'Bare Knuckle Babe' wins 14th annual Okie Noodling Festival

Lucy Millsap, 19, of Quinlan, Texas, took first place Saturday at the Okie Noodling Festival in Pauls Valley with her 72-pound flathead catfish. She was among 200 hand fishermen who competed for the prize.
BY HANNAH COVINGTON hcovington@opubco.com Modified: June 22, 2013 at 11:21 pm •  Published: June 23, 2013

She pulled her winning flathead for the festival from Lake Texoma about 3 a.m. that day.

People wouldn't take her for a noodler, Millsap said. “I went through my entire high school career and no one ever knew.”Millsap said representing female noodlers made the experience worthwhile.

The logo printed across her tank top spoke of this cause: Bare Knuckle Babes.

At the festival, the Babes sold calendars featuring female noodlers from all over the country.

Millsap claimed the photo spot for May.

“Women don't think they can do a lot of stuff. And you get a lot of trash talk from the guys,” Millsap said. “I'm proud to justify the name ‘bare knuckle babes.'”

Staying connected

Noodling first gained national attention after Moore-native Beesley featured the offbeat sport in his documentary and his spinoff show, “Mudcats.”

He said the festival is a way to keep hand fisherman connected.

The festival “provides these guys with a sense of community that they wouldn't normally have,” Beesley said. “Noodling is normally a very secretive, clandestine sport.”

Over a decade after he made his film about noodling, Beesley has a lingering fascination with its participants.

“They are people that respect and revere these catfish,” Beesley said. “It's easy to go out, use a gun and shoot a deer. It's something else to catch the fish on its own terms.”

1st competition

Noodling can be risky.

Just ask Millsap. She has been to the emergency room a number of times from puncturing her foot with rusty nails while noodling. She still considers the hand-hunt for catfish worth it.

Even though she started noodling when she was 5, this was Millsap's first competition.

After turning her flathead in, she watched the muddy fish lumber and circle the bottom of an onstage pool.

Does the catfish have a name?

Adjusting her pink camouflage ball cap, Millsap stops and thinks.

“Dinner,” she said.