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The Idle American
"Texas Noodlers No Longer Anonymous..."
Wednesday, July 13, 2011 • Posted July 13, 2011

When Texas Governor Rick Perry signed the noodling bill into law recently, participants could start telling the truth about what they do on weekends.

Noodling? You don’t know what that is? Well, talk to "fisherpersons" (they’re mostly men), and they’ll contend that landing flathead catfish by hand is a sport. Others understandably maintain that the word "extreme" needs to precede "sport."

Critics, typically fishing enthusiasts who use traditional bait instead of hands rammed into fishes’ mouths, swear to the death that ESPN’s droning hours of poker are more "sporty."…

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It is clear, though, that Oklahoma is a pace-setter in noodling. It’s been legal there for, well, maybe centuries, since Native Americans perfected the technique before showing us how.

The art, or sport or extreme lunacy—depending on which perch you sit—is adding participants by the day.

Before you complain about casino traffic on I-35, better check the calendar. If it’s the second Saturday in July, a few thousand cars exit at Pauls Valley for the annual "Okie-Noodling Tournament and Fish Fry." This year, some 15,000 visitors attended, tripling the community’s population for a day. They mostly gathered to share stories, eat fish, corral kids, gawk at noodling demonstrations and cheer on the some 200 noodlers—a record number for the event….

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A foremost noodler is Lee McFarlin of Stillwater. He’s been at it since second grade, learning the technique from his late father, who noodled until age 70. Lee is several degrees above expert, both in the catching and in the cooking.

In academia, he’d be the "PhD of Fishing," with his wife and daughter right behind him stringing along as sidekicks.

He noodles most weekends, and doesn’t figure catches worth it if he doesn’t drive home with hands all "Band-Aided up."…

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Lee ramrods the Pauls Valley event, where he is "chief cook." They have close to a half-ton of "bought fish," augmented by several hundred pounds of flatheads he’ll put up against finest seafood.

"I trim it right, season it right with my special seasoning and cook it in ‘just right’ temperatures," he claims.

Fifteen of his "noodling neighbors" from Stillwater help with the outdoor cooking at Wacker Park. He’s got a 24-inch cast iron skillet, and several deep tubs that hold five gallons of oil that is changed out five times during the daylong cooking. Upwards of 100 gallons will go up in smoke….

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Noodling TV documentaries are on the rise; history channel people are expected in Oklahoma later this month for the latest version.

It doesn’t take long to rattle off the basic rules for noodling: fishing license, no hooks or anything pointed, a limit of three catches per day, none shorter than 20 inches.

Lee says most catches are in the 20-25 pound range, but much larger fish are not uncommon. The record is 123 pounds. (Flatheads can gain 2-3 pounds per year, and some are past 30 years of age.)

"I’ve had a hold of two that had to be over 100 pounds," he claims, "But no fish is worth drowning over."…

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Contestants have 24 hours, ending at 7 p.m. Saturday, to land biggest fish or biggest stringers of fish. There are two divisions—scuba and "natural," the latter for contestants without breathing apparatus.

They seek flatheads under ledges, boat ramps, banks and brush piles—all potential nesting grounds.

What they sometimes find, though, are snakes, beavers, snapping turtles or even alligators. One noodler landed a flathead granddaddy that "had teeth like 36-grit sandpaper that left his noodling hand looking like the main ingredient of a chili recipe."…

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Lee figures noodlers may catch one percent of the fish they touch. "Mother Nature wins a big percentage of the time," he claims.

He wants Texans to "hurry up," and maybe one day challenge Oklahomans in noodling.

One Okie wants Petersburg, Texas, to emphasize noodling, even if water is several miles from the city limits. "Pauls Valley and Petersburg could have a friendly wager," he joked, "But it might turn out to be robbing ‘Peter’ to pay ‘Paul’."….

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Watch out if the Okies discover "trout tickling." This non-traditional fish-fetching technique dates back to at least 230 AD, as noted in Greek literature. Later, Mark Twain referenced the topic.

Space runs short, but in a nutshell, pursuers stealthily approached daydreaming trout, tickling their undersides to lure trout into temporary trances. Maybe that’s the technique I’ll try.

My wife cautions that I’m not likely to tickle ‘em to death, and says she won’t heat the skillet unless I have a reserve stash from the supermarket….

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Dr. Newbury is a speaker in the Metroplex. Send inquiries/comments to: newbury@speakerdoc.com. Phone: 817-447-3872. Web site: www.speakerdoc.com.

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