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Why is it called noodling?

by Ed Godfrey Published: July 8, 2009
A noodling team sponsored by the Comanche Home Center display their day's catch during the July 12 Okie Noodling Tournament in Pauls Valley. Noodlers could hand fish anywhere in the state but had to get to Bob's Pig Shop in Pauls Valley by 7:30 p.m. for the weigh-in.
A noodling team sponsored by the Comanche Home Center display their day's catch during the July 12 Okie Noodling Tournament in Pauls Valley. Noodlers could hand fish anywhere in the state but had to get to Bob's Pig Shop in Pauls Valley by 7:30 p.m. for the weigh-in.

With the 10th annual Okie Noodling Tournament just a couple of days away, I once again pose the question for which I have never found a definitive answer.
Why is hand-fishing for flatheads in Oklahoma called noodling?
Other states allow hand-fishing for catfish, but use terms such as grabbling, graveling, groping, tickling, dogging, hogging or stumping. So why do Okies call it noodling?
Skipper Bivins of Temple, last year’s winner of the Okie Noodling Tournament and a frequent champ with monster cats from the Red River, said when he was growing up in southwest Oklahoma noodling was always called grabbling. He never heard the term “noodling” until the tournament started.
Jerry Rider, who you will often find noodling on Lake Eufaula and once appeared on the David Letterman Show to demonstrate his craft, did some research on the origin of the word.
He said noodling may have been derived from a 17th century term when opals were dug or “noodled” from Australian mines.
Who would have guessed that noodlers are also intellectuals?
Three years ago, I wrote a column in The Sunday Oklahoman asking the same question. Here’s the responses I received:
“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.”
“Early-day noodlers would fish in their birthday suits, thus exposing their noodles.” (I didn’t publish that one in the newspaper).
“The Scottish brought it to Oklahoma. “Guddling” is an old Scottish word that is phonologically close to noodling which describes catching trout by hand.”
And, of course, the most common theory for the origin of the word: “People who blindly explore underwater crevices to get a giant catfish to bite them must be off their noodle.”
One definition of noodle is “a stupid person.” I found that in Webster’s Third New International Dictionary.
So if anyone really knows why hand-fishing for flatheads is called noodling in Oklahoma, please tell me.

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by Ed Godfrey
Reporter Sr.
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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