An Oklahoma fishermen has landed an enormous flathead catfish to win a prestigious regional competition — but the “noodling” method by which he captured the whiskered behemoth is far more compelling than the 70-pound weight of his fish.
Kaleb Summers first dove into a portion of the Oklahoma River and discovered a vast cavern in which the flathead had built its nest. Female flatheads are highly territorial, and this one lashed out. “She did not like me being in there,” Summers told the Tulsa World. “It picked me up and rolled me.”
Kaleb Summers (left) celebrates victory in the Okie Noodling Tournament with a 70.46-pound catch that is the heaviest in the 13-year history of the contest. Credit: Pauls Valley Chamber of Commerce
Summers, 24, is a veteran noodler. Noodling is a southern sport that is the most direct and potentially dangerous method of catching catfish — because a noodler literally grabs and wrestles these powerful fish to the surface.
Summers surfaced and informed his team there was a clear winner in the nest below. “I told them this was a tournament winner. I’ve felt fish 50 pounds and better, and this one would swallow those.”
Summers’ plan was simple and, some might say, scary: He’d dive down and wrestle the catfish while his teammates would grab him by the ankles and pull him out of the cave, then help lug the fish to shore.
On his second dive after the initial discovery, Summers used both hands and grabbed the flathead by the jaw and a gill slit. “It was like locking arms with a wrestler,” he said.
The wrestling match was considerable but Summers attained the surface just before running out of oxygen, whereupon his teammates joined the fray and helped to haul the thrashing quarry to shore.
The fish, which was kept in a tank until the weigh-in, tipped the scale at 70.46 pounds to become the largest catch in the 13-year history of the Okie Noodling Tournament in Pauls Valley. It beat the previous tourney record by two pounds.
Out of respect, Summers and his teammates decided to keep the fish alive. It was released into a nearby lake being used as part of a catfish growth study. “I butcher fish pretty much every day but, you know, once they reach a certain size they’re kind of a matriarch,” Summers explained.
The International Game Fish Assn. lists a 123-pound catfish caught in 1998 in Kansas as the all-tackle world record.
But that was landed with a fishing rod and a reel spooled with heavy line, which compared to noodling seems a rather wimpy method of fishing — or a much smarter method, depending on one’s point of view.
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