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Noodling their lives away

Friends experience the great outdoors together while fishing with their bare hands.
By Adam Kemp, Staff Writer, akemp@opubco.com Published: July 16, 2011

Chris Pulchny said he was sure he had a catfish in the hole.

He called for a teammate to block the other side of the rock that he had surrounded and was eagerly waiting for a catfish to take a big bite on his hand.

“I'm literally petting this thing's side,” Pulchny said. “Hurry up and get around there and make sure he doesn't come out the back.”

After submerging himself underwater twice to check the hole, Pulchny, 25, re-emerged from the brown, murky water to deliver the bad news.

“Umm, I think I lied to y'all,” Pulchny said. “This is just an old fire extinguisher. I could've sworn we had one.”

This outcome is repeated often during the 24-hour time allotment for the Okie Noodling Festival.

Pulchny and his partner, Tell Judkins, attempted to wrangle as many massive flathead catfish as they could by sticking hands, feet or sticks into holes along the banks of different lakes and rivers in Oklahoma.

“The female catfish comes in and lays the eggs in those holes and the male comes in behind him and does his business,” Pulchny said. “When you stick your hand in that hole, you kind of start to shake all over, it's a rush.”

As Pulchny and Judkins, 23, step in the water of the Canadian River, a surprised yelp comes from Pulchny as the water is a bit colder than he expected.

“This won't last long,” he said. “This will feel like bath tub water in an hour or two.”

Pulchny said he recognizes the danger in sticking your hands where they don't belong.

Pulchny said a catfish bite feels like having your hand rubbed between two wire grill brushes; it's not a significant pain, but you remember it, he said.

The biggest fear of any noodler is being trapped underwater. Pulchny said he remembers hearing about a noodler that was pinned when a rock that he had his hand in shifted and trapped his arm and he drowned.

But Pulchny has already survived one accident that should have killed him. In 2008 he was thrown from the tailgate of a pickup truck and smashed his head into the curb, which left him in a coma for three months.

“The doctors told my parents several times that I would be dead by morning,” Pulchny said. “When I woke up, I asked my dad how long I had been out. Then I cursed and said I was (mad) because I missed deer season. He told the nurse that I was gonna be all right.”

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