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Readers offer a variety of ideas about origins of noodling

by Ed Godfrey Published: July 2, 2006
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Acouple of weeks ago, I asked readers if anyone knew why handfishing in Oklahoma is called noodling.

In other states, handfishing for monster catfish is called grabbling, graveling, groping, tickling, dogging, hogging or stumping. So why do Okies call it noodling?

Trader-historian James Adair reported American Indians catching catfish with their bare hands as early as 1775. Handfishing also was practiced in Europe. In Scotland, a similar fishing method for salmon is called "tickling."

But the origin of the term "noodling" is unknown. Readers, however, offered several theories. Among them:

  • Flathead catfish are as slippery as wet noodles.

  • To catch a flathead by hand, fishermen must wiggle their fingers like wet spaghetti to entice a giant catfish to bite.

  • After a monster flathead gets through shaking your arm, it dangles from your shoulder like a wet noodle.

  • In the late 17th century, opals were dug or "noodled" from Australian mines.

    Celebrity Oklahoma noodler Jerry Rider, who has appeared on the David Letterman show and the Discovery Channel's "Dirty Jobs" to demonstrate his handfishing skills, said this was the earliest reference he could find to "noodling."

  • Perhaps the Scots brought it to Oklahoma. A New York Times reader said "guddling" is an old Scottish word that is phonologically close to noodling.

    The word describes catching trout by hand, often by reaching under overhanging stones, as in the following passage from Robert Louis Stevenson's book "Kidnapped."

    "We spent a great part of our days at the water-side, stripped to the waist and groping about or (as they say) guddling for these fish."

    The Brooklyn man was responding to the newspaper's story about the annual Okie Noodling Tournament, which is scheduled Saturday in Pauls Valley.

    Other readers offered more risque origins of the word that are better left unmentioned.

    After pointless research, I decided my wife's theory is about as good as any. People who blindly explore underwater holes where beavers and snakes might lurk must be off their noodle.

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    by Ed Godfrey
    Copy Editor, Outdoors Editor, Rodeo, River Sports Reporter
    Ed Godfrey was born in Muskogee and raised in Stigler. He has worked at The Oklahoman for 25 years. During that time, he has worked a myriad of beats for The Oklahoman including both the federal and county courthouse in Oklahoma City for more...
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    This photo was taken in the early 1950s, said Travis Newby of Oklahoma City. Photo provided

    Catching flatheads with your bare hands: An Oklahoma summer ritual

    Noodlers wade into Oklahoma's rivers and lakes and often come out with a gnarled hand and a trophy flathead.

    As temperatures warm up, flathead catfish start searching shallow water for holes under logs, rocks and along mud banks so they can spawn.

    They will stay in the holes to deposit and fan their eggs until they hatch, and noodlers can pull the fish from those holes.

    The daily bag limit for noodlers is three flathead catfish. Flatheads must be a minimum of 20 inches to be kept.

  • The biggest flathead ever caught in Oklahoma was a 106-pound brute from Wister Lake. The fish was caught on a trotline in 1977.

  • The state record flathead caught on a rod and reel was a 72-pound catfish pulled from Lake El Reno two years ago by Ron "Barefoot" Cantrell.

    By Ed Godfrey

    Recipe

    Cajun Catfish

  • Ingredients

    Catfish fillets

    2 cups garlic-and-herb-seasoned bread crumbs

    ½ to 1 tablespoon of cajun blackened season

    2 eggs, beaten

    Butter

    Salt

  • Directions

    Mix bread crumbs and cajun seasoning. Heat cast-iron skillet over medium heat while melting butter. Use care that the butter does not burn while heating.

    Pat fillets dry. Dip fillets in egg, then into bread crumb mixture, and place in heated skillet.

    Adjust heat so the breading browns and does not burn while cooking the fillets through. Remove from pan and immediately lightly salt, then drain on either paper towels or brown paper bag.

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