Okie Noodlin' Festival - Paul's Valley, Oklahoma

by CountrySunshine

Fishermen from Oklahoma and nearby states meet in Paul's Valley each June to compete in bare-handed catfishing at the Okie Noodlin' Festival.

Every June, the die-hard fishermen of Oklahoma and surrounding states troll the waters of Oklahoma to do a bit of fishing. However, these aren't your average fishermen, and they don't fish in the ordinary way. Instead, they "noodle" for flathead catfish. The goal? To catch the biggest catfish with their bare hands!

After catching what they believe is the absolutely biggest flathead, these fishermen bring their catch to Wacker Park in Paul's Valley for the big catfish weigh-in.

Catfish caught for the Noodlin' Festiva
Catfish caught for the Noodlin' Festiva

Festival Location - Where's It Held?

Up until 2010, the Noodling Festival was held across the road from Bob's Pig Shop. Now that the crowd has grown to over 10,000, a move to the city park was needed.

The Okie Noodlin' Festival is now held at Wacker Park, in Paul's Valley. Paul's Valley is a small town in Oklahoma, just south of Purcell, and north of Ardmore, off of I-35. To get to Wacker Park, take Highway 19 to Paul's Valley, and turn north on Chickasaw. Go over the railroad tracks, and the park will be right in front of you.

The park has public restrooms, a kid's play area, a picnic area, a jogging track and tennis courts. It also has volleyball courts, softball & baseball fields, and a pavilion.

Festival attendees begin arriving around noon, and stay throughout the day. Bring a lawn chair, hat and sunscreen with you, or the Oklahoma sun will make the day a miserable one.

What is Noodling?

Noodling is a type of fishing. Rather than use a rod & reel, you use your bare hands. Nothing to it!

To noodle, or hand-fish, you simply wade out into a lake or other body of water, or jump off the side of your boat. Then, bend down, and stick your hand into a catfish hole. The catfish will lunge at your hand, and swallow it whole! Your job? Just hold on tight to the catfish, and bring it on out!

Why is hand fishing called noodling?

No one really knows for certain. One idea is that when a fisherman tries to lure the catfish out of the hole, he may wiggle his fingers. The catfish will see the fingers as worms, or noodles. Another opinion is that when trying to handle a squirming, struggling catfish, it's as hard as handling a wet noodle.

Noodling isn't legal in all states. In fact, it's only legal in 11 of them. And in those 11, only a few of them allow noodling of all kinds. It's best to go to Oklahoma if you want to catch those cats bare-handed. Better yet, attend Paul's Valley Noodlin' Festival for a chance to see the biggest catfish of them all! That way, you don't have to worry about getting ticketed - or jailed - for pulling in your catfish!

Noodling Simulator

If you'd like to see how noodling is done first-hand, you can view a fisherman catching a catfish bare-handed in the noodling simulator. Noodling is demonstrated a couple of times during the festival, and you can learn first hand how exciting - and dangerous - this sport can be!

This trailer has a box at one end with a catfish inside. The trailer is filled with water to resemble a river. A fisherman gets into the tank of water, swims to the box, and sticks his hand in to catch the fish. He doesn't always catch it the first time, and you'll find yourself rooting for the fisherman.. or the fish!

Noodling Simulator
Noodling Simulator
Author

Noodling Documentary

I've had the pleasure of attending the Okie Noodlin' Festival several times over the years. The event is just a few hours drive from home, and makes for an entertaining afternoon. It's an amazing, and amusing, festival, and one that you should attend at least once in your life. However, if you cannot attend for whatever reason, you can learn more about noodling with this DVD.

Bradley Beesley produced this film in 2001, and it showcases the art of noodling.  You'll meet some of the hand-fishers, learn how to catch flathead cats with your bare hands, and learn why these people fish like that do.  It is an interesting movie if you enjoy learning about different cultures and lifestyles.  And it is a bit amusing, as well!

The Rules of Noodling - at the Okie Noodlin' Festival

There are rules when it comes to submitting catfish entries in the Noodlin' Festival. In 2012, the rules changed a bit to make it more fair to all the fishermen. Following are the updated rules:

  1. Noodlers must obey all of Oklahoma's wildlife regulations.
  2. The catfish must be caught within 24 hours of the weigh-in, and the fish must be alive at the time of judging
  3. Only one flathead catfish per person, or team, may be submitted at the weigh-in. This is down from three in previous years
  4. In the main competition, prizes will be awarded for those winning first through sixth place.
    In the Ladies and Under 18 groups, prices will be awarded for first and second place.
  5. The weigh-in will occur at 6:00 pm on tournament day. In the past, weigh-in was at 7:00 pm
Flathead Catfish Entry at Okie Noodlin Festival
Flathead Catfish Entry at Okie Noodli...
Author

Catfish Weigh-In

Main event at Okie Noodlin' Fest

The Okie Noodlin' Festival centers around the weigh-in, which occurs at 6:00 pm. Make certain you've set up your lawn chair several hours in advance, so you can watch the fish as they are brought in. These fish are monsters, and can weigh 40 pounds or more!

The catfish are normally brought in large tanks, which ride in the beds of pickup trucks. The fish are brought out of the tanks, then put on the scale. A few fishermen may even hold them up high for all to see! After they are weighed, they are either put back in their original tanks, or put in large "viewing tubs" in order for attendees to view them more closely.

After all entrees have been judged, prizes are awarded. The fish are then returned to their natural habitat, put in stock ponds, or fried for dinner. It is the fisherman's choice.

Okie Noodlin' Festival Videos

Get ready to view some big flathead catfish! These videos show you how it's done!

Need More Information?

If you want to attend the next Okie Noodlin' Festival in Paul's Valley, the following sites will help you plan your trip:

  1. Okie Noodling
    The official website for the Okie Noodling Festival in Paul's Valley, Oklahoma. Learn more about the tournament, see videos, and purchase souvenirs.
  2. Pauls Valley, Oklahoma
    The official website for Paul's Valley, Oklahoma. Information on the city, the festival, and Wacker's Park.
  3. Okie Noodling Network
    A Facebook group for noodlers. Great photos of flathead catfish!
  4. Okie Noodlin' Documentary
    Learn more about the documentary produced by Bradley Beesley, and get updates on festival events on this Facebook page

Have you ever noodled, or caught a fish by hand? Do you think this is a dangerous sport? Would you like to attend this festival? Please share your thoughts and comments here!

Updated: 09/29/2015, CountrySunshine
 
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What is the largest catfish you've caught?


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CountrySunshine on 12/18/2014

I have friends who do this, but I'm not brave enough! It is fun to watch, tho.

AngelaJohnson on 12/18/2014

I imagine American Indians and early settlers caught fish by hand.

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