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Posted at 6:58 PM ET, 02/22/2011

Animal Planet unveils noodling with 'Hillbilly Handfishin''

By Lisa de Moraes

Animal Planet - the network about things people do for, and to, animals, announced Tuesday it had ordered a reality series in which city slickers pay good money to go to Oklahoma to noodle.


Animal Planet's new series "Hillbilly Handfishin'." (Animal Planet)

"Noodling" is hillbilly for "catching catfish with your hands." Don't take my word for it - Animal Planet is calling the series "Hillbilly Handfishin'."

The show, Animal Planet explains, stars "self-proclaimed hillbilly" Skipper Bivins who, for a price, takes silly city slickers out and teaches them how to catch catfish with their bare hands. Hairy Old Guy Chests Alert: in most of the photos of Skipper Bivins floating around the Web - he's apparently the rock star of Noodlers - and in those sent to us by Animal Planet, Bivins is shirtless; it's not pretty.

Anyway, Oklahoma appears to be one of the states in which noodling is legal, according to the fine folk at askcatfishfishing.com as of 2008. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was sorry to tell us it has no idea in which states noodling is okay and in which not, because it's a state-by-state issue. According to askcatfishfishing.com in 2008, if you live in Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Kansas, Illinois, Arkansas, or Missouri - noodle away! Anywhere else, no noodling.

Flathead catfish are easy targets because they live in murky holes in rivers and lakes. When catfish are spawning, they like to find a nice murky hole in which to lay their eggs. The male catfish then thinks he's got the easy assignment, standing guard over the future generation. All you have to do is find that murky hole, stick your hand in the hole. The daddy catfish will probably swim forward and latch onto your hand as a defensive maneuver. If the fish is large enough, the noodler can hook his or her hand around the fish's gills. You yank out your arm - usually a noodler has at least one spotter who helps them bring the fish in, which seems like cheating but apparently isn't. Reading up on the fine art of noodling, we were conscious of a passing pang for the catfish, feeling that life for these unfortunate animals must be one damn thing after another.

So Daddy Catfish hands in his dinner pail while trying to guard the roost. Everybody wins! Except the occasional noodler who gets a finger bit off, or drowns after getting his body stuck in the murky hole while trying to shove his arm down a catfish, which, frankly, seems like as good a way to decrease the surplus population as any.

Animal Planet plans to unleash "Hillbilly Handfishin'" on the public in August, but the network actually premiered the pilot for this series way back in September 24, 2010 and averaged 630,000 viewers - 44 percent better than the year ago timeslot average. Two encores of the pilot copped even bigger crowds: 653,000 viewers on Dec. 9, and 722,000 viewers on Dec. 22.

Noodling was also featured in a 2003 episode of Discovery Channel's "Dirty Jobs" though it's unclear what the "job" part was. More recently, noodling was a storyline in an episode of ABC's comedy series "Cougar Town" in which Bobby and Travis went on a dad/son noodling bonding trip.

"Hillbilly Handfishin' is produced by Half Yard Prods., which also produces "American Loggers" for Discovery network and "Say Yes to the Dress" for Discovery's TLC network.

By Lisa de Moraes  | February 22, 2011; 6:58 PM ET
Categories:  Local TV  
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