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Rolling in the Deep
THE BIG ONE
Teddy Good of the National Geographic Channel’s reality series Mudcats is one of several Oklahoma noodlers bringing the sport into the national spotlight.
Photo by NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CHANNELS/ERIC GUTIERREZ
Noodling. Grabbling. Handfishing. Hogging. By any name, this pastime—or, in the hands of some, sport—is an Oklahoma-centered outdoor adventure.
By Nathan Gunter
Published May/June 2013
Kaleb Summers didn’t know he had a staph infection.
He was under a gigantic piece of concrete in chest-deep water, and a flathead catfish—a female that recently had spawned—had just swallowed his arm past his wrist. The monster started to spin and thrash. Summers was running out of air and had to get away. So he punched her.
“I was trying to get her off me,” he says. “I was blowing bubbles, fighting her, and pushing her back.”
His team was holding his legs, helping him dive deeper into the catfish’s lair. Conceding the battle for a moment, Summers let go and swam out.
“I came out of the water, and I said, ‘We’ve got a tournament winner this time,’” he says.
He told the members of his team with him that day—two buddies from his college days at Oklahoma State University and a childhood friend from his hometown of Claremore—to pull him up when he kicked his right leg. After taking a breath, he sank beneath the muddy water, thrusting his hand at the flathead.
“Sure enough—whap!—she hit me real hard, and when she did, I grabbed the bottom of her mouth,” he says.
Summers clamped down and held on, working his hand deep into the fish’s throat to grab its gills. Locking his fingers tightly, he kicked his right foot, and the team pulled him out.
“I’d been under close to a minute with this fish rolling around,” he says, “so when I broke the surface, the only word I was able to gasp was, ‘Help!’”
Summers and his team wrestled the catfish onto the bank, tied it to a ski rope, and left it in the water overnight. Less than twenty-four hours later, they hoisted their catch onto the scale at the Okie Noodling Tournament in Pauls Valley. It weighed in at 70.46 pounds, a tournament record.
As Summers lifted his trophies and checks—the spoils totaled $2,500—for wins in two categories, the crowd roared. Marion Kincaid, a star of the reality show Mudcats and the tournament’s previous record-holder, shook each team member’s hand and offered congratulations.
That night, things looked less rosy. Summers had cut his leg on a boulder on an earlier fishing trip. On a later expedition, he overlooked a broken branch in the water, which stabbed the wound.
“It was the worst pain I ever had,” he says. “I got a staph infection the night we won Pauls Valley, and it went into my foot.”
Summers, who healed quickly, was told to stay out of the water for a week and a half. Luckily, he didn’t miss any noodling tournaments during his recovery.
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Get There: The Okie Noodling Tournament, Festival, and Fish Fry is June 22 in Wacker Park in Pauls Valley. Weigh-in is at 6 p.m., the awards ceremony is at 7 p.m., and a concert follows at 8 p.m. (405) 238-6491 or okienoodling.com. Kaleb Summers’ company is Summers’ Time Outdoor Adventures. (918) 760-3307 or stoadventures.net. Sparks Noodling, (580) 647-6356 or sparksnoodling.com.