LUTHER — Every noodler has a story.
After all, it takes considerable chutzpah to stick your hand down an underwater hole — one that could harbor beavers, snakes or snapping turtles — in hopes that a catfish that’s larger than a fourth-grader will latch on but not manage to drown you as you fight to land it.
But few noodlers probably have stories like those of Terry Ivey. A retired corrections officer who lives in Guthrie, Ivey, 48, was among 117 people out noodling in holes scattered throughout Oklahoma last weekend in hopes of taking home the grand prize at the annual Pauls Valley Okie Noodling Tournament. The winner, Ramey Webb, of Ludlow, Mo., turned in a 69-pound fish.
Ivey epitomizes the tournament’s slogan: “No hooks, no bait, no fear.” He describes a recent adventure when, alone in the water, he somehow got his head trapped between a rock and a thrashing fish.
“It went bam, bam,” he said. “It didn’t knock me out, it just came close. I saw stars.”
Noodling as a technique dates back centuries. Noodlers put a hand into a hole that contains a fish, and the fish either bites down or a noodler pushes a hand into the fish’s mouth, before extracting the day’s catch. These days, while it’s still a method to catch food, noodling is more man-versus-nature competition.
“It’s basically a wrestling match, depending on the size of the fish,” Ivey said. “Sometimes I’ll get whipped, and sometimes I’ll win.”
For last weekend’s tournament, Ivey threw on a pair of old jeans and a white patriotic T-shirt that turned reddish-brown the instant he submerged into one of Oklahoma’s muddy rivers. Ivey had lathered sunscreen everywhere, including his eyelids. He’d thrown on a pair of beat-up gloves to protect himself from his quarry’s wrath.