***Over the course of the next few days I’ll spill all the half-baked beans I happily gathered at the 10th Annual Okie Noodling Tournament in Pauls Valley, Oklahoma, while hanging with an array of insiders whom I’d now count among the coolest, kindest, oldest souls a person can be lucky enough to encounter all at once.***
Let’s get a few things straight:
also called grabbling,
is fishing for catfish with your hands, or, in some cases, feet—essentially grabbing hold of them from the inside by letting them clamp down on your arms & legs, risking digits in the process, & then wresting them loose from the riverbed nooks & crannies they occupy.
It’s legal in a handful of states, including Oklahoma, where flathead catfish
are the favored catch (& excluding Missouri, whose die-hard noodlers do it on the down-low while grappling with local lawmakers to get the papers pushed).
is held one day every July in the parking lot of Bob’s Pig Shop, a venerable BBQ joint & de facto antique showcase of curios I’ve only begun profiling here
On the eve thereof, the noodlers, who operate on the honor system, can head to any fishing hole they choose, so long as it’s in Oklahoma, as of 7pm. They have 24 hours to make it to the weigh-in station, manned by OSU fisheries biologist Joe Bidwell
& some of his grad students.
Meanwhile, thousands gather (4,000 this year, not a huge crowd by the standards of recent years until you consider the 100-plus-degree heat) watch noodling demos, slurp Sno-Cones & guzzle beer, chow down on ribs & of course fried catfish platters (more on which later), try their luck in catfish-eating contests & catfish cookoffs (more on which ditto)—&, to the strains of live country, cheer on the noodlers as they trickle in with their catches. As the deadline nears, the trickle becomes a gusher & North Ash looks like a pick-up parade whose poobahs—both human & piscine/piscatorial—are filthy, sweaty, bloody badasses.
Prizes go to both the most massive beast & the poor puniest loser—the latter this year being 12 & the former being
Prizes also go to the biggest stringer, a group of 3. After the noodling queen is rather haphazardly crowned—
among the past queens onstage, including noodling king Lee McFarlin
‘s wife & daughter (the 3rd & 4th from L, respectively), the leftmost one was in her cups in all kinds of ways—
the band plays on for the boozy crowd of proud rednecks, goofy hipsters, grandmas, toddlers, punch-drunk camera crews, hardcore outdoorsmen & the women who love them & vice versa into the night—& until they meet again next year.
(We straight for now? If not, or even if so, go here to get the cinematic scoop from filmmaker-founder Bradley Beesley & the gang.)