Noodlers in Missouri: Fishing for Identity in a Rural Subculture

Mary Grigsby

This title is OUT OF PRINT.

In this inside look at the folk tradition of hand fishing, Mary Grigsby interviews thirty Missouri noodlers to examine this sport’s appeal.


Ebook, Paperback


In this inside look at the folk tradition of hand-fishing, Mary Grigsby interviews thirty Missouri noodlers to examine this sport’s appeal. The skill of catching spawning catfish with the bare hands is passed down through generations and builds a sense of community among participants despite, or perhaps because of, its illegality. Grigsby explores how the mostly rural, working-class noodlers create a sense of individual worth and a collective identity as they hold on to a way of life they fear may become lost. To add perspective to this male-dominated activity, she includes women’s accounts of their involvement in these traditional practices. Giving voice to the noodlers themselves, Grigsby provides a fascinating view of Missouri’s hand-fishing community.

Mary Grigsby reveals the soul of many rural residents by focusing on the singular activity of noodling. She illustrates the distinct and continued importance of rural identity, the natural environment, and family life that are reinforced through the act of noodling. Understanding the subculture of noodling is a way of better understanding gender and social class in the United States, not just rural Missouri. I never would have thought catfishing could be this interesting.

—Cynthia Struthers, Illinois Institute for
Rural Affairs, Western Illinois University

Grigsby has provided us with a rare glimpse into southern rural culture that goes way beyond the superficial and stereotypical versions of it proffered by the media. Rather she shows us how noodling is an activity that reflects a distinctively gendered component of rural identity among people who value hard work and recognize their inextricable bond with the natural environment.  Noodlers in Missouri  is yet another definite contribution to the literature on gender as it intersects with class and region. Grigsby’s depth of understanding and keen analysis is fueled by her obvious passion for her work and her commendably sensitive representation of the lives of these rough and ready hand-fishermen and -fisherwomen of the rural South.

—Suzanne E. Tallichet, author of
Daughters of the Mountain

Through her engaging description of noodling Dr. Grigsby has successfully captured a unique and fascinating facet of Southern living. Her sociological perspective helps us understand not only a fun way to catch a fish, but also the importance of this type of fishing to those who noodle.

—Stephen G. Sapp, professor of sociology,
Iowa State University



1    “You Touch the Fish”: Noodling as a Cultural Practice
2    A Special Breed of Men: Affirming a Worthy Identity through Noodling
3    Caring Women, Helpmates, Daddy’s Girls, and Tomboys: Women and Noodling
4    Everyday Resistance and Political Action: Defining the Noodling Way of Life as Worthy
5    Eating Fried Catfish: Cultural Construction of a Way of Life
Appendix: Theory, Methodology, and Literature Review

Works Cited
About the Author


Mary Grigsby is associate professor of Rural Sociology at the University of Missouri-Columbia. She is the author of Buying Time and Getting By: The Voluntary Simplicity Movement (2004), and College Life Through the Eyes of Students (2009).


While Grisby’s style is clearly academic in tone, her frequent inclusion of noodler dialect and even catfish preparation instructions and recipes makes Noodlers in Missouri a very readable title with interdisciplinary appeal. Researchers engaged in the social or psychological exploration of cultural identity, particularly in rural environments, will find this study alluring, as will those interested in exploring early and evolving gender roles in patriarchal rural settings.

The Journal of American Culture, Sept. 2013

This slim report of a qualitative research project will remind readers of the relevance of rural sociology, the exploration of what is different about rural culture, and the reinforcement of the idea that rural areas are part of the larger American culture at the same time. It does this extremely well by describing the world of "noodlers": people who catch catfish using their hands. The close description of the subculture, tied to discussions of gender, identity, and social class, provides a picture of a truly interesting folk tradition. Grigsby focuses on the concept of worthy identity as a way to deconstruct the gender and class aspects of noodling.... A bibliography and a very useful appendix detail research methodology and literature review. Summing Up: Highly recommended.


Mary Grigsby’s Noodlers in Missouri provides a very interesting look into a world that few people have an opportunity to view firsthand. Though given an increased amount of coverage in the popular press over the past several years, it has been given relatively little scholarly attention.... The book would be appropriate for use as a reading in sociology or rural sociology classes as it touches on a variety of important issues in a context that makes the discussion very interesting.... The book provides an excellent vehicle for generating discussion. I found the book to be a well-done piece of research on a very interesting topic.

—Rural Sociology, 2012

Grigsby offers here a fascinating, well-written study based on her interviews with "twenty men and ten women" who "used noodling in various ways to reinforce gender roles, to construct a sense of their place in the world as a type of people, and to provide a sense of dignity and meaning to their lives as hardworking rural people."

Kansas History, Book Notes