Historic Catfish Tournament in the Making

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Many of the anglers entered in the Mississippi River Monsters catfish tournament will be professionals, but amateurs are encouraged. "When you're catfishing you never know who might get the big bite," said organizer George Young.

All the pieces are falling into place for what may prove to be the largest catfish tournament in history, according to organizer George Young. And anglers have until Sept. 3 to get pre-registered to be eligible for in a random drawing for a 2016 Tracker 2072 CC outfitted with a 90 HP Mercury 4-stroke outboard (valued at $21,000).

Young is the driving force behind the first Mississippi River Monsters tournament in Memphis on Sept. 9-10, 2016.

“We’re absolutely expecting the biggest catfishing tournament in history. That’s our goal,” said Young. “As of right now we have 154 teams pre-registered. I expect we’ll hit right at 200. There’s only one other tournament that compares. The ‘Monsters on the Ohio’ is in its fifth year and in their best year there were 183 entries.”

Besides the Tracker boat giveaway, many of those anglers are paying the $250 entry fee in hopes of winning the guaranteed $14,000 first prize. Young says there will be a total of $70,000 given away in cash and prizes. He says as of now there will be a paycheck for everyone in the top 20 places, although that could increase. The Big Fish will be worth $1,750 and that fish will be “invited” to live in the Bass Pro Pyramid Aquarium for life. If it weighs more than 60 lbs., Bass Pro will provide a replica mount for the angler.

There are also bonuses for winning anglers using the equipment of various sponsors. The team who just happens to wind up in 100th place will receive a check for $1,000. Even teams that catch NOTHING will be entered in a drawing for a “No Weight Prize Pack.”

Of course the final weigh-in will be held at the huge Bass Pro Pyramid. Young is also friends with Bill Dance, the famous fisherman who lent his extensive marketing and networking expertise to the cause.

“I just happened to cross paths with Bill on the launching ramp one day and we started talking,” said Young. “I told him my name and he said, ‘Sure, I know who you are,” because of the big fish I’d been catching that year. He asked if he could go fishing with me and I was like, ‘Well, hell yea! “In our next couple of trips together Bill caught a 75, an 83 and 110. We’ve been buddies ever since.”

Friday (Sept. 9) is devoted to catfishing seminars (see below) and a mandatory meeting for anglers, all at the Bass Pro Pyramid. Young is encouraging all fishermen to take part, experts and beginners alike. He says, however, that the majority of the tournament fishermen will be catfishing pros.

“I would say we’ve got 90 percent professional tournament anglers and about 10 percent of folks who just want to be involved,” he said. “I know most of the people entered because I travel the (catfishing) circuit as well. But I’ve eliminated myself from this tournament. I wish I could fish.”

Young does say that well-known Mississippi River catfish guide, James “Big Cat” Patterson will be one of the competitors.

“When you’re catfishing however, you never know who might get the big bite,” said Young. “It can happen for an expert or for a beginner.”

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Even with an anticipated 200 boats on the water, Young says there won’t be a problem finding good fishing spots on the mighty Mississippi.

“No, I don’t anticipate competition for spots,” he said. “The Mississippi River is big. And a lot of people will be making 40 and 50 mile boat runs. But there’s one popular spot in Memphis where you could fish 50 boats and still never fish the same spot twice.”

Young says he expects the majority of anglers to be back-trolling, or back-bouncing as many call it. That’s where anglers maintain a controlled downriver drift in the current using their trolling motors, allowing their baits to bounce along the bottom as they ease downstream.

“But that’s not to say how it will be won,” he added. “Some people will be anchor fishing.”

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Each team will be allowed to weigh-in up to five catfish. As per Tennessee’s “trophy catfish regulation,” no more than two of those catfish can be more than 34 inches long. The other three must be less than 34 inches.

“I expect it to take 200 pounds to win the overall weight,” said Young. “And I think it will take at least an 80-pounder to win Big Fish. With that many good fishermen on the water, I know somebody will catch an 80-pounder.”

Of course it requires a huge livewell to accommodate an 80-pound catfish. Lack of that kind of equipment prevents some anglers from taking part in catfish tournaments. However Young has taken care of that problem by providing a riverside weigh-in station available to anglers all day long. That means anglers who catch a mega-sized catfish and can’t, or don’t want to haul it around all day, can come to that weigh-in site to have their fish weighed, recorded and safely released.

“We’re doing it for or the health of the fish,” said Young. “It will help the fishermen and the fish.”

For every serious tournament catfish angler, there are probably ten regular big cat anglers who think they would never stand a chance against the pros.

“I used to feel that way,” said George. “But I learned that just because they’re pros, it doesn’t mean they’re better than you. When I started going to tournaments, the first thing I learned is that these guys are SO willing to help you. They want to see the sport grow. They’re willing to help you and show you some of the tricks of the trade.  Anybody that’s scared or intimidated, they just need to go to a tourney and talk to these guys and the next time out they’ll be wanting to enter the next one.”

Sept. 9 Catfishing Seminars (All to be held in Bass Pro Pyramid on showroom floor.)

— 1 – 1:30 pm, Well-known professional catfisherman, Larry Muse
— 2 – 2:30 pm, Catfishing Pros David Shipman & Natalie Wilbanks
— 3 – 3:30 pm, Bass Pro Pyramid pro-staffer Jeff Dodd
— 4 – 4:30 pm, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency speaker TBD
— 5 – 5:30 pm, Jason and Daryl Masingale

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Richard Simms is a professional journalist and fishing guide in Chattanooga. (See www.ScenicCityFishing.com) He is also a former wildlife officer for TWRA, a book author and a self-proclaimed "River Rat" with a sincere desire for spreading the message about our bountiful natural resources and the people charged with using, or protecting them.

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