On Water All Things Paddle

‘Bare Knuckle Babe’ wrestles in a 72-pound catfish

Lucy Millsap's bare-handed grab of monstrous flathead beats a field of about 200, mostly men, to claim prestigious Okie Noodling Tournament title

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Lucy Millsap totes winning 72-pound catfish. Photo courtesy of Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman

For years, Lucy Millsap kept her hidden talent as a catfish noodler to herself.

“I went through my entire high school career and no one ever knew,” the 19-year-old Texan told The Oklahoman.

But these days Millsap is anything but secretive about her passion, which entails wading through rivers and lakes and wrestling monstrous catfish from their cavernous dens—bare-handed.

Millsap is a calendar girl for the Bare Knuckle Babes (Miss May 2014), and on Saturday she served the Babes proudly by wrestling a 72-pound flathead catfish onto the banks of Oklahoma’s Lake Texoma.

By doing so she emerged victorious in the prestigious Okie Noodling Tournament, having caught the largest catfish in the event’s 14-year history.

Millsap beat a field of about 200 participants, mostly men, including her father, Jimmy, who finished second with a 67.4-pound catfish.

Said Lucy: “Women don’t think they can do a lot of stuff. And you get a lot of trash talk from the guys. I’m proud to justify the name ‘Bare Knuckle Babes.’”

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Bare Knuckle Babes having fun at the Okie Noodling Tournament. Photo is via the group’s Facebook page

The Bare Knuckle Babes, according to a statement on their Facebook page, is a group of women from around the country that hopes to “bring worldwide notice to the sport of Catfish Noodling and the WOMEN behind the sport.”

Hence, the calendars. They were selling like crazy at the Okie Noodling Tournament, as one might imagine.

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Lucy Millsap

Noodling is somewhat dangerous in that noodlers often have to hold their breath while reaching into caves, in the hope that a massive catfish will chomp onto their arm. Noodlers then have to wrestle the struggling fish from the cave to the surface.

The sport is increasingly popular in the south, particularly Oklahoma. Texas only recently legalized noodling, which is why Millsap kept her passion a secret for so many years.

Jennifer Drake, the wife of champion noodler Eddie Drake and Bare Knuckle Babes manager, talked to Blue Ribbon News about Millsap.

“Lucy has been noodling since she was 5 years old,” Drake said. “She was an ‘outlaw’ noodler at night prior to Texas legalizing the sport in 2011.”

Drake added: “There are female noodlers, and they are making a splash. One of our Bare Knuckle Babes also won the prestigious title of Okie Noodling Queen. Our Bare Knuckle family is elated!”

Millsap, for catching the biggest fish in the tournament, earned a check for $1,500.

–To view more photos from the noodling tournament, please visit The Oklahoman’s photo gallery.

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