Noodling for Flatheads

Posted by on Monday, October 31st, 2005

Noodling for Flatheads: Moonshine, Monster Catfish, and Other Southern Comforts by Burkhard Bilger.

I grabbed this book from my to-read shelf when I did because I needed a hard-cover to take with me to a web design class, so I could prop the book open with my wallet and knit while reading.  Serendipitous, that.   It’s a very fun read.  The book is a collection of essays about underground hobbies and interests practiced throughout the south, many of which are maligned as redneck or hillbilly pursuits.  The author seeks out and interviews moonshiners, raccoon hunters, squirrel-eaters, Soul-Food cooks, frog-breeders, Rolley Holers (those are folks who play a cool form of marbles), and cock-fighters. 

The first essay is indeed about Noodling for Catfish, which has to be one of the most bull-headed, dangerous, and ancient methods of fishing we goofy apes have developed.  Noodlers use their fingers as bait, locating a nesting male catfish tending his fertilized eggs, and then taunting him until he strikes at their arm.  Apparently good noodlers can limit the amount of injury a fish does to their arm, but I’m sure lots of these fishermen (and they are generally men) have some hard-earned scars from the sport.  Bilger manages to interview the noodlers respectfully and does end up risking his own arms in a fishing outing.  More power to him, I guess.  I found this essay and a documentary on Noodling really fascinating.  I’m not sure why.  I guess we kooks just like each other. 

The book works because Bilger is respectful of all of the folks he interviews.  He walks into these underground communities without any prejudice.  He’s willing to find out from his subjects why they do what they do.  It was a bit tough for me to read about the cock-fights, and I’m sure some readers would be put off by the raccoon and squirrel hunting.  I made sure not to discuss the sections on the more exotic (or is it less exotic?) eating habits with anyone in my class, lest folks find their own lunches less appealing.  The chapter on Moonshiners was the best of the bunch: Bilger rides with both the Shiners and the Revenuers out to get them, and displays all with wit and sensitivity.  And does indeed drink some shine with each crowd.  If nothing else, I finished this book wanting to see some folks play Rolley Hole. 

Filed in Books | 2 responses so far

2 Responses to “Noodling for Flatheads”

  1. Nannyfodderon 01 Nov 2005 at 10:09 am 1

    Mike Rowe has a show called Dirty Jobs on the Discovery Channel. One of the first episodes was about Noodling for catfish. It was hysterical. These 2 guys stood by and watched him stick his hands in rocks trying to catch fish.


  2. laneaon 01 Nov 2005 at 1:32 pm 2

    I’ll have to look for that episode, Nanny. That guy sure has one heck of a job.

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