Robert Earl Woodard, an Alabama farmer and retired football coach, has spent 40 years perfecting his technique for catching bass by hand.
As you can see from the first video, his careful procedure involves dangling some bait in the water and waiting for a fish to strike. He then grasps the fish by inserting his thumb into the “V” at the bottom of the mouth and waits for the fish to calm down.
The large mouth bass that Woodard caught in the video weighted in at 16.03 pounds, just half a pound less than the Alabama state record of 16.5 pounds set in 1987.
The pond shown in the video is Woodard’s own five-acre catch-and-release pond on his farm near Blountsville, Ala., where he feeds and cares for the fish. That may explain why they are not as wary of him as fish would be on a typical bass lake. Woodard uses tiny shiners and bluegill to attract the fish to his dock. Some will come right up to him; others will hang back and wait for him to throw fish into the pond, according to a story by Robert Montgomery in Bassmaster Magazine.
Woodard knows these fish so well that he can tell them apart by their markings, according to a longer story in Activist Angler with information from B.A.S.S. Times. Woodard named the 16-pounder Kickin’ Bass for her ferocity after taking bait.
“But she’s also very cautious,” Woodard is quoted as saying. “She will suck the bait out of your hand without making contact.”
Others in his pond are named Dynamite, who explodes out of the water; Jaws, who bites so hard that he or she can draw blood from Woodard’s thumb; Bullet, who tries to knock the bait out of Woodard’s hand; and Sneaky, a smaller male who hides under the dock and will grab the bait as Woodard tries to catch a larger female.
Woodard said he made the video to promote his book “The Way It Was Back Then.”
A search on the Internet reveals other videos of people catching fish by hand. One of the more impressive catches is by Billy Smith, who finds a tarpon not only taking the bait the bait he is dangling but also half his arm (second video).
You’ll find lots of videos of people catching catfish with their bare hands, a technique called “noodling” that involves reaching into holes where a catfish may be hiding. The third video is from the television series “Hillbilly Handfishin” shown on Animal Planet. Since the outing in the video seems fairly well organized, I’m assuming that the folks involved are following state regulations for this type of fishing. I steered away from some videos that showed questionable practices — although I don’t know enough to say for sure.
Judging by the comments on some of the videos, even when people are being filmed, they don’t always follow the rules, which vary from state to state, with some states outlawing the practice entirely.
Ethics also are involved. Some commenters express anger when they observe on video people manhandling and killing some of the largest fish instead of letting them go, thus cutting off an ongoing source of genes that helps produce these large, long-lived fish.