How to Fish with Your Hands

It may sound ridiculous, yet tales of catching fish with the hands and the hands alone (no net, rod, stone or tool of any kind), litter antiquity. The practice has been recorded in nearly every country, across every continent. It's even been reported by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Remember that in centuries past, there would have been significantly more fish in any river. So the trial and error of this method could be put to the test much more rapidly. Certain species are regarded as more susceptible to "tickling," "guddling," "ginniling" or "noodling," as the practice is variously called, with "trout being" the most famous. However, salmon and catfish are also popular contenders. These directions, however, are written for trout.


Difficulty: Challenging

Entering the River and Approaching the Trout

Step 1
Identify a probable location. If you cannot actually see the trout making its way upstream or lounging in the shade of an outcropping or bank, look for probable places. Trout like to laze in the shade, in cool, calm water. Make sure the water is not too deep (you're going to have to get in) and that the river is safe to enter.
Step 2
Cautiously approach the trout from downstream, moving slowly. Sudden movements, splashes or sounds will scare the fish away. If fish sleep, they sleep with their eyes open, so watch your reflection on the surface of the water, keeping in mind the refraction of light through water (your sight line through water is not what you might expect).
Step 3
When within an arm's length or so, kneel down on one knee. Your other leg will be needed when you stand up. Place your leading hand into the water quietly, down by your side. With palm up, fingers relaxed, begin moving your hand toward the fish. Keep your hand close to the river bed, and aim for the fish's tail, slowly. Take deep, quiet breaths.

Tickling and Capture

Step 1
Undulate your fingers delicately, against the underside of the tail. If you do this properly and the fish gets startled, it may move but won't go far. Stay still, and wait for it to return or calm itself. The dorsal fin is a good clue to the fish's level of awareness. It should not be fully extended, but relaxed and flaccid, with the pectoral fins moving in slow circles.
Step 2
Continue to move your hand slowly up the fish's underbelly, being gentle, fingers relaxed but not stationary. The fish should feel relaxed. Don't get excited, but keep your breathing regular, deep breaths through the nose. Project a feeling of peace. As you continue up toward the gills, get ready. The gills offer the best grip. You should feel them opening and closing. Time the rhythm and, when ready, snatch the fish out of the water.
Step 3
Try in deeper waters. A variation of this method for deeper waters has the fisherman lying prone, arm in the water, relaxed, with fingers undulating slowly. The idea here is that, over time, the fish will become inured to your presence and may come to investigate.
Step 4
Carry (or throw) the fish onto land. Clean, gut, de-scale, cook and eat the fish you caught with your hands.

Tips & Warnings

This sort of "tickling" has been noted in many sources. The Greek writer Oppian mentions catching trout by hand in his Halieutica, circa 198 CE, as did Aelian in 250 CE in De Natura Animalium. Shakespeare references the practice, as a double-entendre, in two of his plays. The practice has been outlawed over several eras of history, due to its popularity with poachers (no evidence of the intent to commit a crime).
Suggested further reading is The American Naturalist, 1948, "Catching Fishes with the Hand," by Dr. E. W. Gudger, "Strange Fish and Their Stories," 1938, by H. Hyatt Verrill and Department of the Interior Information Service, press release, January 15, 1941.

Article Written By Benjamin Williams

Ben Williams is an award-winning reporter and freelance writer based out of Colorado. He has written for conglomerates of newspapers and magazines, supplying news, features, editorial and opinion. While running an Energy Services and consulting firm, he also writes for multiple websites.

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