Skipper Bivins never dreamed that catching fish with his bare hands would lead to a seat next to Jay Leno on The Tonight Show.
But on Wednesday night, this 48-year-old roofing and siding contractor from the tiny town of Temple was on national television, promoting his new television show about noodling in Oklahoma.
“It was an experience of a lifetime,” Bivins said. “They put us up in a nice hotel. We had limo service. It was just a real sweet set-up. Jay was a real good guy.
Bivins and his longtime Cotton County neighbor and friend, Trent Jackson, are the hosts of a new cable television series, Hillbilly Handfishin' which debuts Aug. 7 at 9 p.m. on Animal Planet.
Hillbilly Handfishin' is a weekly series that features Bivins and Jackson guiding self-proclaimed “city slickers” on hand fishing trips for Oklahoma's giant flathead catfish, and whatever else might be biting.
ABC's Nightline is expected to air a segment about the Oklahoma noodlers and the new show this week.
Bivins and Jackson are more accustomed to no stoplight towns like Temple than the glittering lights of Los Angeles.
“We do what we do best, which is catch fish,” Bivins said. “Never in our wildest dreams did we imagine that it would take us to Hollywood.”
How did it happen? Well, Bivins has long been one of Oklahoma's best noodlers. He and his brother, Scooter, have won the annual Okie Noodling Tournament in Pauls Valley four or five times.
He has been noodling (or grabblin' as he called it growing up) since age 4. It's a family tradition. Bivins' father taught him how to catch fish by hand. His grandfather had taught his father.
Bivins was part of the original Okie Noodling documentaries that developed a cult following and started a worldwide media frenzy about noodling.
Bivins and his family seized upon the notoriety and started a guide business, Big Fish Adventures. They began attracting customers from across the country who wanted to come to Oklahoma and stick their hands or feet in a giant flathead's mouth.
“Some of them just had a bucket list and come down and got it out of the way,” Bivins said. “We've taken people as old as 71 and as young as 17.”
Big Fish Adventures caught the attention of Half Yard Productions, which pitched an idea for a weekly television show.
Animal Planet liked the pilot, and filming for the weekly series began in May in southwest Oklahoma. Twelve episodes are scheduled beginning Aug. 7.
Most of the rookie noodlers Bivins escorts through the muddy waters of southwest Oklahoma on Hillbilly Handfishin' have rarely been off concrete.
“I eventually coax them into being the bait,” Bivins said. “City slickers make danged good bait.”
Bivins' favorite episode features a young Chicago photographer who met a very aggressive 30-pound blue catfish on his adventure in Oklahoma.
“It bit him about a dozen times, over and over and over,” Bivins said. “He was just screaming. He just kept on. I thought his eye was going to pop out, and I was going to have to catch it.
“He got the experience of a lifetime for sure. He got into a freshwater shark attack. He may have gotten some pedicures before but not like this.”
All of the noodling occurs in a 100-mile radius of Cotton County, Bivins said.
Many landowners in Cotton, Jefferson and Love counties were generous enough to allow Bivins and his film crew access to lakes, ponds, rivers and creeks on their land.
These two Cotton County noodlers seem to be naturals on camera.
“Jackson and I have been cutting up with each other all of our lives,” Bivins said. “We are just being ourselves and having fun and showing the guests a good time. I guess that comes across.”
What: New television show featuring noodling in Oklahoma
When: Sunday nights at 9 p.m. beginning Aug. 7
Where: On Animal Planet