Okie Noodling Competition - Paul's Valley, Oklahoma
In the Sooner State, they’ve got catfish the size of fifth graders sleeping in holes in the muddy river banks. And what better way to pull one out than letting it clamp on your bare forearm? Leave the reel and rod at home because “bait and tackle” means something different here. They call it "noodling" in Oklahoma and consider it a way of life. Every year for the past decade this unique hand fishing technique has been celebrated outside Bob’s Pig Shop in Paul’s Valley, Ok.
We wanted to experience noodlin’ first hand and met up with Chase, David, and Austin on a lower tributary off Eufala Lake. The men, up to their armpits in dark lake water, slowly moved in sync 15 yards off the bank. There was a silent tension with every step. At any moment, we might discover a 65-pound flathead strong enough to pull a man under and drown him. Additionally, muskrats, beavers, snakes, and snapping turtles are often the second tenants of former catfish holes and they can do serious damage to a man’s arm as well. Catfish don’t really have teeth and cannot bite off your fingers they way a beaver could.
But our noodlin’ was for naught. The water had become so warm during the latest heatwave that the heavy oxygen-rich cold water had sunk towards the bottom and forced the fish to spend most their time at depths impossible to reach for noodling unless you were prepared with scuba gear.
We returned to Bob's and discovered a neighborhood street intersection in pandemonium. Fish gawkers “ooohed” and “awed” as a new truck in the procession of entrants unveiled their biggest catch. The fish were weighed and either went back to their owner’s tanks, or were stored in one of the official tanks. We had the opportunity to interview the crew that delivered the biggest fish of the festival and Andrew even got to pick up the 65-pound winner. This fish was caught using Scuba gear and purportedly (like all the fish) caught in the 24-hour time period.
Once you “get bit,” they say, you’ll never go back to your reel and tackle box again.