In the world of documentaries, there are some truly bizarre subjects that have been explored. But I haven’t seen anything as strange and compelling as “Okie Noodling.” This doc follows the lives of country folk who engage in the lost art of “noodling,” that is, fishing with one’s bare hands. This is a real man’s sport. It’s dangerous and not only can your arm get ripped apart by the teeth of the fish, you can die if you’re not careful. With little resources, many used this fishing method for food, but the men we meet are in it for the pure thrill of the kill. You haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen a man in water up to his waist struggle for what seems like forever and then pull out a monstrous 60 pound catfish with his hand wrapped through the mouth of the fish and around the gills. It’s incredible! This group of real characters takes us on a very personal journey showing us their secret noodling spots – the best places to catch fish. The methods for catching the fish are extremely difficult and require not just brute strength to tame these huge fish, but patience, luck and a lot of know-how. Catfish make their homes in the mud by burrowing tunnels and the trick is to close off one end of the tunnel so they cannot escape and then reach in and pull them out. The danger in this is that many of these tunnels are also inhabited by beavers that could gnaw off a man’s hand. Watching boys and men engage in this sport seems fun and the director himself takes to noodling and can soon be seen wading in dangerous waters grabbing his share of catfish.
All of this leads the filmmaker himself to put on the very first “noodling” competition in which participants try to noodle the big one. Now, this does seem an incredibly ridiculous subject for a doc, but by the end, you will be charmed by every one of these men and the skill and honor they possess in pursuing this lost art.