PAULS VALLEY — When Lucy Millsap walked onstage in a hot pink tank top with a 72-pound catfish hoisted over her shoulder, the crowd couldn't help but take notice.
Several snapped pictures with the 19-year-old from Quinlan, Texas, on their cellphones.
“It's nice to come to Oklahoma and be famous for a big catfish,” Millsap said.
Millsap drove three hours hauling her dusty brown, whiskered catch in a red tub in her truck bed to claim the top prize at the 14th annual Okie Noodling Tournament.
She beat 200 contestants to win the $1,500 prize in the “Big Fish” category and was the first woman to do so.
“My dad asked me if I wanted to fish in the women's division and I said, ‘Heck no.' I don't want to fish in the women's division. I want to beat the men,” Millsap said.
Contestants had 24 hours to catch a catfish with their hands and bring it back alive to Wacker Park in Pauls Valley by the 6 p.m. Saturday weigh-in.
While the crowd waited for noodling teams to arrive, kids feasted on catfish in an eating contest.
Filmmaker and former University of Oklahoma film student Bradley Beesley works as the festival's coordinator. He started the event 14 years ago while making his documentary, “Okie Noodling.”
The first festival was supposed to be the last.
What began as a film promotion experiment with a crowd of 500 has turned into an annual summer festival that draws about 10,000 people from across the country, Beesley said.
“We never thought it would take off like this,” he said. “It was just a device for the film.”
Queens of catfish
For Millsap, noodling was more fun when it was still illegal in Texas.
In those days, sneaking around on a boat at night required someone to watch out for the game warden.
The former high school cheerleader and student council president still fishes at night to recreate the heady chase of an off-limits game.