Can we please just leave these poor fish alone?
Our concern for innocent fish arises on the occasion of this weekend’s premiere of “Hillbilly Handfishin’ ” – Sunday (Aug. 7) at 10/9c on Animal Planet. This unscripted series sheds light on the obscure sport of “noodling,” which has nothing at all to do with pasta. Noodling is the pursuit of bottom-dwelling fish – the bigger, uglier and more ornery the better. (See photo above.)
This new series introduces you to a group of noodlers (the “hillbillies” in the title) in Oklahoma who you’ll see dunking themselves in (relatively) shallow ponds and lakes, feeling around for some big slimy fish napping peacefully in the sediment and then rasslin’ with the creature in the hopes of bringing it to the surface to show friends, family and now, viewers at home like you. Fishin’ by hand is the name of the game here: No rods, reels, lures or contraptions of any kind are employed in landing these sleepy, muddy water residents.
What’s the point? Beats us. We will concede this point, though: As an exercise in showing viewers a way of life they might never have heard of before, “Hillbilly Handfishin’ ” is one of those shows that exists chiefly to take you someplace where you might never go yourself. And we always appreciate TV shows that do that.
It’s also one of the newest entries in an exploding category of TV shows that we’ve come to call “Man vs. Critters.” This new and rapidly expanding classification encompasses all the swamp shows, pig-hunting programs, “monster” fish shows and a handful of others on the tube nowadays.
By our count, TV now has at least five series with the word “swamp” in the title. At least four more shows have something to do with pulling big, ugly fish to the surface. And at least two other shows – Discovery’s “Hogs Gone Wild” and the upcoming “American Hoggers” on A&E – deal with professional hunters of feral pigs, which have become a big problem in states such as Florida, Texas and Hawaii. (Here in New York City? Not so much.) In fact, the premiere a few weeks ago of Roseanne Barr’s new Hawaii-based reality series “Roseanne’s Nuts” on Lifetime featured some pig-hunters who came to rid Roseanne’s property of the destructive creatures.
OK, fine – these pigs have apparently become so numerous in some locations that lawmakers have made it legal to “thin” the population (in Texas, for example, it’s legal to hunt ’em from helicopters). We also witnessed an astonishing alligator hunt recently on one of the swamp shows. The gators were essentially garroted around the neck, yanked to the surface, and then summarily shot to death. The kills were apparently legal in whatever state this particular show originated from – just as long as these licensed hunters didn’t exceed their quota.
But what about the bottom-dwelling fish who are now getting noodled all over rural America? They don’t seem to be doing anyone any harm. They’re just minding their own business and Wham! – some hillbilly has got ’em in a bear hug.
That just doesn’t seem right to us – so once again we ask: Can we please just leave these poor fish alone?
“Man Vs. Critters” — Our exclusive inventory:
Bear Swamp Recovery (Premieres Aug. 22)