They focused on big structure and came up with the biggest fish.[quote]Kaleb Summers of Claremore became reigning champion and record holder with the biggest fish ever checked in at the 2012 Okie Noodling Tournament in Pauls Valley last weekend. He and his team wrangled a biggest-ever flathead female that weighed 70.46 pounds. [/quote]
Summers’ fish beats a 68.6-pound fish caught by Jon Bridger of Bartlesville in the 2009 event. That fish was one of a pair of 68-pounders turned in by a team that included now-well known Mudcats television show noodlers Marion Kincaid of Caney, Kan., and Mark Shull of Bartlesville.
Noodlers used to compete as teams for the largest three-fish stringer with a separate prize for single largest fish. This year the rules changed to compete just for one largest fish in several categories – natural, scuba, women’s and youth – plus the largest overall. Summers’ fish took top prize in the natural division and heaviest fish overall.
At 24, Summers is a young gun compared to most who compete. The Oklahoma sport was quietly practiced by few until Bradley Beesley’s Okie Noodling documentary launched the now-famed tournament and countless television shows and articles 13 years ago.
With three years’ experience, Summers has quickly gained ground and last month launched his own guide service, Summers Time Outdoor Adventures, that includes taking people on noodling trips in his 23-foot airboat.
“I remember looking at the photos my dad had from back in the old days, and I always wanted to do it (noodling), but by the time I was old enough he had quit for a long time,” Summers said.
Family friends from southeast Oklahoma took him out for “some extensive training,” and he brought home what he learned. “Then I just sort of struck out and tried to figured it out on my own,” he said. “We’ve got real good. We’ve figured it out, and we’re real serious about it now.”
With friends from Hominy and Claremore, the team scouted holes nightly leading up to the contest.
On a portion of Northeast Oklahoma River reachable only by airboat (noodlers never tell where they fish), the team found the big fish under a structure Summers thinks was an old house foundation.[quote]”She had a nest in there probably 3 feet deep where she swept it out and made a big cavern probably 5 feet across and 6 feet back in farther toward the bank,” he said.[/quote]
Summers dived under and excavated a spot so he could wriggle into the nest area.
“She did not like me being in there,” he said. At his first appearance, the fish engulfed his hand and “it picked me up and rolled me.”
Summers recovered and surfaced to give his team the rundown.
“I told them this was a tournament-winner. I’ve felt fish 50 pounds and better, and this one would swallow those.”
The plan was to wrestle the fish, let his teammates pull him out by the ankles and take the fish to shore. Putting his stringer through the fish’s chin was a no-go.
“It was like trying to push a spike through a baseball mitt, her skin was so tough,” he said.
On the second dive, Summers said he was prepared and he grabbed the fish by the jaw and one gill.
“It was like locking arms with a wrestler,” he said.
It was a full-on fight, and Summers said he was just about out of air when pulled to the surface.
“I just said, ‘help’ and they all jumped in and tackled us,” he said.
The fish was caught late Friday and had to be kept alive until the 6 p.m. weigh-in at Pauls Valley Saturday. They left the fish on a 40-foot ski rope overnight “so she could dive down deep if she wanted,” and the team returned with an aerated tank to haul her to Pauls Valley.
Of all the efforts and excitement, Summers is most happy that the fish was saved and released to live another day.
“I butcher fish pretty much every day but, you know, once they reach a certain size they’re kind of a matriarch,” he said.
– Originally Written and Posted by the Tulsa World