By: Carol Beck-Round | Category: Recreation/Leisure | Issue: June 2013
Kaleb Summers and his team wrestled a 70-pound flathead catfish into their boat to win the 2012 Okie Noodling Tournament in Pauls Valley last June.
Kaleb Summers likes a challenge. He confesses to being an adrenaline junkie. In high school, he wrestled, then earned a college scholarship as a steer wrestler; however, bad knees ended his dreams in the rodeo arena. He also fought professionally as a cage fighter.
Seeking another outlet for his high-energy personality, the Claremore resident began thinking about his dad’s previous passion for noodling, a unique way of catching monster catfish with bare hands in rivers and lakes. Noodling is an ancient practice, dating back to the Native Americans who passed on their fishing technique to early settlers. No bait or rod is used.
Summers’ passion for learning more about this unusual Midwestern American sport led him to southeastern Oklahoma, where family friends taught him the basics of noodling, or hillbilly hand-fishin’. “I had to learn how to differentiate between beaver holes and a catfish nest and avoid cotton mouths,” says Summers. “When I returned home, I went through a lot of trial and error before it all finally clicked.”
When it did click for Summers, he became “hooked.” Summers, along with his team members – L.J. Parks, Joel Parks, Dillon Owen, Colby Owen and Brandon Bedient – know how to discover a catfish hole, then submerge under the water and wait for the catfish to bite a hand. When the flathead latches on to the noodler’s hand, spotters then assist by helping to put a stringer in the thick jaws. “It’s not for the claustrophobic,” says Summers. “When you’re underwater trying to noodle a monster fish, it can get pretty tight.”
In 2012, the team of six entered the annual Okie Noodling Tournament in Pauls Valley, Oklahoma. Going into the tournament, Summers and his team were determined to walk away with the prize. “We only had to catch one fish,” says Summers, “and it had to be the biggest.” Perseverance, skill and luck paid off when Summers and his team noodled a trophy catch and set a record at the tournament with a 70-pound flathead. However, according to Summers, the monster catfish put up a fight that required the six to literally “bear hug and wrestle her to the shoreline.”
After the big win and the ensuing publicity, Summers knew he wanted to start his own noodling competition in northeastern Oklahoma. With his dad’s encouragement and community support, Summers launched “Battle of the Big Cats: Route 66’s Richest Noodling Showdown,” which will debut June 14-15 at the Claremore Expo Center. “We are doubling the prize money offered at Pauls Valley,” he says. “I wanted northeastern Oklahoma to have their own competition and make it one of the best.”
Over $10,000 in cash and prizes will be awarded at the event. With a trade show, noodling demonstrations, live entertainment, a fish fry, family activities and “Money the Hard Way for the Ladies in the Tank,” the event promises lots of excitement for all ages and both genders.
With a $50 per person entry fee, noodlers are limited to turning in their largest catfish. A top prize of $5,000 will be awarded to the winner. Prize money will be paid out to the top three fish. Contestant entries, rules, regulations and vendor registrations can be found at www.visitclaremore.org or www.stoadventures.net. Registration forms must be completed and returned with the entry fee by June 12, either by mail or in person at the Claremore Expo Center office. The tournament begins on June 13.
Event sponsors include NABATAK Outdoor, Visit Claremore, Claremore Expo Center, K95/FOX23, Summer's Drilling & Blasting, Value News, Melton Sales, GRDA, Osage Casino, Pixley Lumber, BancFirst, Wild Country Meats, Warren Cat, Hooters, and Claremore Compounding Pharmacy.
If swimming in muddy waters and sticking your hand into the mouth of a monster fish doesn’t appeal, you’ll still enjoy the excitement generated by this one-of-a-kind Okie sport.
After 30 years in public school education, Carol Round retired and moved from Grand Lake to Claremore, Oklahoma in 2005, where she writes a weekly faith-based column which runs in 14 Oklahoma newspapers as well as several national and international publications. Three volumes of her columns have been compiled into collections: A Matter of Faith, Faith Matters and by FAITH alone. She has also written Journaling with Jesus: How to Draw Closer to God and a companion workbook, The 40-Day Challenge. This past year she has written three children’s books, a series called Nana’s 3 Jars, to teach children about the value of giving, saving and spending money. All of Carol’s books are available through Amazon. In addition to writing her weekly column, authoring books and speaking to women’s groups, she writes for Value News. She also blogs regularly at www.carolaround.com. When she is not writing or speaking, she loves spending time with her three grandchildren, working in her flowerbeds, shooting photos, volunteering at her church or going on mission trips overseas, and hiking. She is also an avid reader and loves working crosswords and trying to solve Sudoku puzzles.