Just Jam Your Hand Down Its Throat

Noodling at Temple Lake, May 2012

So far, I’ve been noodling exactly one time. Ostensibly, the trip was in aid of research for a story I published last year. Non-ostensibly, I might be insane.

It was a weird weekend. The day before, I’d had my first experience buying a car on my own. I test drove, researched, compared reviews, and decided what I wanted, then went to the dealership, haggled a little, avoided buying the warranty, took some lighthearted verbal abuse from the finance guy, and walked out with a Jeep of my very own. The next day, I drove said Jeep to southwestern Oklahoma to learn how to handfish.

Turns out, shoving your hand down a catfish’s throat is a tad easier than getting out of a dealership without an extended warranty. But there I stood, on a cold May morning that was getting warmer, on the banks of a muddy southwestern Oklahoma municipal lake, my noodling guide beckoning me to come stand next to him in the waist-deep water.

“I’ve got my foot in a hole,” he said. “I want you to go down there and stick your arm in and see what’s in there.”

Oh, okay. Let me just get my face out from under this rototiller and I’ll be right there.

I’m sure my hesitation was comically painful to the seasoned noodlers around me, some of them only twelve or thirteen years old. I finally did end up shoulder-deep in that hole. It was under a concrete piling that had been dumped in the lake and had rebar sticking out of it but no catfish living underneath. But that one taste of the dark was enough. I’d been in a hole and found nothing, and now my fear had become a need.

I needed to find a fish. When our guide, Bobby, pointed out a space under a rock or between two logs, I was eager to take a breath, sink down, and jam my arm in. After a couple little channel cats wriggled out of my grasp and the rest of our group all had a try, we gave up for the day. A couple large flatheads, each about twenty-five pounds, were tied up near the bank—some among our group were filming for a TV show, and they needed to film someone pulling a monster out of the water. TV doesn’t leave much to chance, which is how I got my photograph taken holding a monster flathead (which did, in the course of filming, bloodied up my hand something fierce).

I’ve been dying to go noodling again for more than two years but haven’t been able to line up my schedule with the few guides and seasoned handfishers I know. Still, I can’t wait.

Well, insert clunky metaphor about writing as a way of examining one’s own soul. It goes something like: Once you’ve gone into the dark, scary place looking for something—then not found it (or worse, have)—you get eager to go back. I’ve spent the last three years learning how to be a magazine editor—with lots of learning still to go—but I’m missing casual writing. So here we are. I’ve got a lot of things to say about writing, editing, and journalism—that’s what I spend my days doing. But I’ve also got a lot of things to say about religion, love, Oklahoma, music, books, television, and this whole stupid thing where we all have a body and a family and are more or less expected to care for them.

And away we go.