Many years ago, I sat next to a cool grandma on a plane trip. She told me she was going to pick up her grandson and take him on his 13th birthday trip… to Africa for a safari. Grandma and Grandpa take each of their grandchildren for an adventure anywhere in the world for two weeks when they turn 13, no she wouldn’t adopt me. This kind of trip is outside of my reality but I thought maybe we could take our kids on a long weekend when they turned 13. The rules are: anywhere in the continental US for four days with one parent. So when our oldest turned 13, she did a bunch of research and finally chose 4 days on a dude ranch in the desert. It was an awesome trip that we’ll never forget. When my second one turned 13, he chose prime seats at the MLB All Star game where he and my hubby could watch his baseball heroes do their thing.
Our youngest turned 13 and he wanted to go hunting and noodling. In Oklahoma. For those who don’t know what noodling is, it’s fishing without a pole. Stupid people stick their hands into holes under rocks and logs and wait for a meaner-than-shit catfish to bite them. Yeah, I did that.
Because I am competitive (and not that smart) I convinced my son that taking me with him would be a great idea. I’m a decent shot (with a gun or a bow) but I’ve never hunted so we brought my dad, the ultimate outdoorsy-hunter guy. The three of us left San Jose for Dallas and took a country road out to our first stop at Dale River Ranch. The lodge was spectacular, even better than I hoped it would be. It sits over the river, with a porch all the way around (note: check for rattlesnakes before you step outside). I could have happily sat on that porch all day long but that was not part of the plan. We would fish during the day and hunt at night. And since we were fishing for Needlenose Gar (a prehistoric monster fish with a long snout full of sharp teeth, ranging from 2′ – 5′ long) we first had to catch the bait. Yep, we fished to catch the fish that we would then use to catch the bigger, scary fish. The ranch manager and our new BFF Randy took us to an idyllic pond where I’ve never seen so many dragonflies in my life. They danced across the water in the morning sun, so graceful and whimsical, and then BAM! a bass jumps clear out of the pond and eats them. We spent a day and a half fighting to keep the damn gar on the line, just when we’d have them close to shore they’d eyeball us and let go of the bait. I was quickly getting over my guilt for picking on innocent animals. Fishing is not for impatient, type A, supermoms who live to get shit done. Finally, at then end of our stay, Brody pulled in a big, ugly-ass-mouth-full-of-teeth gar so we could move on with our lives.
We were hunting for pigs, not cute little piggies, big ugly ones. I used to have an issue with hunting, it didn’t seem fair, but then I stupidly read a book about the meat industry in the US and got over it (it’s called Skinny Bitch, don’t read if you don’t want to become a vegetarian or hunt for your meat). We got dropped off at 7:00pm at a blind. That’s a teeny little box on stilts where you sit quietly for hours and hope some unsuspecting pig crosses your line of sight and you have the patience and the aim to shoot it in the right spot at the right time. I didn’t know how I would feel about watching an animal die, it sounded awful. But after about 3 hours in the little box I was like, “Son, could you just kill something so we can be done?” Brody told me he was proud of me, he said, “Mom, you’re better at hunting than I thought you would be. I didn’t know you could be quiet for this long.” The pigs outsmarted us and stayed just far enough away to stay alive. Another lesson in patience in a spectacularly beautiful place.
We reluctantly left the ranch and Uncle Randy and took another country highway through open space and farm towns to get to Waurika, Oklahoma where we would meet up with Wade (yep, how lucky is it that our fishing boss is named Wade? I was hoping his partner would be named Eddie). Along the way we found a Dairy Queen that served catfish all day on Friday, that’s something you don’t see in CA.
We stopped for an ice cream and had to walk through the smoking section to place our order. WTF? Coming from the first American city to ban smoking in a public building, I felt like maybe I was time traveling.
We hooked up with our guys from Noodling Adventures in the morning and I thought that since one of them was wearing those shoes with toes that surely you don’t have to be too badass to catch fish with your hands. Silly me.
We piled in four wheelers and headed up the river to “a good spot.” A good spot is close to the bank where there are either piles of brush (watch out for cotton mouth snakes) or a pile of rocks with nice crevices for the fish to hang out. The river is muddy so you can’t see anything that is submerged, even your own hand a few inches beneath the surface. So we slowly cruise up to the pile of rocks or logs and gently sweep our bare hands under things and into holes and feel around for big slimy things with teeth. If we’re lucky we happen to find the side or tail of a fish. If we’re me, we find a mouthful of small razor sharp teeth and a bad attitude. My dad found a big ole blue catfish (the meanest, most likely to try to rip off your fingers) and after the bastard (the fish, not my dad) got some bites in (while our guides are giggling apologetically) Wade told him, “when he bites you, stick your hand way down his throat so he can’t move and then grab his gills with your other hand and pull him out.” Really? Dad did as he was told and after an intense wrestling match, pulled out a huge fish.
Brody was next to get his hands chewed up and still have the guts to go after it until he won the battle. Then it was my turn. Steve stuck his hand in a hole under a rock and said, “Ouch! This one’s biting, come on Erin it’s your turn.” So he and Wade blocked any potential exits (for the fish and me) and told me to stick my hand in the hole. I said, “So you want me to stick my hand in a hole where a fish just made you bleed?” Big smiles and nodding. So I did. Shockingly, the effing fish bit me and it hurt. I couldn’t help but yank my bloody fingers out the first THREE times I got bit but then I got pissed. There was no way this fish was gonna bite the shit out of me and get away with it. I finally strapped my balls on and grabbed that fish, teeth and all, and made it my bitch. Of course, it slipped right out of my hands while I celebrated. But still.
I love the country, small towns and being outdoors but when we got close to Dallas for our flight home, I almost killed us swerving to an exit where I saw a Starbucks sign. You can take the girl out of the suburbs but she can’t live without a Caramel Macchiato.
And so ended our awesome adventure that I never would have enjoyed if my son hadn’t said, “Mom, would you go noodling with me?”