Lake Tawakoni in East Texas may just be the "premier" blue catfish compound in the nation, with 50+ pounders being pulled on a regular basis. Problem is, is that Lake Tawakoni is 10 feet low and you may have a hard time launching your boat. If you cannot launch, here is an alternative:
The Noodlers: Bubba does Letterman
The first time I was introduced to the sport, if you can call it one, was back in 1989 while watching Late night with David Letterman. A man by the name of Jerry Rider climbed into a huge fish tank and caught a mammoth catfish using his bare hands. “Hey Lori,” I called out to my wife, “check this idiot out.”
Being that I was a fisherman and consumed with everything to do with fishing, I figured I needed to research the topic. I discovered that the method of catching large fish with your bare hands is called “Noodling.” It is a process by which fish, mainly huge catfish, are caught using nothing but your hands and arms. The fisherman using himself as bait, sticks his arm into underwater holes, crevasses, or logs, in rivers and lakes, and then waits for a catfish to latch onto his hand. At that point, the fisherman tries to pull the fish out and bring him in. Being that some of these fish can weigh up to fifty or sixty pounds, the fight can be quite a struggle. People have even drowned being held underwater by some of the enormous fish. Researching further, I found out that in 2001 a documentary was done by a man named Bradley Beesley entitled Okie Noodling, which covers the practice and history of the sport in Oklahoma. Oklahoma even spawned the first annual Noodling tournament. Only in Oklahoma.
When my friend Brian, from Enid, Oklahoma had his three amigos from Norman, Oklahoma visit Dallas for the OU-Texas football game, they suggested that we go out to Lake Tawakoni in East Texas to do some fishing. Little did I know what type of fishing they intended to pursue. “I’ll go ahead and get the boat cleaned up so that it’s ready to go,” I told Brian.
“I don’t think we will need a boat for this type of fishing,” he said.
“What type of fishing is that?”
“Don’t worry about that; just be ready about six o’clock Friday morning and we will pick you up.”
Standing in front of my house, holding my fishing pole, tackle box, and coffee thermos, I watched as a big black diesel truck pulled up. “Git in, big dog,” Brian barked, “and lose the fishing pole and tackle box.”
“Just git in; I will explain later.”
Setting my gear by the front door, I returned to the truck and got in. “This here is Jim, John, and Bubba,” Brian said, introducing me to the others.
“Nice to meet you guys,” I replied. “My name is Gary ─ let’s go drown a few worms.”
Jim rolled up the windows, turned on the air conditioning, and we headed east on highway 276. I immediately noticed a malodorous smell reeking from the interior of the truck. “What’s that odor fellas?” I asked, “it smells like a distillery in here.”
“How right you are,” Jim said, “ole Bubba brought some of his grandpa’s favorite moonshine with him to provide us with a fishing mood enhancer. Pour him a slug of that juice in his coffee Bubba.”
Before I could decline, Bubba snatched my cup out of my hand and added the spirits. “Take a taste of that and let me know what you think,” Bubba said proudly.
Not wanting to be a wimp, I took the coffee and swallowed a good gulp. By the time the fetid juice hit my stomach, my eyeballs went to back of head and smoke was coming out of my ears. “How sweet it is!” I said, doing my best Jackie Gleason imitation as we all broke out laughing while hurtling into the darkness.
Following highway 276 to Route 47, we made our way to the Holiday Marina on Lake Tawakoni and entered the bait shop. “What kind of bait do we need?” I asked Brian as I reached for my pocket book.
“These guys don’t use no stinkin’ bait.”
“And why is that?”
“Because we’re going ‘Noodling.’ ”
“You mean, like sticking your hand in a hole and pulling out a catfish.”
“Are you out of your friggin’ mind? I like fishing, but I am not sticking my hand in some underwater abyss.”
“Then you can be a spotter.”
“You go in with the guy that’s Noodling and when he gets a fish, you help him carry it to shore. Bubba’s is a ‘Grand Master Noodler.’ ”
“Give me another shot of that moonshine,” I said.
The clerk at the bait shop gave us directions on where some good catfish holes where located and we drove down a dirt road until we reached a clearing. “This is the spot fellas,” Jim said. “John, Brian, and I will go out together, and Gary can go with Bubba. Feeling the effects of the liquid courage, I followed Bubba into the water to search for a hole.
Lake Tawakoni is noted for the large catfish that fisherman harvest from the lake. Divers claim that they have seen one hundred pound monsters in the muddy waters and I personally had heavy tackle break while fishing for them in the reservoir. “You do know that there are some very big fish in this lake,” I informed Bubba as we entered chest deep water.
“That’s the whole idea,” he said with a moonshine induced grin.
“And what if you stick your hand in a hole that has a water moccasin or a gator is in it?”
“That’s part of the challenge ─ one time I stuck my hand in a hole that had a beaver in it: sun-bitch nearly bit my hand off.”
“This is insane; let’s go back to the truck, put on your Garth Brooks tape, and finish the moonshine.”
“We’re goin’ to do that as soon as we pull out a nice fat catfish to put on the grill for our tail-gaitin’ party tomorrow ─ look down here; that’s a catfish hole.”
Before I knew it, Bubba pulled a Sea Hunt on me by diving underwater and sticking his arm into the hole. As he remained underwater, I noticed an explosion of air bubbles coming to surface. What am I supposed to do if “big whiskers” has him held underwater? I could now see Bubba pulling something out and making his way up. As his head emerged, he turned to me with a frozen expression of terror on his face. “Aaaaaaaaaaaayeeee!” he screamed.
“What is it Bubba?”
Bubba raised his right arm, which had a huge moss-cover snapping turtle with a grip on his thumb.
“Aaaaaaaaaaaayeeee!” I screamed
“He won’t let go.” Bubba shouted.
“What do you want me to do?”
“Do something ─ Anything!”
Without thinking, I instinctively gave the turtle a karate chop, nearly breaking my hand. “Awwwww! ─ that hurt.”
“Who do you think you are the “Karate kid? Get this friggin’ thing off of me!”
“Let’s get to shore and we’ll figure something out,” I said.
Pulling ourselves from the muck, we retreated to the shoreline with Bubba lugging the five pound “mossback” hanging from his arm. “Quick, get the moonshine from the truck ─ it hurts,” Bubba cried.
I ran to the truck, grabbed the bottle of moonshine, and returned. Taking the bottle from me with his free hand, Bubba turned the bottle upside down and gulped down the rest of the poison. “What are we going to do?” he asked.
This time I turned and gave the turtle a football style drop kick. The excruciating pain from my foot put me flat on my back. “SHIT!” I gasped, “that one really hurt.”
“We have to do something quick, before I pass out!” Bubba screamed in pain.
“Get in the truck; we’re going to the hospital.”
Bubba got into the truck on the passenger side with the turtle hanging out the window and I got behind the wheel and started the engine (the keys were always left in the vehicle in case of emergencies like this). Flying down the gravel road, I got on to Route 47 and gunned it to highway 276 headed to West Tawakoni. As soon as I crossed the three mile bridge, a squad car’s cherries began to flash. What’s next?
Pulling over, a trooper got out of his car and approached the truck. “What’s the big hurry sonny?” he asked.
“Show him,” I directed Bubba.
Bubba pulled his hand from outside the truck, with the loggerhead hanging tight.
We now had a police escort to a vet clinic, where a medic was somehow able to remove the turtle by using an injection. Bubba was still in a lot of pain but he had been given some Vicodin, which was working well with the moonshine.
“How would you like to be guest on Letterman?” I asked Bubba as we both got into the truck.
“Real funny, asshole.”
From G.O Fishin': Tall Tales from the Tackle Box
Available at Amazon.com/books/garyocallaghan