When it comes to the beginner’s guide to trout fishing by noodling, even those who know everything about trout fishing may sometimes qualify as a beginner. Noodling is the strange name given to the ancient art that climaxes in ripping your hand free of the cold water rippling with a great big trout ready made for no-frills frying on a cast iron skillet over an open flame.
Where you live, noodling may go by the equally strange name of tickling. Tickling or noodling, it’s all the same. It’s trout fishing at its most basic and primal and, yes, when you learn to do it successfully at a rate that no longer allows it to qualify as a trick, it’s the most satisfying feeling in the entire world of fishing.
Not that I personally know that feeling. But I have seen it in action. I have a relative among my expansive band of Roma Gypsy uncles and cousins whose actual blood kin status to me I don’t even know. In fact, I don’t know all that much about him except that he could catch pretty much any freshwater fish swimming in the lakes and rivers of the Deep South using nothing but his hand. Again and again and again. He and some other relatives in that great big family of Gypsies that may allow you to become best friends with some vaguely related cousin or uncle twice or thrice removed for a summer when you are ten years old and literally never see them again for the rest of your life intersected with my life one summer.
The summer I learned how to noodle for trout in the cold rivers and streams of Georgia.
The beginner’s guide to fishing for trout by noodling starts with required equipment. Which is your hands. Oh, and here’s the thing I forget to tell you about my strangely familiar yet thoroughly unknown relative: he was blinded in a fire when he was four years old. Yeah, that’s right: the only equipment necessary for noodling for trout is your hand; you don’t even use your eyes. That’s the way I learned how to noodle for trout, anyway.
You find a nice deep pool of water close by the bank on a warm day. The heat of the sun will have risen enough to allow the surrounding shallows to heat up enough for the cold pocket of the deep pool to become a siren song for trout. Slowly sink your entire hand beneath the surface of the water so that you can get acclimated to the cold. Above all else, remain motionless. Or, at least, remain as motionless as possible. And then close those eyes.
All that stillness and all that acclimation to the changing temperature of the water is not really meant to create some kind of Zen blindness allowing you to see. You won’t see the trout with closed eyes. Instead, the absence of your sense of vision to mislead you into thinking it’s time for fishing will be transferred to your sense of touch. Over time you will come to sense the subtle changes in the currents below created by the trout swimming in the cold depth. Eventually, given enough time, the beginner’s guide to trout fishing by noodling will be put aside as you become adept at sensing the location of the trout, the size of the trout and, most importantly, when the trout’s gills open and when they close.
Noodling for trout, as I learned, all comes down to practicing enough so that the fish will actually make subtle contact with your fingertips without immediately being scared off and swimming away. Once you reach that point and become experienced enough to detect the opening and closing of the gills, it’s simply a matter of timing.
When the gills open, the fingers quickly strike and before the trout can understand what just happened, it finds itself unable to close the gills again because you have a thumb inside one and another finger inside the other.You may be wondering why it the deep pool of cold water must be close by the bank of the river or stream. Because the trout hasn’t been really been successfully noodled simply because you have managed to grab it. Ultimate success at noodling for trout depends entirely on your ability to whip your hand out of the water and fling the fish onto an area of the bank far enough away from the water where it cannot make its way back into the water.