We have all heard tales of big fish. Yarns spun full of excitement and seemingly impossible odds. Centered around aquatic beasts so absurdly enormous, that the story always ends with.

"And then, it got away." This is the tail of my big fish. And the difference between this story and many told before it, is that this one didn't get away. What's goin' on, Will? - Hey, how's it goin' Coyote? Good, how are you doin'?

Doin' good sir, how about you? - Ready to Ready to go fishin'? - catch some catfish today.- Yes we are. This is Mario. Hey Gonna catch some big cats today?  Let's do it.

It's a well documented fact that I have caught many animal species with my bare hands. But it's important to note that this will be the first time I have ever attempted to catch a catfish.

Tennessee is home to three distinct catfish species. The channel cat, the flathead cat, and the blue cat. To catch any of these would be a success. To land a monster would be legendary.

On this adventure, I will be heading out onto the Tennessee River to test my skills at noodling. Simply defined as using one's bare hands to catch catfish. To help me achieve this seemingly crazy feat, I have teamed up with renowned catfish grappler Will Goodman.

Will prefers the term grappling over noodling. He holds several records, and has been practicing this art form since childhood. It's a tradition passed down from generation to generation. And what was once considered an entertaining way to catch dinner has evolved into his life's mission, catfish conservation.

The coolest part is that these tours fuel the work he is doing beneath the water's surface, which in turn is having an important impact on the future of these fish. The box is back in here.

This is a nice little cove. The water's definitely warm, conditions are perfect. This could be the spot. And to be honest, I've never caught a catfish in my entire life. Maybe some real small ones when I was a kid on a fishing line, but never something the size that Will usually pulls outta here.

35 to 55 pounds would be a good size catfish, but Will has caught ones that have weighed over 100 pounds. Hidden from human sight, Will has built hundreds of what I have coined catfish hotels. These three foot by four foot boxes provide an ideal location for building nests.

They have a simple entryway for fish to come and go, and are protected from predators. - Goin' down, here we go. To check the catfish hotels, I use a small bamboo pole to gently feel around for a fish.

To help the natural buoyancy of my body, Will holds me beneath the surface so I can position myself at an angle and reach far inside the box. If a river monster is home, it bites the stick.

Then Will quickly blocks the entrance with a plank of wood, which prevents the fish from escaping before we can attempt to catch. - Nothing there?- Nothing. - Okay. I got one more, it's a little bit harder to find.

Will has a very large number of boxes. They're essentially designed to be just like an underground burrow or a rock burrow where these catfish can come in and lay their eggs, and they're much more protected than being up underneath tree roots.

Now, what the catfish have to worry about with predators is not so much predators eating the fish themselves, but it's the predators eating the eggs that the catfish lay. Bluegill specifically love to eat catfish eggs, so these boxes help to keep the bluegill out and the catfish in.

It's really a pretty cool conservation project that Will has going here, and right now we're checking in those boxes. All right, let's catch up. The early summer months of May and June are what Will considers the peak of catfish breeding.

During this time, dominant males seek out these boxes, build and guard nests. Once residency is established, they release pheromones into the water to attract females. She accepts the invite, lays eggs, and then the male will fertilize and guard them until they hatch.

To more accurately define guard, I mean he will literally eat any living thing that comes close to those eggs. Including a human hand or a foot. So, water temperature plays a huge factor when it comes to the catfish being actively breeding.

We're right on that edge right now, where the water's just about warm enough, which means the malesare gonna start going in to build nests. Those are the fish that we wanna find. They're gonna be extra aggressive.

Breeding hasn't started, which means if we catch a fish, it will just go right back down into that burrow and continue with the cycle. All right, you got the next box? - Yup.  no way. Well son, you'll have to feel a little bit further into this.

I can see that. It'll get a little deeper after the next one. Okay. Just realize that.  Yeah, it could require full extension here. Okay, goin' down. See somebody's leg up like that, you know they're all the way in. He's all in nothing.

Okay. Oh, this one could be perfect. This could be the box. No fish in that one.- No fish.  That's why they call it  Not catching' So I'm swimming' into a catfish hotel - Nobody's home. Vacancy  Until I find one  Ah, nothing. It seemed so perfect.

So far we have covered over 20 miles of river, and easily checked 50different catfish hotels, only to find that each and everyone was vacant. Okay, this might be the one. - I hope so.  Gotta be able to find something.

Oh, he's in there, he's in there. - We got a fish.- Oh bubba, he's in there. - It's a big fish. It is a big fish. Oh, buddy. So Will, walk me through exactly what I'm gonna need to do here.

I want you to take your fist and just let the fish bite you. And just so you get a grasp and understanding how powerful this big of a fish could be. If it's as big as it sounds like, it really sounds powerful.

I mean, it sounds really,like a 40 pound plus fish. And they're, they can be dangerous at this point, okay? This is where you graduate from, "Okay, they're powerful," to, "Oh wow."

They actually, if they roll on you, they could really do some damage.  Okay, here we go. - [Will] Just be very careful. - I'm a little nervous. When Will is like, "Yeah this is a big fish that could do some damage," definitely makes you nervous.

Okay. All right guys, here we go. Time to get eaten alive by a catfish. Gosh. Holy crap. - Where'd he bite ya? - Oh my God. - Where'd he bite you?- He almost broke my wrist. Fish almost broke my wrist, for sure. Holy cow, that hurt. Hold on a second.

You want an arm sleeve now? - What?- You want an arm sleeve now? - Ah, no, no, no. - Sure? - Oh man, dude, that fish is definitely strong enough to break your wrist. He almost broke my wrist. Like, crushing the bone.

Holy cow, I don't know if I should stick my arm back in there. Hold on a second, I wanna make sure he didn't break my wrist. Holy cow, hold on a minute. - I mean they're not, You're gonna have gauges in your arm, I'll tell you that.

They bite you through that glove. - Dude, he got right- Look at that, look how red my arm is, look at that. - He's drawn blood already.- Teeth went all the way through. - He's drawn blood already, yep. That's normal for a blue cat.

That's a male. So, now you know what it's like, right?- Yeah. - So, you know what it feels like. - Yeah. It hurts. - Okay, and so now we don't want the fish to bite you any more than he has to, right?

Stick your hand in there just like you have been-- Flat? - Yep. You do any of this, and he grabs one finger, he'll break it. I promise.

I'm afraid he's gonna break my hand or my wrist the way that he's fought-- Well, you can take your fistand keep it together, but as soon as he bites you, you need to pin his mouth.

I think if I keep a fist and then I put my-- You need to pin him and work your finger to the outside lower jaw of his mouth. - Okay.- Pull him forward, and come back up for air and hold him. - Okay.

Now if he bites you over your thumb, you need to come out and reset. You gotta pin him and then, it's hard, man. - Okay, okay. - Really hard to hold these fish. I mean, they're slimy, they're powerful. And they're mean and they're really angry I mean, you know?

It's hard to describe to you guys the amount of power. Like, I thought that fishwas gonna break my hand off. - We're not gonna lose the fish I promise. I will put my hand in.

I'm worried about losing my hand, not the fish. Like, I'm afraid if I don't have two hands in this mouth, he's gonna, he's gonna break my wrist. - If he rolls, he might, yeah. - Okay- You gotta let him go.  "If he rolls he might."

If he rolls, you've gotta let him go. - Holy cow, all right. I'm goin' back down.  I'm gonna give this another shot. I'm really nervous-- I've always said this. This is the most fun you can ever have on two feet. Okay.- Mm hmm.

Okay. Ooh, golly. You hear that deep thump? I hope that's only- Mm. - Okay I think-- You hear that deep thump? - Yeah.- Oh. Man he's, mm. That deep, deep thump, he's a good fish.- Okay. He's up near the front of the box. He's gonna get me this time.

He probably will. - Okay. Oh man, dude, I'm so nervous going down there, like, every time I Turn that he's gonna get me. I'm just afraid he's gonna break my wrist. He's that big.

All right, I'm gonna try one more time. - Get him, Coyote. If there's somebody gonna get him, it's you. - I know, here we go. Ooh, ooh! - Oh, I got him. - Come on, then.- I got him. Oh my God!

Hold on now. - I got him, I got him.- Calm down first. You gotta calm down. 'Cause if you don't calm down, you will not get this fish. - Okay. I got my fingers locked in his jaw.

I'm afraid he's gonna break my hand.  No, he ain't gonna break it. - Okay. - Got the board, oh, that's a big fish.  Just hang on.

He's crushing my hand. - Come on over this way. Over this way. Easy.- You wanna put my own hand in his mouth? - Hang on. Easy now. Easy now. He's huge, dude. He's huge.

Easy, easy, not fast. Not fast, hang on, he's got his tail out. Just a second, lemme grab his tail. - Holy mackerel. Holy cow. Look at the size of that fish. - How 'bout that, boy?

That is a huge fish! Oh my gosh, I cannot believe Oh, he's crushing my hand. That is a big fish. That is a huge blue catfish. The largest catfish species here in North America.

You hold tight, 'cause-- I got him, I got him. - you lose that tail, you gonna lose the fish.- Oh, oh oh!  You'll lose him.- I got him. I got him, I got him. You crunch down on him just like you did.

You hear me?- Yeah.  I'll hold the tail.  Can you take off my mask? -  Yep. How, my goodness. Just when you thought we were not going to catch an enormous catfish. This thing is huge! All right guys, there you have it.

That is a 50 plus pound blue catfish. This is the largest catfish species in the United States. Obviously, that distinct bluish coloration is what gives it its name.

But these fish are rather ancient. A fish of this size probably takes 30 or 40 years to grow to this massive proportion. If I turned it sideways like this and slightly lifted it up, you can see just how long its body is. Just under four feet in length.

That is what we would consider a true river monster. If I turn it towards you like this, you can see the teeth up on the top jaw. And what they do is they catch their prey and they crush it down with a vice like grip.

That is exactly what my hands felt like inside of its mouth. My hand is on the backside of its gill plate, also known as the operculum. It's not hurting the fishin any way whatsoever. The fish can still breathe, I'm trying to keep it partially submerged.

I keep dunking it down just to make sure that it's not getting too much sun, and this is the only way to hold on to one of these fish without a rope. And if you're wondering if my hand hurts right now, it absolutely does.

And see how the eyes are setright in front of the skull. They don't have the best eyesight, but this fish is relying on all of its other senses to detect its environment.

Now, whether that is to find prey or to avoid predators, the barbels up front are sensory organs that tell them everything about the water. They can pick up vibrations, they can pick up smells, and that is what allows these creatures to be such perfect ambush predators.

Now, this is without question a male. The males get bigger than the females, and right now this fish was nestled down in a box getting ready to build its nest. So, we're gonna let thisfish right back down into the box where we find it, but I would say that this was hugely successful.

Will taught me everything that he knows about landing one of these fish, and we could not have hoped for a more perfect specimen. Oh man, catching catfish in Tennessee. So cool. But this is it. The largest catfish species in the United States, the one and only blue.

I'm Coyote Peterson. Be brave. Stay wild. We'll see you on the next adventure. All right, Will. Time to get this fish back down into its fish hotel. Never in my wildest dreams did I envision catching such a big fish. Anglers go their entire lives hoping to land a beast of that magnitude.

Yet most will only ever be able to speak of the big one that got away. All right guys, here we go. We're releasing the fish back down into its breeding box. All right, ready, Will?- Yes.

Here we go, one, two, three.  Okay, fish is in. That was awesome! I consider myself truly blessed to have had a moment in time with that ancient creature.

A grandfather to the muddy waters of the Tennessee River. And the legend of a truthful tale I will one day be able to share with my own grandkids. The future of these fish rests in the fascination and appreciation people like Will Goodman have for these living legends.

And the conservation work he does will continue to preserve populations for generations to come.

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