Catfishing, graveling, hogging, cat-daddling, noodling, and grabbling are all terms used for the same process of fishing for catfish using your bare hands to pull the catfish out of a catfish hole, whether it’s in a stump, an actual hole, or a box made by the fisherman…or fisherwoman. Yes, ladies actually do this type of fishing and love it! I’m going to use the terms “grabbling” and “grabbler” for this article because, obviously, I’m in the South and that’s just how it’s known down here.
Now, let’s talk about a grabbling tournament I was so excited to be able to be a spectator at this year – The North Mississippi Grabbling Tournament. Although this was my first year being able to attend the event, this tournament just celebrated its sixth year.
ABOUT THE NORTH MISSISSIPPI GRABBLING TOURNAMENT
It all started when a group of guys wagered a bet to see who caught the biggest fish after one of them grabbled a 53-pounder. This little idea turned into something great! The first tournament attracted 17 teams with a $25 entry fee and around 200 spectators with free admission.
After the first year the original group of guys, some of them military veterans, decided to use this event to raise money for a worthy cause; so the next couple years they decided to donate the proceeds to the Wounded Warriors Project. By the fourth year they felt all the money raised should actually be donated to local vets. So how do they choose who to donate to? They take nominations submitted by people through Facebook and choose from that pool on who they thought would deserve the donations the most. What a great way for spectators to follow where the proceeds go!
This year was unique in that they decided to help TWO families that are going through a rough time. First, the Lawrence family. They lost their son in a tragic accident. He was actually on his way to go grabbling when the accident occurred. The tournament was able to give the Lawrences $1,350. Second, the Mardis family. Their infant son is in Le Bonheur Hospital. The tournament was able to give the Mardises $1,100.
MEET THE LADIES
There has been a significant rise in the number of ladies participating in this yearly event. There would always be a lady here or there tagging along with their dad, spouse, boyfriend, etc., until last year when the tournament had their first all-female 3-person team. And, hold on to your fishing rods, that first all-female team actually won third place! This year, being my first to attend, I was running from location to location trying to catch up with the numerous ladies bringing in their fish for weigh-in. It was amazing and exciting and impressive and jaw-dropping…and, as a female, a proud moment watching these ladies each carrying 50-plus pounds of mud fish attached to their arms.
Meet Candy Carson, a petite young Southern lady who started grabbling with her dad when she was 11 years old – only after her mom finally gave her approval to go. During the summer she, along with many family members and friends ranging from 14 to 56 years of age, will go grabbling every weekend. Depending on the amount of rain, their boxes can be found anywhere from 3 feet to 8 feet under the dark lake waters. Although she has several years of grabbling under her belt, this year’s tournament brought about her first fish bite, and I saw her battered and bloody thumb. She was quick to tell me that when you’re under the water that you are in their home; they’re not in yours. Candy not only is a fierce grabbler, but she also enjoys time elk hunting with her dad every October in Colorado.
Meet all-female 3-person team members Jennifer Bennett, Jennifer McCullough, and Chelsea Vasquez. Bennett, from Mississippi, started grabbling with her husband, who owns a grabbling company, almost five years ago. McCullough and Vasquez are both first-timers, and their constant smiles illuminated their excitement. McCullough is from Tennessee while Vasquez is from Alaska/Florida/Hawaii.
It was a joy to get the perspective of grabbling from first-timers, as I have never attempted this feat myself. Were they scared? Yes! McCullough advised that once you feel the bite on your hand you know what it’s going to be like, so you’re not as scared the second time; but not knowing what lies for you in a box is the scariest part.
The lucky Ms. Vasquez, with such incredible places to call home, is an experienced diver. She was excited to dive in non-clear water for once. Can you imagine? These ladies used masks and air going down at least 13 feet to check their catfish boxes and natural catfish holes. This lady team ranged in ages from 20s to 40s yet shared the same love for the outdoors. Outside of grabbling, these ladies also hunt! Bennett, deer and turkey; McCullough, deer and duck; Vasquez, bear and moose.
Impressed yet? I AM!
Meet another all-female team consisting of Mary Grace Russom, Monica Pruitt, Morgan Collins, and Samantha Kennedy. Years of grabbling experience for this team ranged from two to four years. The majority of the team started grabbling with their boyfriends. The guys liked doing it, so the ladies decided to try it and they were hooked after their first outing!
I was blown away by Mary Grace, though. She is 11 years old and has been grabbling for almost four years. Her catch at the tournament tipped the scales at a hefty 35 pounds. All the ladies used breathing machines to check their catfish boxes and stumps. Pruitt commented that stumping is a little bit more scary as you may encounter snakes and snapping turtles; but they luckily haven’t had too many of these encounters yet this year. Although you check with a stick before going in a box to get the fish out, it can become quite exciting when you have more than one fish in a box…especially if they’re over 50 pounds each! This inspiring team recommended that “all girls go” and to “wear gloves.”
Sweet Mary Grace left a lasting quote that we ladies should always remember, “We’re all princesses in different ways.”
None of this year’s ladies placed in the top spots at the tournament, but they have paved the way for more ladies to dive in and participate in this great outdoor activity.
FOR THIS REASON
When interviewing co-founder Brion Whitten I inquired if there was anything he’d like to add.
He humbly responded, “The only thing I would like to add is this tournament for me and my family is not about the grabbling, the fame, money, or any of that. It is about helping others and bringing the community together; to help educate people about the sport of grabbling; to provide history about the sport; and to have a connection with everyone that participates. Nearly all the tournaments we have put on have had some kind of emotional connection with the participants and the community. This tournament means a lot to me and my family; so I would like to keep it going as long as I can.”
The North Mississippi Grabbling Tournament is organized and run by Brion and Kelly Whitten of Oxford, Mississippi, with the support of an increasing number of sponsors and a growing amount of teams participating each year. To see more pictures and learn more about the tournament, please go to their Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/northmsgrabbling/