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It takes a brave fisherman to go hoggin’

Guide Nick Shafer helps Kristen Monroe hoist her first hoggin’ flathead catfish from Rend Lake. | Dale Bowman~For Sun-Times Media

Guide Nick Shafer helps Kristen Monroe hoist her first hoggin’ flathead catfish from Rend Lake. | Dale Bowman~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: August 2, 2013 6:33AM

WHITTINGTON, Ill. — Her black golf visor floated free as Kristen Monroe sank underwater along the rip-rap of Rend Lake by Interstate 57. Her hands dug into the crevices, then pulled out a channel catfish.

It was a moment. Doubly so when it shook free as she held it aloft.

Hoggin’, noodlin’ or hand-fishing mean the same thing. It’s getting into the water and catching fish with your hands, a most primal method of fishing.

Everybody should do it once. It sticks in your memory.

Earlier this month, after a morning of crappie fishing on Rend with Jason Johns of Boneyard Fishing, I observed while Dan Stefanich of Wilmington and Monroe, a Wisconsinite, hogged their first catfish.

Craig and Jason Miles of Rend Lake Crappie Masters and Nick Shafer of Crappie Predator Guide Service handle hoggin’ on Rend. Many guests stay at Boneyard Lodge, which Johns (with help from Shafer) is putting the finishing touches on.

Hoggin’ is popular enough that the Miles brothers had double figures in guide trips for it early this summer. The trigger point is about 70 degrees, when flatheads begin heading toward the spawning holes in old culverts, sunken pipes and rock holes.

‘‘They’ll hold in the holes for about a month,’’ Craig Miles said.

The hoggers launched in Shafer’s 20-foot War Eagle, which is 6 feet across. The first stop was a community hole, known to locals, of an old cement culvert.

As the guides waded in, Monroe said to her 4-year-old daughter, Madison, ‘‘This is how you be brave.’’

There’s good reason for Shafer and the Miles brothers to cooperate on many hoggin’ trips: You always want at least two people, just in case something goes wrong. After all, you’re walking in deep water and sticking your hands into holes.

Almost too easily, Stefanich grasped his first flathead by the jaw, then hauled it out and hoisted it aloft with a wild grin.

The rest wasn’t that easy. Some spots had been hogged by others. Others spots had flatheads flash-escape. Sometimes the flatheads hung tight to the walls or bottoms, even when prodded to move along to the openings.

So the Miles brothers suggested hoggin’ for channel catfish along the rip-rap by I-57, close enough that truckers honked regularly.

From personal experience, I think hoggin’ flatheads is easier than hoggin’ channels, which bite down and shred your hand. That explains the choice language Monroe loosed on her first encounter with a channel catfish.

‘‘I get it now,’’ she said. ‘‘I am focused.’’

Once focused, Monroe hauled out her first channel shortly after.

‘‘Not that I care that much about girl stuff, but do I have mascara running down my face?’’ she asked afterward.

After trying several other spots, the Miles brothers made one more attempt at the first community hole.

‘‘One way or another, that one is coming out,’’ Jason Miles said.

Finally, they were able to get the flathead to a position where Monroe could grab it. It was a good 30-pounder that gave the petite woman all she could handle.

‘‘About three years ago, when I started getting into hunting and the outdoors, I said, ‘One thing I will never do is noodlin’,’ ’’ she said. ‘‘My fear was getting my finger bit off by a snapping turtle.’’

Overcoming that is the stuff of bravery.

For lodge info with Johns, go to For the Miles brothers, go to For Shafer, go to

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