Okie Noodling & Okie Noodling II

Okie Noodling & Okie Noodling II

Fri, 11/30/2012 - 7:00pm

A colorful cast of Oklahoma noodlers share their philosophies, techniques and passion for the  dangerous fishing tradition known as noodling, the ancient but obscure practice of snaring catfish bare-handed.


Credit: APT

There’s nothing quite like the thrill of catching a 60-pound catfish with your bare hands.

Noodling is the sport (some say art) of catching big ol’ catfish with your bare hands. Legal only in Oklahoma, Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisianna, this practice has taken on cult-like proportions, complete with naysayers, philosophers and would-be high priests. OKIE NOODLINGis filmmaker Bradley Beesley’s (Fearless Freaks, Hill Stomp Hollar) affectionate, funny and engaging look at the noodlers in hos home state of Oklahoma: Jerry “Catfish” Rider, a school custodian whose noodling skills garnered him 10 minutes of fame with David Letterman, Red and Dave Baggett, an uncle and nephew team who push the ascetic limits of noodling with diving equipment, and Lee McFarlin, whose outspoken views are punctuated by devilish grins and a contagious reverence for his sport. Beesley constructs a documentary so unassuming and familiar that despite narration, animation and other director’s accoutrements, the camera disappears and viewers will find themselves in murky waters, holding their breath and wriggling their fingers in dark, deep holes, hoping a 45-pounder will bite. The film includes an original score by Oklahoma’s own, The Flaming Lips.

Okie Noodling and Okie Noodling II encore Friday, November 30, 2012 at 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. on WXXI-World (cable 524/DT21.2).

There’s nothing quite like the thrill of catching a 60-pound catfish with your bare hands and that’s just what some Oklahoma fisherman have been doing for hundreds of years. Diving into creeks, rivers and lakes, noodlers search for bank-dwelling catfish. These murky waters are home to the wild world of noodling. Although you won’t find the term in Webster’s Dictionary, noodling is the ancient but obscure sport of submerging one’s body and using only bare hands to catch huge catfish.

Filmmaker Bradley Beesley’s award-winning documentary OKIE NOODLINGchronicles the tradition from its roots as a Native American hunting technique to the present-day status of this rural subculture. The gritty, down-home movie was shot on 16mm film with an original score by Oklahoma band The Flaming Lips.

“Noodlers are a dying breed,” said Jerry “Catfish” Rider. Not a lot of people want to stick their hand up a hole and get bit by something.” Rider, a custodian who once practiced his rare gift for David Letterman on national television, is one of several hand-fisherman documented in “Okie Noodling.” The hour-long film won the Audience Award for Best Documentary and First Runner-Up “Critics Choice” in the Feature Documentary category at the 2001 South by Southwest Film Festival.

Filmmaker Beesley’s work is a family affair. Since the age of 13, after witnessing the scratched arms of hand-fishing family members at a lakeside family reunion, Beesley has been fascinated by noodling. During filming, he had his first hand-fishing experience. “Noodling is exhilarating, it’s a little bit scary and completely funny,” he said.