Saturday, August 24, 2013

Noodling for Channel Cat

If you've never noodled, you've missed out one of those great lost sports -- like going javelina hunting in arroyos, dry washes, and blind canyons with only a .22 pistol. You might live, and even have something you can taxidermy onto your wall, but it's unlikely.

Noodling is a kind of "body-fishing" that you do when you want a fish to eat, but it turns out you don't have anything to fish with but your fist and a mind full of reckless delusions.

You find a muddy, zero-visibility body of water - preferably a pond or a lake, but it could be a slow-moving bend in a river -- then you stick your hand and arm along the bottom of the stream. I guess the fish think you're good eating because they take your arm as though it's bait.

Which fish? Those fish. Those olive-toned, slimy, big-mouthed, spiny-finned catfish. They're "channel cat" and they can be neolithically large.


But, you're hungry. You want a fish to roast over the fire you've managed to get started in a little alcove under the 23rd-street bridge. You're burning boxes you fished out of the dumpster behind the QuikTrip a few blocks away.

Okay. So you use your body as a fishing lure. What's so wrong with that?  Nothing, if you are depressed and hating life. You see, the cats that lurk around in these waters are no kittens. They're "channel cat" -- catfish that can reach 50 - 75 pounds of pure fish muscle, and if you don't think they can't take you to the bottom and keep you down there until you stop flailing about like a fish caught on a hook, then you're just wrong -- dead wrong.

Random question to you: Would you swim in a river that is filled with discharge from a reservoir contaminated with toxic algae and chicken farm run-off? Would you eat fish that had been living in that slimy, turbid, miasmic fluid?

I can tell you in a word what my answer would be. It's a simple NO.

The Arkansas River is not exactly a noodler's paradise. It does, I believe, have channel cat, although I'm not sure how or why, when you consider that most of the fish in the river are only there because they've been swept away with the water released from reservoirs upstream. For a fish, I suppose it's the ichthyologic equivalent of the end of days - but with a rather depressing twist. You assume you've been raptured up, carried up to the heavens, and not "left behind" with those who failed to find salvation in time, but to your dismay, your fishy confreres you thought were squealing "rapture" were actually saying "rupture" -- and then you found yourself in dark, thick straits, churning through a slim "swim-space" under a dam.

Suffice it to say, you, as a fish, *hated* it, and you would warn every other fish against this horrid dark night of the soul, but you have no way to communicate back to your buddies, lazing about, bloated on algae and chicken offal, back at the reservoir "ranch" upstream.


The Arkansas River is what I consider an industrial, utilitarian river. As it exists now, it’s used for flood control, the source of cooling water, and an urban beautification project with bike trails, walking trails, informal arboretum, shoreline benches, picnic tables, and the loveliest array of flowering shrubs and trees I’ve seen outside upstate New York (specifically, Voorheesville).

The fauna of the river's edge is also interesting – I’ve seen turtles sunning on logs, groundhogs scampering on dry winter grasses, lots of hideous fish, Canada geese, ducks, egrets, seagulls, and lots of frogs. And, there are the people: fishing from the pedestrian bridge, biking, skateboarding, running, rollerblading, walking, eating lunch, walking their dogs (or being walked by their dogs).

I know I've shared that my favorite thing to do is to walk, but I have run a few times. I prefer walking. It gives me a chance to think and to listen to recordings of classic literature that I download from Librivox. I have walked as long as 2 hours while listening and thinking, and, when the weather’s right and the foliage is blooming, it’s absolutely utopia.


That said, there is no way that I’d want to swim in the river. It’s inutterably foul when it’s low, and it smells like pond scum.

When the river is high, it runs fast and deep because the civil engineers have released water from Lake Keystone.

That scene, too, fills me with horror. Last year, there was a surge of red-green-blue-variegated algae that sickened swimmers, water skiers, and anyone who had contact with the water. Someone said it was due effluent from poultry farms, or perhaps a hog farm.

That does not stop the channel cat.

And, it does not stop the anglers. People fish from the bridge and presumably eat the fish they caught. Some even stand in the shallows in waders and fish as water flows over the dam.

They may noodle, too, and it would not surprise me. I've seen police cars near the places where the best fish seem to be, and I have always wondered if they're fishing the drowned out with grappling hooks and ropes mounted on the back of pickup trucks.

Of course, there may be the occasional doomed lover -- Millais's Ophelia, face up amongst the lily pads -- but that would be near the Ampitheatre in an oxbow lake, and not in the rapids on the downriver side of the dam.

Somehow, though, Ophelia's drowning persists as a fascinatingly romantic self-sacrifice to love.

Being noodled to death by a huge catfish possessing a gigantic slimy mouth, big lips, what appears to be a long drooping moustache does not.

In fact, the spectacle of it leaves me gaping in horror. There are just too many parallels in the dating world, but that's another story altogether.

Anyway, I read somewhere that in a noodling contest somewhere in southeast Oklahoma (near Antlers, Idabell, or Broken Bow), the winner dragged up a 90-pounder. One time I watched a documentary on "low tech" fishing for Hemisynodontis membranaceus ("Moustache Catfish) in the lakes of equatorial Africa, and I thought that what they did was child's play in comparison with noodling for catfish in Oklahoma.


Speaker Case Monkeys

There is a structure like a giant orange slice propped up on the west bank of the Arkansas River, just south of the 11th Street bridge in downtown Tulsa.

It is an amphitheater and it reminds me of the Hollywood Bowl – same art deco style, but in miniature. Also, the acoustics would have to be different. The Hollywood Bowl abuts the Hollywood Hills, but the Tulsa Amphitheatre lies in a little cove, technically an oxbow lake (or semi-lake), created when the river changed course and deposited sand into what used to be a channel, effectively cutting off the old channel and creating a calm little body of water.

One muggy summer evening, I made my way through the clouds of gnats to check out the look and feel of the place. It was very relaxing - perhaps the retro feeling of it made it that way.  Spectators could watch the concert as they regarded the art deco and futuristic neon Tulsa skyline and contemplated the buildings reflections in the water.

Up the slope from the stands, was a large putting green. Lost balls tended to roll downhill and end up on the banks of the river, sometimes next to where people liked to fish.

That evening, the Amphitheatre was open, and it appeared that people would come around eventually to clean up and prepare it for the next evening’s scheduled conference. It was open, but the boxes atop the side pillars that held the speakers were locked shut, and the walkway that connected the stands to the sidewalk had been retracted.

For the first time, I noticed that the Amphitheatre was surrounded by water. How did people keep from electrocuting themselves?  I seem to remember wires and cords draped over the walls.

I’m not sure if the guy I saw walking up to the Amphitheatre was a fisherman or a swimmer. He had the look of a person who spends all day outside. I wondered if he was one of the ones who lived in a tent on the banks of the river. I wondered if he was one of the guys who liked to deliver sermons to the flowing waters and the birds. It was hard for me to say. I had tried to follow the sermon one day, but gave up. It was completely scatological.

“Did you notice there are no walkways to get from the sidewalk onto the Amphitheatre?” I asked idly in the way of a polite greeting. “I guess you have to be able to jump well if you expect to perform. And, you’d better not be carrying anything hooked up to an electric cord,” I commented.

He looked at me and seemed to be mulling over what I said.

“I think that there is a bridge,” he said.

“No. I don’t think so,” I said. “Look. Water all around. It’s a moat. Perhaps the performers have to defend themselves. They can send flaming arrows across the moat. Maybe even pour large jars of boiling oil on anyone who is assaulting them or who is still insisting they play their moldy-oldy hits from the 70s rather than their brilliant new compositions.”

“I think they have a bridge,” he repeated.

“A moat. Yes. It would be a great way to deal with hostile audiences. And then, you could get the monkeys they keep up there in the cages…” I waved at the locked metal boxes atop pillars where they kept speakers and perhaps displays or screens.

“Yes. You could unlock the lids, so the monkeys could fling anything they could get their hands on through the bars of their cages,” he said.

“I think that’s where they keep the sound system,” he said.

“Oh no. I don’t think so. I think they’re monkey cages. At the University of Oklahoma, they used to have monkey cages – okay they were different – but they held monkeys they were teaching sign language. No one likes to hear monkey chatter. Everyone wants them to sign. It’s quieter.”

I was on a roll.

“I’m coming back for the concert tomorrow. I hear it’s a band really popular in the 70s, and they’ll be performing new work and none of the old stuff. You know no one will like that! I can just see people leaping across the moat and falling into the water. I can just see the boiling oil, and the monkeys hurling old golf balls and fishing lures.”

“Are you a nurse? Do you work in the hospital over there?” He gestured to a hospital that specialized in psychiatric care. It was about a half mile from the river, and I could see its lights and signage.

“No. I’m – ah – working in other things,” I said. The more I spoke to him, the more convinced I was that he was, in fact, the river preacher of the scatological apocalypse. I wondered if it was wise of me to speak to him.

Clearly, he was having the same thoughts of me and wondering if he had put his safety at risk by speaking to me. The idea took me aback. I’m a boring workaholic who punctuates work with exercise. I have a few friends, but to tell the truth, not many.

Well. Was it the first time I had been confused for an outpatient? A deranged homeless person?  I regretted that I had stopped writing in an experimental way.

“Have you ever tried deliberately not to make sense?” I asked.  I mean – keep a journal of free associations and absolutely refuse to let yourself stop and censor?” I asked. “It’s not as easy as it seems. It’s actually easier to create collages of random words you find from different sources.”

I fell silent.

“Guess I should keep moving on,” I said. He took advantage of my pause to start a free association ranting worthy of Kerouac fired up on whatever it was that enabled him to type nonstop on his manual typewriter and one endless paragraph - single-spaced and typed onto a long scroll which allowed him to keep going and not stop to replace sheets of paper.

Oklahoma history, Cherokee nation lore, politics, petrochemicals, casinos, Superfund, ducks, economic history, development projects, assassinations, conspiracy theories, the future of the planet.

Eye opener moment.

He and I at that moment were one of a kind. I wondered what would happen if I burst into imprecatory sermonizing that would rage at the fallenness of consciousness.

Probably not much. Probably everything.

Well. I guess I seek closure.