Hand fishing, grabbling, or noodling is something that Gary Altizer knows plenty about. After all, he is a proud 4th generation noodler. Listen as he describes the perils of finding and grabbing Oklahoma river catfish with his bare hands. But once those fish are caught, the options for eating them are endless.
If you’ve got the innate knowledge and courage to go snag yourself a catfish, then you’ll need to skin it and clean it before you proceed with this recipe. Of course, you can also just go to your local grocer’s and buy some catfish filets.
According to Gary Altizer, it’s a tag-team: the men catch and skin the cats, the ladies usually cook them up. This is the recipe he suggests for “salty, deep-fat-fried” catfish steaks.
Salty, Deep-Fat-Fried Catfish
A dozen eggs
A dozen beers
Salt and pepper
Lawry’s Seasoned Salt
How much catfish depends on how many you’re feeding or how much you catch.
Beat together, in a big bowl, enough eggs and beer to cover the filets.
In a second bowl, mix flour, salt and pepper to taste, and a good dose of Lawry’s Seasoned Salt.
Fill a fryer with vegetable oil and place over medium heat.
Dip a catfish filet in the beer-egg mix, making sure to get all the fish covered. Then dip it into the seasoned flour, covering one side then the other.
Lay the filet gently into the hot oil, taking care not to splatter yourself. How long you fry it depends on how much your filet weighs. As a rule, cook until golden brown.
Carefully remove the filet from fryer and place on a platter lined with paper towels to drain. Repeat until all of the filets are cooked. If you have a “mess”—meaning, a slew of fish—you’ll need to either keep them warm in a 250-degree oven or serve them right up. Taste the first one for yourself to get a feel for how salty they are. Add more salt and pepper to taste.
We like our catfish pretty salty.
On the side
A few catfish serving suggestions:
Cole slaw—something good and tangy.
Hush puppies—might as well, as you’ll have a big batch of oil already going.
Ranch-style beans—season lightly, if at all.
Rice—a great big fluffy bowl of it.
Gary Altizer: It’s a lot easier if you’re hanging them up off of trees. Like get a big spike nail and put it to the bottom lip and then you skin them, pulling their skin down. Lay them up into a patties, big fish steaks. Some people like to barbecue them and the women usually cook it. I’m not a cooker, I’m a skinner.
My name’s Gary Altizer. I’m from Calumet, Oklahoma. I am fourth generation Okie noodler. We call it hand fishing. You just go along feeling the bank until you find a hole. When you stick your hand in, if a fish has eggs it’ll come out and bite you. You don’t have to find the fish he’ll come and get to you. My brother and I, we hand fished our whole lives. I remember my first fish. We was in some rocks and my dad found a hole for me. It was probably two or three pounds but really chewed my hands up but I was excited. They’ll scare you. You know, you’re sticking your hand in a hole, you can’t see nothing, they come up and bite you and you jerk all those teeth around his mouth, thousands of little bitty ones. They can really do skin damage to your hand.
I’ve caught a 50 pound flathead. He’s probably the biggest one I ever caught. After I get off work at 5:00, then get my hand fishing clothes, you don’t want to ruin your good clothes, you use the same jeans and the same shoes, the same shirt. Some guys don’t wear a shirt but I usually do. I always wear shoes because you get your feet cut up. And we went down at the river and we caught it in a car body, in the trunk. This is an old car that was in the water, covered up with sand and water. Years ago they put a bunch of them against the bank to keep the river from washing out their property. They get rusted out and get holes in them where the fish can go inside of them and that’s where you can catch a lot of catfish in the rivers.
If you don’t know what you’re doing it’s pretty dangerous. Once me, my brother and a friend of ours went noodling and we found this hole. And we couldn’t reach the back of it so we had this bright idea that I’d swim underwater first and then my brother would hold my feet, swim under it and then his friend would hold his feet. And whenever I run out of air I’d kick my feet and then my brother kicked his feet and then my friend would pull us both up. Well, he pulled my brother out but I had jeans on and there’s a root, a tree root under there and it caught my pant through the loop and I was hung up and they were both pulling on each leg and I was about to drown but I didn’t panic. I jammed my arm up against my body and pushed my arm up where I could get it back to that belt loop and I popped it lose. And when I did I come clear across the creek, they were both pulling so hard. I thought I was going to die.
Abby Wendle: Did you like see a big fish at the end of the tunnel?
GA: No. I didn’t see nothing at the end of the tunnel. I just wanted out of there.