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Anglers use hands in extreme form of fishing - KOAM TV 7

Anglers use hands in extreme form of fishing

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For some people, traditional fishing can be boring, and although it has its dangers, some fishermen are hooked on noodling, a form of extreme fishing using nothing but your bare hands.

Jeff Tipton, a welding instructor by school year, spends his summers at the lake noodling. It's something he's enjoyed for the past 28 years.

"The first fish I caught, it was such a rush, I got hooked," Tipton said. "When you hit the cool water and go down in the fish's elements and wrestle with them, it's just indescribable. It's a rush."

There may be nothing else like it, but just like every other sport, there are rules noodlers must follow.

"You can catch 3 flathead catfish a day per person, and they have to be over 20 inches long. You can't keep any less than 20 inches. You'll catch some blue catfish, but the law requires you cut those loose," Tipton said.

KOAM's Tawnya Bach decided she wanted to try her hand at noodling.

"So this is my first time. What goals do you have for me today?" She asked.

"My objective for you today is to catch a fish that's at least 10 pounds, hopefully bigger, and I think we can pull that off if luck is with us," Tipton said.

"I had butterflies in my stomach. I've never been noodling, or even scuba diving, and I knew it would be a challenge the first time," Bach said. "Once underwater, I couldn't see anything two inches past my face. The water was dark, murky... kind of like chocolate milk."

After searching the first spawning hole with no luck, it was time to move further down the bank.

"Communication is limited when you can't see past your nose. Jeff told me he would tap on my head once if it was a small fish and twice for a big one," Bach said. "This time, it was one tap. I could feel mud, slime and then all of a sudden... something sharp. The fish bit down hard on the three middle fingers of my left hand. Before stringing the fish, I could feel the hundreds of tiny sandpaper-like teeth tearing through my glove. I couldn't wait to let go."

The first catch of the day was a blue catfish. It was not a keeper since it was not a flathead catfish, but Oklahoma legislation passed in April will allow noodlers to keep the blues starting next season.

It was time to move to another location.

"I felt two taps on my head, meaning this one was a big fish. I forgot to breathe for a moment," Bach said. "I reached in and right away felt the cat clamp down on my hand. I pulled with all my strength to wrangle the beast to the surface, but I couldn't touch. I was ready to stay with the fish, even if he pulled me under, but I was lucky and strong enough to overpower him."

The first flathead of the day was the biggest weighing in at 35 pounds.

"I was out of breath but excited and ready to go under again," Bach said.

The second flathead, the 35 pounder's female mate, was found in the same spawning hole and weighed in at 25 pounds.

Tipton caught three of his own weighing in at 12, 20 and 30 pounds, but none of those were big enough to outweigh Tawnya's 35 pound catch.

"A 35 pound flathead. How much meat can you get out of that?" Bach asked.

"Good clean meat... probably 8 to 10 pounds," Tipton said.

Tipton explained the cleaning technique he's been perfecting for the past 28 years.

Using an electric knife, he follows the rib bones to cut off large pieces of fish and avoid the entrail cavity and what calls "red meat," an area of blood passages that gives the fish a strong catfish flavor.

"The belly meat no doubt on the flathead is the best. It's a coarser meat, and that's just what we all go for," Tipton said.

The highlight of his cleaning technique is getting the best tasting fish.

He stressed the importance of letting the fish bleed out completely and making sure you cut off any meat that's not snow white.

With a family eating fish three times a week, you can imagine how much time Tipton spends at the lake only being able to catch three a day, but it doesn't stop him from sharing his good fortune.

"All of my family eats fish, and I give a lot of fish to friends and neighbors, and there is a lot of older people in the community that expect fish from me every year, and as long as I can, I'll always make sure they get fish," Tipton said.

Just like the hospitality Tipton shows his neighbors and his community, he treated our crew to catfish coated in his special blend of yellow corn meal, Cajun season and a dash of Zatarain's cooked no other way than deep fried.

"It's not the healthiest, but it's the best," Tipton said.

NOTE: There are dangers involved with the sport. It's recommended you not try noodling unless you're with someone who has experience and who knows what they're doing.

 

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