From a social standpoint, camaraderie and controversy are the twin pillars of noodling, or hand-catfishing—and the Okie Noodling Tournament, held every summer in Pauls Valley, Oklahoma, highlights both. As devotees of a sport that's grounded in family tradition and rich in rural lore, noodlers see themselves as self-sufficient stewards of the waterways, living a lifestyle that sensibly values frugality, responsibility, and intergenerational community above all. But their pastime is also illegal in most states, portrayed by the mainstream media as foolish at best and dangerous at worst. Such contradictions are mirrored by the noodlers own mixed reaction to media attention: by promoting hand-fishing to clear up misconceptions, they risk exposing its private, even secretive nature.

Still, such concerns are minimized on the day of the tournament, when the residential intersection at which Bob’s Pig Shop is transformed into a cheerfully chaotic mass of holding pools, demonstration tanks, bleachers, revelers from all walks of life—and, of course, catfish.

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