JONATHAN CHAIT AUGUST 17, 2011
The chattering class in D.C. has gotten pretty worked up over Governor Rick Perry's presidential candidacy. And, among other things, they've been asking whether America is ready to install another Texas Governor at the helm.
If you needed evidence that Texas is unlike any other state in the union, take a look at this summary from The Star-Telegram of the bills that became law in Texas this year, many of them strange, and many of them signed by Governor Perry. The one that stood out the most to me—aside from a new law permitting hunters to shoot at "feral hogs from helicopters"—is the new law signed by Governor Perry that will allow fisherman to catch catfish with their bare hands, a practice called "noodling." The Wall Street Journal did a great story about noodling back in May before it became law and described the noodling process. First, the fisherman puts his hands under water and waits for the fish to bite him, and when it does, he shoves both of his arms in the fish's mouth or gills to grab hold of it, pulls the fish close to his body, and then wraps his legs around its tail to stop it from wriggling. Catfish are enormous, so the process is actually pretty terrifying. Here is a bit from the story, which is worth a read:
So Mr. Knowlton, a 30-year-old-private citizen, oilman and outdoor enthusiast here, is pushing a bill in the state Legislature to legalize hand fishing, also known as noodling, grabbing or hogging. Noodlers go into the water, then reach into holes, hollow tree trunks, and other underwater nooks to find the fish.
Nothing beats "the heebie-jeebies you get underwater, in the dark, with this little sea monster biting you," he says. He recalls that his arm looked like "the first stage of a chili recipe" after his first noodling experience about 15 years ago. Catfish are equipped with bands of small but very abrasive teeth.
So, why did Texas ban noodling in the first place? According to the Journal story, it's because "officials didn't consider it a "sporting way" of taking fish when they sat down to write the rules decades ago." Essentially, opponents of the practice find it inhumane and less sportsmanlike to grab a fish out of the water with one's own hands instead of trying to catch it with a rod and bait. More likely, the anti-noodlers simply don't have the courage it takes to wrestle with a catfish. In a way, the law represents the fierce libertarian streak currently running through Republican politics. The bill's author, Texas state senator Bob Deuell, captured this sentiment in The Texas Tribune when he said: "I personally don't noodle, but I would defend to the death your right to do so."