PAULS VALLEY — "We drove 750 miles to bring those three fish down here,” proclaimed Howard Ramsey, president of Missouri’s group of hand-fishermen called "Noodlers Anonymous.”
Noodling is illegal in Missouri, so this is the fifth time Ramsey and his rebel noodlers have crossed the border and entered the annual Okie Noodling Tournament, held Saturday at Bob’s Pig Shop. It’s the only tournament of its kind in the world and this was first time Ramsey’s fishermen have checked in flatheads, thanks to a Hennessey man who shared some catfish holes with his fellow hand fishermen from up north. Missouri wasn’t the farthest place that wanna-be noodlers traveled from to stick their hand in a monster Oklahoma’s flathead’s mouth. Hand-fishermen from Indiana, Colorado, Texas, Arkansas and California were among the 171 entries who braved triple digit Oklahoma heat late Friday and Saturday "to get fish-bit” in the Okie Noodling Tournament. "At least if you are in the water you can tolerate the heat,” said noodler Skipper Bivins of Temple. "It was 112 where we were grabbling (noodling).” Noodlers or scuba divers could fish anywhere in the state starting at 7:30 p.m. Friday but had to be at Bob’s Pig Shop in Pauls Valley by Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. weigh-in, where an estimated crowd of 4,000-plus spectators stood shoulder to shoulder to gawk at the giant flatheads brought there for the weigh-in. Pauls Valley and Bob’s Pig Shop have become famous worldwide for the Okie Noodling Tournament. While some consider it just a hillbilly beerfest, this small Garvin County town has embraced the event. "We are what we are,” said Della Wilson, director of the Pauls Valley Chamber of Commerce.