Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Gone Noodlin'

It has become a rite of passage - to be considered an Okie, you must attend the Okie Noodling Tournament in Pauls Valley.  Noodling, for those of you too northern to know, is the sport of catching fish sans hook and bait - just two bare hands and two lungs of breath.  Initiation begins when you double-park your truck on the grass and start the tailgating.  Break out the coolers of beer, jean cut-off shorts for men and women alike, and release the tats for all to see. 

July 9th was the 12th annual Okie Noodling Tournament, and my official induction as an Okie after almost 36 years here.  Mercury reaching 109 didn't stop thousands from flocking to the park for a day-long festival for all ages.  After passing the moon-bounce and Indian taco stands, we set up our shade tent and camp chairs for an afternoon of full-on, people-watching entertainment.

Bands played on one stage throughout the afternoon, while trucks rolled in with their hand-caught treasures.  The fish were hauled out for official weigh-in, with the biggest going in a tank on the main stage.  Others went into a trailer with clear sides for all to watch demonstrations on the finer points of noodling.  Who knew that you could wear your ball cap underwater while you grabbed a catfish out of his hole?

There was limitless entertainment when it came to apparel.  The obvious choice was any combination of red-white-and-blue, camo, overalls, and questionable t-shirt screenprints.  I was slightly disappointed in the lack of mullets and rat-tails, though there were a few (real and fake) spotted.  Professional film crews were busy capturing the details for the unfortunate ones who are unable to attend in person.

I am proud to now be able to say that I've been noodling.  Even though it was only in a large water tank in the back of a pickup, I still reached in the murky water and grabbed a HUGE catfish by his lower jaw and pulled him into the air.  The Redneck Wars team that rightfully caught the fish in the river claim that he was about 25 pounds, but I swear he was at least 60.

New friends are made over t's and teeth
Now that I had that under my belt, I am onto my next quest - being crowned Noodling Queen.  It appears that there were only two contestants for the sash and crown.  I don't recall seeing any information anywhere on how to get my name added, but I will be back next year and I will be prepared.  I bought a bump-it, cut off a pair of jeans short enough for my pockets to hang out, and scoured the internet for a confederate flag bikini.  Reigning Noodling Queen - look out!  Your days are numbered.

Lil trophy for his lil catch
When the last pickup rolled up to the weigh-in station, the awards began.  There are cash prizes up to $1000 for the top noodling teams.  Categories include total pounds of fish caught, biggest fish, biggest catch by a female and by a minor, and smallest catch.  The humble man who hauled his 7-lb catch to the weigh-in (biggest catch of the day was 60 lbs, for comparison) actually stuck around to receive his tiny trophy and pose for a picture for me - grinning the whole time.

Pauls Valley has come a long way since the first Noodling Tournament 12 years ago when just 50 people attended.  This year, there were over 6,000 who sweated it out in Wacker Park.  While the beer is abundant and the teeth few, it is a crazy and peaceful experience - unless you are a catfish.  Needless to say, I'm "hooked".
Winning catch weighing in at 60 whopping pounds!

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