Three-Day Catfish Tourney Calls for Different Tactics

Outdoors with Forda Birds—by John Andreoni

Chasing catfish is one of my favorite outdoor sports. Like many area fisherman, I fished for them all of my life catching my first bullhead when I was three. By age five, I could take them off the hook, and shortly after that I could prepare them for the skillet with relative ease. Later in life, much later, I started fishing local catfish tournaments quickly finding out that I wasn’t as good a catfisherman as I thought I was. I’m still not, probably never will be, and I can live with that because I fish more for enjoyment than anything else.

The local tournaments I fish are based on total weight from a specified limit of fish. Currently, there is a limit of six. Consequently, my partner and I try to find six fish that would weigh in at 40 pounds or so. I don’t think we’ve ever done that. Depending on the time of the year, that might not even be enough weight to win. Our target would be channel catfish because that’s the most common species at St. Marys that grows to any size. It would be a rare tournament fisherman at St. Marys who didn’t fish for channels. Most know exactly what baits to use at what time of the year. They know what areas hold fish when they need to find them, and most have specific spots marked on their GPS units that have produced lunkers. Find six of the biggest fish you can find during the allotted time. Most commonly, the action is fast and furious. A lot of fish are caught and fishermen are usually culling their catch long before the tournament is completed. Catch six big fish in six hours. That’s the task.

Now comes the problem. The 4th Annual Big Catfish Tournament will again take place at Grand Lake St. Marys. Unlike the other tournaments, this one requires catfishermen to turn in their biggest fish, not their biggest six, seven or eight. Also, the tournament doesn’t last six hours but three days. Six hours becomes 72, and stamina becomes involved. A 12-pound channel cat would usually win a big fish tournament if there wasn’t one big monkey wrench thrown into the equation, the flathead catfish. Although there aren’t as many flatheads in Grand Lake St. Marys as there are in Indian Lake, there are enough around to make it interesting. Last year, for example, this same tournament’s big fish weighed over 14 pounds and was a flathead. The fish was totally unexpected by everyone except maybe the person who caught it. Was it caught by accident? I don’t know, but I think the angler who landed the fish knew enough to realize that going after flatheads requires an entirely different approach.

So how should a catfisherman try to win the three-day big fish event? If you’re a channel cat specialist, you could go about your business and go after the biggest channel you could find. There is a chance you could luck out and win with your biggest and bestest. On the other hand, there might be that real gambler who decides to put his eggs in one basket and focus on getting maybe one bite and one big flathead; that’s a distinct possibility. This guy will have a distinct advantage if he chooses to go this route. First, if everyone is forced to fish for flatheads in order to win, the playing field is leveled. Expert channel cat fishermen don’t have a distinct advantage unless they happen to fish for flatheads at the same skill level.

Should fishermen focus on a big flathead at Lake St. Marys? I think anyone serious about winning the contest should consider it. The wildlife fishery people know there is a population of flatheads in Lake St. Marys. No one is sure how viable it is. Fish shocking tests have rolled up some gigantic flatheads at the lake over the years. They might not be as successful in finding the same quality of fish today.  On the other hand, I doubt there are many local catfishermen who spend any time chasing flatheads at Grand Lake. They head to Indian Lake where the population has for whatever reasons taken off. For example, in the three-day big fish tournament at Indian, I believe the big fish, a flathead, weighed in at 36 pounds. I was told that a local fisherman weighed in a 20 pound flathead and that put him in 21st place. There won’t be 21 flatheads weighed in at the Grand Lake St. Marys three-day tournament. However, more and more area catfishermen are learning to deal with flathead catfish. They’re learning the environment the fish like and the different types of live bait they demand. It wouldn’t surprise me if these same fishermen start applying what they learned at Indian about flatheads to the neighboring canal lake to the west.

I’ll go out on a limb and predict that big catfish at the St. Marys three-day tourney will be a flathead, and if more fishermen focus on these potential monsters, there will be more than one weighed in. Looks like the channel cat fishermen had better stock up on chubs, goldfish, and green-eared sunfish. The tournament starts on June 14 at noon and ends on June 17 at noon. Fishermen can register at The Outdoorsman, Zuma Thru, and the Celina Eagles. The weigh-in site is at the Celina Eagles and is open 24 hours.