Bradley Beesley is a former University of Oklahoma film student whose 2001 documentary, “Okie Noodling,” spurred media across the world to descend on Oklahoma to film and write about hand-fishing for flathead catfish.
As part of the documentary, Beesley created and still organizes the annual Okie Noodling Tournament in Pauls Valley, where last month a noodler weighed in a 70-pound flathead to win the event.
This month Beesley is filming in Oklahoma the second season of “Mudcats,” a reality television show about noodling.
In addition to “Okie Noodling,” Beesley directed the 2009 HBO documentary “Sweethearts of the Prison Rodeo,” a film about convict cowgirls competing in the prison rodeo at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester.
Beesley also is well-known for his film about the Oklahoma City rock band The Flaming Lips. His father, Paul Beesley, was a longtime high school football coach in Oklahoma.
Initially when I started making (“Okie Noodling”) it was just a passion project, something that I had thought about for years and had stewed on. This was a story I wanted to tell.
I had been to film festivals all over the world and had seen unique documentaries, and I knew this was unique. Even in Oklahoma 13 years ago, a lot of people didn't know about the sport.
Having grown up in the suburbs (of Oklahoma City), I didn't noodle myself. But going to family reunions down in southern Oklahoma, you would meet the cousins that had the scarred up arm or bloody arm and you would ask about it.
The key to telling good stories is to find characters to tell them for you. Before Facebook and the Internet was pervasive, I would go to small-town bait shops and bars and put up fliers with my phone number on them (looking for noodlers). Initially, they all just thought I wanted to steal their spots because it was all so secretive.
It went from being a passion and wanting to make a documentary film and an artistic statement and then it became a lifestyle. I stayed in contact with all these guys that I made the film about. It evolved into my community.
The reason I created the tournament was so the characters in my film would have a place to interact and meet each other. I've been running it for 13 years. It blossomed into something that started out with 37 entrants the first year and this year we had 244 guys register for the event.
I had no clue the monster I was creating. It's bittersweet because I've taken something that was an underground culture and now it's become somewhat mainstream.
Okie Noodling has been an omnipresent theme within my life the past 13 years. Weekly I get an email from somebody wanting to come to Oklahoma (to film noodling). I've had at the Okie Noodling Tournament television crews from Japan, Australia, London, the BBC. We had a Russian television station there.
“Okie Noodling” has been playing in PBS rotation for 13 years. I still license that film to PBS and it plays in all these different markets. Fishing shows are popular. Turn your TV on and look at the “Deadliest Catch” or “Shark Wranglers” or numerous others.