Noodling and Grabbling fishing season in Georgia opens Sunday, March 1.
ConnectLocal.News provides an overview of Georgia fishing regulations, seasons and limits.
Noodling involves finding a Catfish hiding underwater, sticking your arm in its mouth, and dragging it out of the water with your bare hands. You use your own fingers as bait and the Catfish’s bite as the hook. Because of this, noodling is also known as “hand-fishing” or “grabbling,” as well as more inventive names like “gurgling” and “cat-daddling.”
Noddling is actually illegal in a majority of the states in the country, but in Georgia, it is an official, regulated fishing method - but one of the few fishing methods that has a limited season. The noodling and grabbling season in Georgia opens Sunday, March 1, and ends on July 15.
Bass Pro provided ConnectLocal.News the following lesson on how to noodle:
A Quick Guide to (hand fishing) Noodling
Noodling is best done during the spawning season in spring and summer, when catfish are more likely to stay in their hole and protect their eggs (this is the male catfish’s job). The best time of the year to go noodling is when the water reaches about 70 degrees.
Once you find a likely catfish hole, barricade any exits with rocks or use your friends -- never noodle alone, but we’ll get to that part later -- and plan your attack. It’s best to jab a stick into the hole before sticking your hand in; if you feel a hard shell or only a thin tube on the other end, you’d better step away as it’s likely a hole now occupied by a snapping turtle or snake.
If you have a catfish, then you’re going to stick your hand in the hole and wait for it to defend its hole by biting you. You may need to coax it by tickling your fingers at the mouth. If this doesn’t work, you may need to force open the catfish’s mouth. A flathead catfish’s bite has been described by many as feeling like sandpaper, so when you feel it, you know you’re in good shape.
Once it has your hand, grab tightly by the gills and pull out.
What Are The Dangers of Hand Fishing?
The first and most present danger when noodling is drowning. The safest noodling takes place in shallow waters without a strong current, but some brave noodlers will swim 10 to 20 feet deep in search of their catch.
This becomes a danger when all of a sudden you may be struggling with a 50-pound catfish. Or maybe your clothes get caught on an underwater tree branch. Never wear loose clothing, and always noodle with a spotter -- someone who can keep an eye on you and help get you out of trouble should you become caught underwater.
The other danger is from other animals lurking in the water. Alligators, snakes, beavers and muskrats are potential threats and have been known to attack noodlers. And of course, there are snapping turtles, which love to move into abandoned catfish holes ... and you do not want to stick your hand in the face of a snapping turtle.
At the very least, noodlers are common victims of scratches and scrapes from debris and wrestling with the fish. Be sure you carry a First Aid Kit and treat all cuts with antibiotic ointment, cover them with a bandage and keep a close eye on the recovery. If you get a deeper puncture wound, visit the hospital as those injuries can lead to losing a finger.
What Do I Need to Start Noodling for Fish?
You don’t need a rod or reel to noodle, and most of what you need you probably have in your home already. You need tight clothing that can’t get snagged underwater, either a boat or a truck to get you to the prime spots, and as we mentioned before, a First Aid Kit. Oh, and a friend or two who have experience noodling and can help get you started.
ConnectLocal.News has compiled Georgia fishing regulations, catch limits and other information, including the Georgia Department of Natural Resources new regulations on certain game species, and special regulations, including amended catch limits, for waters that lie on state borders - including many areas of Lake Hartwell, Yonah Lake and others.
Georgia Fishing Regulations
Purchase a Georgia fishing license in person at license dealers statewide including most WRD/CRD regional offices; state parks; marinas; major retailers; and sporting goods, bait and tackle, and hardware stores. A complete list of license agents can be found at gofishgeorgia.com.
Social Security Number is required for the purchase of all licenses.
Anglers age 16 and older must have a current Georgia fishing license in their possession while fishing in fresh or salt water in Georgia. Additionally, a free SIP is required to fish in saltwater.
A fishing license is not required to fish in private ponds (does not include ponds owned by governments—city, county, state, or federal) nor by a resident and their immediate family when fishing on their land.
A temporary authorization number obtained by telephone or internet sale may be used for seven days until the paper copy is received or printed.
Conservation Rangers may require photo identification when checking fishing licenses.
Proof of residence is a Georgia driver’s license or official State of Georgia ID card and is required to purchase a resident fishing license.
Georgia resident military veterans that were on active duty for 90 or more consecutive days and who were honorably discharged on or after July 1, 2005 may obtain one annual Honorary Hunting and Fishing License free of charge. Such veterans may obtain this license by providing a copy of their DD Form 214 and a completed DNR application.
Senior Citizens: Georgia residents born on or before June 30, 1952 may obtain a Lifetime Sportsman’s License free of charge. An optional Lifetime Sportsman’s Plastic Card may be purchased for $10. Reduced cost licenses are available for residents age 65 and older (see 2020 Recreational Fishing License Fees).
Discount Disability License: Georgia residents who are permanently and totally disabled may obtain a discounted Disability License. A qualifying disability is an impairment of a permanent and total nature and is certified as such by the Department of Veterans Affairs, Social Security Administration, Medicaid, Medicare or Railroad Retirement System.
Any resident who is totally blind may apply for a Lifetime Honorary Fishing License and must provide a Physician’s Certification of Blindness with the application.
Nonresidents 16 or older, regardless of physical condition, must have a valid nonresident Georgia fishing license to fish in Georgia freshwater and saltwater, except in private ponds. See also Agreements for Bordering States.
Nonresidents under 16 do not require a fishing license or trout license.
DAILY LIMITS: It is unlawful to take in one day or to possess at any one time, except at a residence or commercial storage facility, more than the daily limit for each species. It is unlawful to possess more than a total of 50 individuals of all the game fish listed in this section, except channel and flathead catfish. Once the daily limit for a particular species is taken, it is unlawful to continue to fish for that species.
10 Bass (Largemouth, Redeye (Coosa), Shoal, Smallmouth, Spotted, and/or Suwannee bass) - Exception Lake Lindsay Grace (Wayne Co.) — Only one bass may be greater than 22 inches.
15 Bass only two of which can be 22 inches or longer (Striped Bass, White Bass and/or Hybrid White-Striped Bass) Limit taken from Lake Richard B. Russell from the Russell Dam to Lake Hartwell Dam and Lake Secession Dam, all tributaries to Lake Richard B. Russell is two (2) striped bass per day, only one (1) of which can exceed 34 inches in length.See the Fishing Regulations for shared waters for Georgia and South Carolina on Agreements With Bordering States. Limit taken from the North Newport River, Medway River including Mount Hope Creek, Little Ogeechee River, Ogeechee River, Oconee River downstream of GA Hwy 22 in Milledgeville, Ocmulgee River downstream of the GA Hwy 96 bridge between Houston and Twiggs counties, Altamaha River, St. Mary’s River, Satilla River, and the tributaries to these river sections; and from saltwater is a two fish limit, both of which must be 22 inches in length or longer.Limit taken from the Savannah River and its tributaries downstream of J. Strom Thurmond Dam is a two fish limit, both of which must be 27 inches in length or longer.
No Limit on Catfish (Channel and/or Flathead)
30 Crappie (Black and/or White)
15 Pickerel (Chain, Grass and/or Redfin)
8 Shad (American and/or Hickory)
8 Trout (Brook, Rainbow, and/or Brown trout) - See Amicalola Creek, Chattahoochee River, Chattooga River, Smithgall Woods, Smith Creek, Toccoa River, and Waters Creek on Trout Streams Destinations by County. See the new limits for shared waters of Georgia and South Carolina on Agreements With Bordering States.)
50 Sunfish or Bream (Bream: See South Carolina Agreement on Agreements With Bordering States.)
Creel and possession limits are per person. For Conservation Rangers to correctly determine compliance with these limits, each individual should keep trout or other fish on separate stringers or in separate creels. It is unlawful for one individual to possess more than the legal limit of any fish species.
SEASON: There is no closed season for fishing in freshwater in Georgia, including trout fishing, which has been allowed year-round since approximately 2014. The following are specified exceptions.
Noodling or Grabbling season is March 1–July 15 statewide in freshwater.
Flint, Chattahoochee and Spring Creeks are CLOSED to striped bass fishing and spear fishing from May 1–October 31 each year.
All fishing, including spear fishing, for any species in the marked areas around five fish refuges in Lake Seminole is prohibited from May 1–October 31 each year
The season for taking lake sturgeon from the Coosa River and its tributaries is CLOSED.
MINIMUM LENGTH REGULATIONS: There are no minimum length limits on freshwater game fish unless they are listed below. All lengths are Total Length. If there is a minimum length indicated below, you must release all fish shorter than the indicated length.
Largemouth Bass: 12 inches statewide except: 14 inches at Blackshear, Lanier, Oconee and Walter F. George lakes, West Point Reservoir and any DNR public fishing Lakes unless otherwise noted; no minimum at Lake Blue Ridge, Lake Juliette and Lake Burton. At Lake Lindsay Grace: bass between 15 and 22 inches must be released immediately. All others may be kept. In addition, only one bass may be greater than 22 inches.
Shoal bass: Lake Lanier: 14 inchesFlint River and its tributaries (below Warwick Dam): 12 inchesFlint River and its tributaries (above Warwick Dam): 15 inches
Spotted bass: Lake Lanier: 14 inches
Trout: No minimum length limit for trout except: Waters Creek (Brown and rainbow trout: 22 inches, Brook trout: 18 inches) and Noontootla Creek and its tributaries on Blue Ridge WMA (All trout: 16 inches)
No more than 10 freshwater turtles (any combination of species) may be possessed one time. There is no closed season for the harvest of freshwater turtles, however, taking of species protected by federal or state law is prohibited (for a list of species access: https://georgiawildlife.com/species#reptiles). For more information www.georgiawildlife.com/turtling.
BORDERING STATE AGREEMENTS: SOUTH CAROLINA
On the banks and in the waters of all channels of the Savannah River from its mouth to the junction of the Tugaloo (Toogaloo) and Seneca Rivers; the Tugaloo River from its mouth to the junction of the Tugaloo and Chattooga Rivers; and the Chattooga River to the North Carolina state line (35th parallel of North latitude at Ellicott’s Rock). This agreement also applies to all the waters and banks of Clarks Hill Reservoir (Strom Thurmond), Richard B. Russell Reservoir, Hartwell Reservoir, Yonah Lake, Tugaloo (Toogaloo) Lake, the New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam, and Stevens Creek Lake (except that portion on the Stevens Creek arm upstream of South Carolina Hwy 53). The agreement does not apply to any flowing portions of tributary streams to these impoundments nor to tributary streams of the Savannah, Tugaloo and Chattooga Rivers.
All persons meeting the freshwater license requirements of Georgia or South Carolina may fish from the banks and in the waters covered without having to obtain any other license.This agreement does not apply to commercial fishing or saltwater sport fishing.A South Carolina saltwater fishing license is required when fishing from a boat on the SC side of the Savannah River downstream of where the CSX Railroad trestle crosses the Back River.
Length, Creel and Possession Limits
See GA-SC chart above for the length, creel and possession limits for the border waters covered by this agreement.
Any person using baskets, jugs, minnow seines, trot lines, or other set hooks in the waters covered must comply with the laws, rules and regulations of the state in which the baskets, jugs, minnow seines, or trot lines are fished, regardless of their residence.No person may carry to either state or possess in such state more fish than the laws of that state or those of this agreement permit, even though the fish were caught in the waters of the other state.
Georgia's Saltwater Fishing Regulations stickers have a new look this year. The new stickers will be available in early March.
Landing Requirements/Transfer Prohibition
All saltwater finfish (including sharks) under state or federal regulation must be landed with head and fins intact. Anglers must make catches available for inspection by government officials. Saltwater finfish subject to size and bag limits cannot be transferred to another person or vessel on the water. A commercial license is required to sell any seafood.
A seine may not be used as a gill net (a net constructed of single webbing attached to a float line and lead line and fished in a stationary manner to ensnare or entangle fish in the meshes).
Only flounder may be taken with a gig (any handheld shaft with single or multiple points, barbed or barbless).
All seasons, hours, creel limits, minimum size limits, and other regulations applicable to saltwater finfish apply regardless of the gear used.
Recreational harvest of sharks is limited to hook and line gear only.
Licenses are required for hook and line fishing, castnetting, seining, crabbing, gigging, sport bait trawling, and harvesting shellfish.
A Georgia Fishing license is required for anglers returning to Georgia ports or transiting Georgia waters with recreational catches from federal waters beyond the state’s 3-mile territorial sea.
Reciprocal agreements with Alabama, South Carolina, and Florida currently do not apply to saltwaters.
A free Saltwater Information program (SIP) permit is required for anyone age 16 and over who fishes in saltwater.
Beginning January 1, 2020 all new SIP Permits will expire one year from the date of issuance. SIP Permits obtained prior to January 1, 2020 will expire on the last day of February.
Unless otherwise posted, fishing is allowed on WMAs according to statewide regulations
It is unlawful to fish on someone else’s property without permission. Conservation Rangers and other law enforcement officers are charged with enforcing this law. Always ask permission before entering private land.
Permission is not required to fish in the Chattahoochee or Oconee National Forests, on Wildlife Resources Division Public Fishing Areas (PFAs) or Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs), or in Georgia State Parks (gastateparks.org) as long as all applicable state regulations are followed.
Tagged Fish - Coastal Resources Division (CRD) biologists are conducting long-term studies on the growth, migration and fishing exploitation rates of red drum, black drum, tarpon, and tripletail. If you catch a tagged fish, please record and report the following information: 1) your name, address, and phone number, 2) fish species, 3) date caught, 4) tag number, 5) total length and location, and 6) whether the fish was kept or released. To report a tagged fish call (912) 264-7218. If released, please do not remove the tag. If kept, please return the tag to GADNR/CRD, One Conservation Way, Brunswick, GA 31520. If the tag number is not legible lightly scrape the tag with your fingernail or similar flat object. If you are an angler who practices catch and release and would like to become a cooperative angler please contact the Cooperative Angler Tagging Program at 912-264-7218.