Grabbers are handicapped in a fish’s world.
“You’re in a different world down there,” Josh Andrews said. “It’s black 10 feet down; you can’t see nothing! You have to feel for it. Everything is different — like being shut in a closet. The deepest we go is 22 feet.
“You can hear, though. You will hear the jaws go ‘whump!’ You wanna listen. Just because you can’t see them doesn’t mean they aren’t there.
“You go by feel too. Just because you find a hole, you don’t want to run your arm in it. It needs to be clean. If it ain’t clean, you’ll get something with teeth in them — beavers, turtles, whatever.”
Like other grabbers, Andrews and his partner Chuck Thornton use tools to give them an edge. Some are simple and some are not.
On the simple end, both men wear long pants and footwear to protect against gashes and punctures from submerged hazards. Andrews adds cotton work gloves and long sleeves to his haberdashery.
On the high-tech end is Andrews’ third lung. Properly named a “Brownie’s Third Lung,” it is a gasoline-powered air compressor that pumps air through lines to submerged grabbers.
The third lung comes with an inner tube-like float that allows it to be towed on the surface behind grabbers moving along shorelines exploring new territory for flathead catfish dens.
Rigged out, a third lung will cost roughly $4,000.
Like SCUBA divers, the grabbers use weight belts to counteract the natural buoyancy of the human body and stay submerged with less effort.
Small-diameter 5- and 10-foot-long PVC pipes, called “poles” by the men, are an important part of their tool kit. Some are bare, used simply to feel for fish or to prod the fish into coming to the den’s entrance where the grabber can get his hands on it.
Others have large hooks taped to one end with electrical tape.
“If I find a fish, he’s coming out of there,” Andrews said. “If I can’t grab him with my hands, I’ll hook him, but he’s coming out. He’s mine!”
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