Fans of Hillbilly Handfishin’ are looking forward to the upcoming season of noodling and, no doubt, will enjoy the new “competition format” the show will be sporting. Previously, the competition was really only with one’s self; now, the partners are being scrambled, and the teams pitted against one another for honors at the end of each program. First question for the team of show hosts Skipper Bivins and Trent Jackson: Why do people DO this?
“You know,” Skipper said, “a lot of them probably have a bucket list. It’s just something they want to do. They see it, it looks very adventurous, and there’s a thrill factor to it.”
There are always some interesting characters on the show, but it seems that many of those who really take the challenge most seriously are those who have never had any real outdoor sporting experience, particularly those from more urban areas.
“You may be on to something there,” Skipper said at the suggestion. “I think the city people actually CRAVE it. They see it on television, we’re having so much fun, it’s obvious we’re having fun, they get to get the mud between their toes—it’s American wildlife upfront and really, really close. Even if you just see a poisonous snake on a bank, just a few feet away from you, it really shoots an adrenaline rush up your body, and that’s not something they are used to. They’ve seen lots of fast-moving buses and subways, but they’ve never had an experience with wildlife in an open setting, in their own territory.”
“We’ve also had a lot of people we grew up with,” Jackson pointed out, “that you couldn’t pay them any amount of money to do this. It’s something that’s very scary; it’s definitely an adrenaline thing.”
Noodling Sweeping the Nation?
Noodling, they both said, is nothing new.
“You know, noodling’s been going on since the beginning of time,” Jackson explained, “and we started at an early age.”
But, will it catch on?
“No, it’s not GOING to catch on, it HAS caught on,” Skipper said with emphasis. “There are noodlers out there by the thousands, as we speak, and I expect those numbers to grow. Like Jackson said, this is something that dates back as early as the American Indians. The explorers made notes in their logs that they saw American Indians actually catching fish with their bare hands and feet.”
But, does it REALLY hurt? Or are a lot of those people just putting on for the camera?
“He’s gonna bite you like a pit bull,” Skipper confirmed. The newbie noodlers are not acting, he said, when they start yelling, screaming and squirming. “Definitely not. Self-preservation has kicked in, it’s much like a shark attack. Jackson and I and my family are very busy, hanging on to the bank and keeping these people pushed into those holes because when he bites them, they want OUT.”
Okay, but why bother with the little fish?
“Those little fish, I hate to catch them!” Jackson laughed. “They will tear you up! A big fish, he’ll bite you and hang on; a little fish, he’ll just run up and take bites of you. He’s so quick, he’s hard to catch. So, a little fish doesn’t mean they didn’t go through something to get it caught. They’re actually pretty tough.”
And, of course, not everyone is able, physically, to catch a 20-70 pound catfish, Skipper pointed out.
“Sometimes it’s not how big the fish is," Skipper explained, "but what the journey was like on the way. And, sometimes those people with small fish, they had the biggest journey.”
Some viewers may wonder about just what happens to all of those catfish the noodlers catch—giant fish-fry after the episode is in the can, perhaps?
“When we started fishing as children, growing up, it was primarily to put food on the table,” Skipper said. “But, after we started doing the show, and we’ve been in such a drought in our area, we decided the best thing to do would be catch and release and turn these fish loose. And, somebody else may come along and catch the same fish again.”
New Season, New Format
Why change the format this season? Why the teams?
“It helps when you’ve got a crew behind you, cheering you on,” Jackson explained. “Sometimes it’s not an easy thing to get these people in there to do it.”
“We made them aware that there will be penalties for whoever catches the least amount of fish on the day,” Skipper said, “and that there will be trophies at the end of the tournament. And that really sparks them to jump out and do the best that they can do.”
Regardless of where they are from, or whether or not they are on-camera, Skipper and Jackson always love helping people learn about the sport they love.
“It’s always a pleasure,” Skipper confirmed, smiling mischievously. “I never get tired of hearing a grown man scream, or feeling a beautiful woman tremble in my hands; this is a pleasurable thing for Jackson and I.”
“You know, we’ve been accused of putting things on,” Jackson added, “but you can ask every one of these people that come and go fishing with us, it is the real deal. It is really happening, and they have something to stick their chest out about when they leave.”
Hillbilly Handfishin’ will be up and noodling in its second season on Animal Planet, beginning Sunday, July 29, at 8 p.m. E/T.
Image: Animal Planet