But the more research they tried to do before the trip, the more nervous they became and they nearly backed out.

"Before we left, I was joking around, asking, 'How do I practice, do I grab my slippery son out of the bathtub?" Insley said, adding that she eventually held catfish that were bigger than her son.

Grottenthaler recalled how little sleep they got the first night. Though the accomodations were better than they had anticipated, they were kept awake by the incessant barking of one of Bivins' dogs who are there to chase away the snakes and coyotes.

Insley was a bit more brave than Grottenthaler, who remained on the porch of the cabin.

"We opened the door and I start to go over to the dog and I got halfway out there and I saw something jump up and strike at it," Insley said. "We told Skipper and he said, 'You should have just gone out and killed it with a shovel.' "

Driving to the lake the next morning, Bivins could see their anxiety and gave them some of his peach schnapps to drink. They called it their "courage juice." With 110-degree heat bearing down, the women and their fellow newbie noodlers, dressed in T-shirts, jeans and tube socks, were told to get down on their hands and knees and crawl through the mud to start getting a feel for the catfish.

"It was very scary at first," Grottenthaler said. "Once you get over your fears, it was like, 'I want to catch a fish.' "

Said Insley: "It's like the monster under the bed. It's terrifying at first, but then you get over it."

Grottenthaler said the two hosts were constantly trying to scare them, grabbing a foot or bumping into them underwater on purpose.

"A lot of the screaming was Skipper- or Jackson-induced," she said.

But they came to appreciate Bivins and Jackson, and believe that calling them "hillbillies" is unfair.

"They're cowboys," Insley said. "They rope calves and go to rodeos. The name sets you up to think it's going to be something hillbillyish, and it wasn't at all. They were really nice."

Hulamm said he thinks the name of the show "is kind of derogatory. … They don't come off as hillbillies; these guys are very intelligent."

Acknowledging that the original name of the show was "Catfish Cowboys", Hoffman said, "We try to show that they're the experts."

Along with the noodling, Bivins and Jackson taught their guests how to pitch horseshoes, throw cow chips and lasso.

"I lassoed Moose," Insley said with a laugh.

Now back in College Park, Hulamm and Lam recall how they persuaded their mothers to let them go, even though Hulamm doesn't like to eat fish and was so frightened by some of the noodling videos he watched in advance "that I thought I was going to drown."

Quiet by nature, both students seemed to take on different personalities when trying to catch the catfish. After making their initial catches, Hulamn and Lam painted their faces with the mud from the river. They also gave Jackson "magical" soccer socks to wear in the water and went from shreiking at the sight of the fish to doing their own set of hand gestures to celebrate.

"This was our fight, our war," Hulamm said later, on camera.

Now back in their routines as full-time moms, Grottenthaler and Insley won't divulge how they did ("You've got to watch," Grottenthaler said) or who won the competition for having the largest fish. (Hint, it's one of the Marylanders.)

Sitting in a favorite lunch hangout in Hamilton, Grottenthaler is talking about her daughters having just started kindergarten and preschool. Insley keeps an eye on her son playing nearby.

This summer trip clearly did not include any umbrellas in drinks.

"I definitely feel a little tougher," she said afterward.

don.markus@baltsun.com

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