommercial, and catfish noodling, or catching a catfish by hand," said Sen. Bob Hensgens, R-Abbeville, who presented the bill for a vote on the Senate floor.
The measure elicited chuckles from lawmakers, but no questions or comments before a vote of 37-0. HB 419 passed the House in April with a vote of 98-0.
McFarland elaborated on the bill in the Senate Committee on Natural Resources on May 12.
"HB 419 does two things: It says catfish noodling would be recognized as a legal method for taking catfish in Louisiana and it would also allow for small bream as an ecological and logical way for non-commercial fishermen to use for bait fish.
"And there’s size restrictions on the traps that can be utilized, which is 24 inches long with a throat no larger than one by three inches."
Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, joked with McFarland about experiencing catfish noodling, which the representative said is popular in north Louisiana.
"There are many people who go to not only sunken logs, or people will sink barrels, anything a catfish will bed up in, broken concrete up in the levies, any of that," McFarland said. "They’re marked on the lake, I have a GPS system on my boat, so I know where all the places are and we can go find one."
"But then you got to stick your hand … you don’t know where your hand is going exactly, right? I’m not sure I’m quite brave enough to do that now, just thinking through it all," Hewitt said.
"You really don’t think about that part," McFarland said. "You just think about how large of a fish you’re going to bring out."
Sen. Eddie Lambert, R-Gonzalez, questioned whether folks get attacked by snapping turtles while noodling, and prodded McFarland about the details of the method.
"When you put your hand in, you kind of feel around real lightly, cause if you move your hand too much the catfish will take out," McFarland said. "So you got to be real easy and then once you identify that there is a catfish in there, you put your hand in its mouth."
"Are you underwater when you do this, or is your head above the water?" Lambert questioned.
"You can do both," McFarland said. "Some of these would be more than four or five feet underwater, so you would have to go under. But sometimes you can maintain, keep your head above water, especially around a levee or broken concrete like around a boat dock … lots of times you’ll get a bed up under that concrete. Those are really easier to do."
HB 419 was returned to the House without amendments. It now requires the signature of Gov. John Bel Edwards to become law.