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Iowa lawmakers to anglers: Keep your hands to yourself

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Catfish Production

A catfish feeds in a pond in Pine Bluff, Ark., on Aug. 24, 2009. An Iowa Senate subcommittee on Wednesday rejected a plan to end a ban on hand-fishing of catfish in the state. 

DES MOINES | Catfish noodling is still a no-no in Iowa.

A state Senate subcommittee on Wednesday rejected a proposal to end a rule prohibiting the practice, also known as hand fishing, in which fishers wrestle catfish to the surface with their bare hands.

The ban was put into place because of concerns the activity would remove large catfish off nests, leaving eggs unprotected and vulnerable.

State Sen. Rich Taylor, D-Mount Pleasant, a member of the Senate Natural Resources and Environment subcommittee, proposed ending the ban. He said he took part in hand fishing before.

“It’s a sport. It’s legal in quite a few other states,” he said. 

Nebraska and South Dakota also have bans on noodling. The technique -- also called grabbling, hogging or tickling -- is legal in 13 states, mostly in the southern U.S. The Animal Planet show “Hillbilly Handfishin'” featured an Oklahoma business dedicated to the practice.

Joe Larscheid, chief of the DNR’s fisheries bureau, said it usually involves catching large blue or flathead catfish by cornering them in a hole or cavity along a river or stream bank, and inserting a hand into the fish’s mouth to pull it off a nest of eggs and harvest it.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 37 states have blue or flathead catfish. The fish can be heavy -- a Michigan fisher recently caught one weighing 52 pounds and measuring 46.02 inches, a new state record. 

The Iowa rule bans only catfish noodling. Rough fish like carp, buffalo, quillback, gar, sheepshead, dogfish can be taken by hand.

Larscheid said statewide catfish populations are healthy and not likely hurt by hand fishing, but the effects on local fisheries could be substantial.

“Catfish are the No. 1 sport fish in Iowa,” Larscheid said. “Our data shows that people go after them big time.”

DNR officials said many anglers do not view hand fishing as a fair-chase method, likening it to baiting turkeys or hunting from a vehicle.  

They told committee members that the state Natural Resource Commission has the ability under Iowa law to use the administrative rule-making process for a public process to allow hand fishing of catfish if Iowa anglers want to pursue that sort of harvest.

Taylor said the state should reconsider. 

“I really see no down side to it," he said. "There are plenty of fish in the water for everybody.”


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