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Catfish noodling in Tennessee
July 5th, 2011
07:32 PM ET

A fistful of fish in the U.S.

Published on the CNN "This Just In" blog on the U.S. Independence Day was a story about a practice called "catfish noodling". Back|Story went along on a trip with a group of international journalists to try it out. Here is the full article below, along with pictures from the trip.

Editor's note: Douglas M. Jones of CNN International tagged along as a group of international journalists went "catfish noodling" in the Tennessee river during the Fourth of July weekend. Here he describes how the outing went.

“Just stick your hand down in there further and see if he bites it," Marty told me.

With a determined look on my face I took a deep breath and sunk back under water, using my arm as fish bait.

Earlier that morning, before sunrise, a crew and I met a group of visiting international journalists at their hotel in Atlanta.  We giggled like kids at the idea of sticking our hands into the mouth of a fish and ripping it out from under the water.

It’s called catfish noodling, or grabbling, or fisting; the list goes on. Simply put, you find a lake or river; stick your hand under rocks or logs where catfish lie, in the hopes that a fish will bite down. When the catfish chomps, it allows you to grab onto its mouth or a bone inside the fish so you can pull it out of the water. You are catching fish with your hands; and they are big.

As the story goes, it is believed that for people in the United States, this practice was passed down from Native Americans as a way to catch food and survive. Now many people see it as an adrenaline rush, or a curious piece of Americana that, to us, seemed perfect for a U.S. Independence Day weekend.

We loaded up a bus and headed a few hours north to the Tennessee River in east Tennessee.  At the banks were Marty and Fostana Jenkins, waiting with a smile and a wave.

We all stood in a circle, getting a crash course in grabbling and hearing stories of how the fish’s bite can draw blood. Unsure who was actually going to try it out from our group, we met three young girls who could be on the cover of next month’s popular teen magazine, ready to pull dinner from the lake. Apprehensiveness turned into embarrassment.

We loaded our gear and persons onto the boats and set out. We were a spectacle. A boat full of curious journalists from places like Japan, Kyrgyzstan, Vietnam, the Philippines, South Africa and the United States, all fixated on a few down-home southerners from Tennessee submerged up to their eyes in brown water feeling around for catfish below underwater rocks.

Then Fostana Jenkins, as if the excitement were as fresh as day one, sternly warned us.

“Oh, there he is! Put your hand up next to mine!”

Everyone leans over the edge of the boat as the brown water reveals a splashing, frantic catfish attached to three sets of hands. It is huge, brown and slimy.

It’s an exciting show. Every photographer who hadn’t planed on getting wet, found themselves waist deep in the water hoping to get the best shot. A rouse of applause was heard from the other boats mixed with screams and cheering.

Time flew by that day. We made more stops at different parts of the lake looking for more fish to catch.

Really for us it was the ultimate icebreaker for new friends who couldn't all speak the same language. Kubat Otorbaev, a journalist from Kyrgyzstan, knew few words in English and was quiet all morning. He boldly jumped in the water and became our hero after catching two huge fish on the first try. He was then our best friend. The smile on his face said everything.

We headed back to camp to enjoy some fried fish and moonshine.


Filed under: backstory • journalists • photography
July 5th, 2011
03:25 AM ET

Embedded with U.S. Troops in Afghanistan

A team, along with journalist Nick Paton Walsh, embedded with U.S. troops at Combat Outpost Pirtle – King in Afghanistan. You'll see what day to day life is like for these soldiers fighting a war, but you'll also see what it's like to face the ultimate adrenaline rush as they encounter deadly gunfire.

While the CNN team was there covering fighting from the side of the troops, they came perilously close to bullets raining down upon their camp.

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Filed under: backstory