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Eighteen years later, Okie Noodling is still going strong

Mississippi noodler Cody Adkins shows his catfish to the crowd at Wacker Park in Pauls Valley during last year's Okie Noodling Tournament. [PHOTO BY BRYAN TERRY, THE OKLAHOMAN]

Mississippi noodler Cody Adkins shows his catfish to the crowd at Wacker Park in Pauls Valley during last year's Okie Noodling Tournament. [PHOTO BY BRYAN TERRY, THE OKLAHOMAN]

The 18th annual Okie Noodling Tournament and Festival will be Friday and Saturday at Pauls Valley.

Noodling tournaments are now common across Oklahoma, but the Okie Noodling Tournament was the first. The tournament was created by former OU film student Bradley Beesley for his now famous “Okie Noodling” documentaries.

The documentaries shined a light on what once was kind of a secretive and quaint pastime. Now, Okie Noodling is recognized worldwide.

Scores of journalists have traveled to Oklahoma from all over the globe in the past 18 years to write and film stories about eccentric characters catching huge catfish with their hands.

All of the publicity spawned at least two reality television shows featuring Oklahoma noodling, "Hillbilly Handfishin'" and "Mudcats."

The media craze has died down over the years, but the Okie Noodling Tournament remains a popular event. That's because it's the Rose Bowl of noodling. It's the granddaddy of them all.

Tournament organizers are expecting a film crew from France to attend this year and possibly ones from Japan and California.

Last year, more than 15,000 people crammed into Wacker Park in Pauls Valley for the event. The City of Pauls Valley took over the tournament from Beesley, and it has become the biggest tourism attraction in Garvin County.

In addition to the hand-fishing tournament on Saturday, the festival includes live music, food, retail vendors and a catfish-eating contest along with other games and activities.

A free concert featuring Kevin Fowler (whose debut album was "Beer, Bait and Ammo") and Brandon Jenkins will begin at 6:30 p.m. Friday in Wacker Park. Vendors open at 10 a.m. on Saturday with activities including demonstrations in the noodling tank beginning at noon.

The deadline for noodlers to have catfish to the park is 6 p.m. to be weighed, but noodlers will arrive throughout the day. A horn announces to the crowd that another noodler has arrived for fish to be weighed.

Noodlers can hand-fish only Oklahoma waters for the tournament and participants are subject to a polygraph. First prize in the natural and scuba divisions is $1,000.

Deadline to enter the tournament is noon Thursday. Entry fees are $45 per person if received before Wednesday and $55 per person afterward.

For more information, contact the Pauls Valley Chamber of Commerce at (405) 238-6491 or visit okienoodling.com.

Ed Godfrey

Ed Godfrey was born in Muskogee and raised in Stigler. He has worked at The Oklahoman for 25 years. During that time, he has worked a myriad of beats for The Oklahoman including both the federal and county courthouse in Oklahoma City for more... Read more ›

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