Heavy Weight Tournaments
in common their love of competition, camaraderie and, of course, catfish.
Their catfish tournaments officially began in 1985 when two club members, while spinning yarns at a local tavern, wrote out the first set of rules on the back of a cigarette carton.
Each year, the 4F Flathead Club holds seven to nine tournaments. However, diehard members often fish other club tournaments, as well as those sponsored by tackle shops and marinas. Typically, the club will weigh-in a total of around 800 or 900 pounds of catfish during the year. However, as with many fisherman, 1994 was a banner year for the 4F Flathead Club. Anglers weighed-in over 2000 pounds of catfish (mostly flathead) during the nine tournaments held that year.
Most of the tournaments are for flathead catfish only. However, a couple of tournaments each year allow channel catfish and blue catfish to be included in the weigh-in. The day of fishing begins at 7 a.m. and ends with a 4 p.m. weigh-in. On most days, a two-person team needs to weigh in 25 pounds to have a shot at first place.
According to the club's records, the largest catfish was weighed-in by Matt Merten. The 12-year-old boated a 49-pound flathead on June 7, 1997.
Many people might think only luck could win a tournament where you pitch out a bait and watch the river go by waiting for a bite. However, a new breed of catfish anglers has emerged who don't follow the traditional catfishing methods. Unlike their parents and grandparents who taught patience, these anglers move every 15 to 20 minutes hunting for active fish.
Heavy poles, 30-pound-test line, large hooks and live bait rule during most of the tournaments. Anglers use different riggings to attach weights and hooks. One of the most common is constructed by sliding a 2- or 3-ounce egg sinker up the line and attaching a barrel swivel. Added to the swivel is a 12-inch leader with a 5/0 hook, rounded off nicely with a bright shiny 4-inch goldfish.
During one tournament my partner used exactly that kind of rig without success the whole day, while I had used the same rig to boat three flathead catfish that together weighed about 10 pounds. "At least we didn't get skunked," I told him, looking for a silver lining.
Ten minutes later, he reported a tap on is rod tip and set the hook mightily. The rod doubled, but fish didn't budge. "I'm probably hung," he said, "but I think there's a good fish on, too."
He held on while I brought in other lines, even gingerly cutting a line that snarled around his taut line. I untied the boat and motored toward the fish, which seemed to start it moving. I cut the motor and the fish stayed near the bottom of the deep channel, despite unyielding pressure from the heavy fishing rod.
We drifted together about 50 yards, and were about the same distance upstream from a tree that leaned over the channel, when the fish came up without warning. At about the same time my partner yelled "look out," I made a grab with the dip net and, with a lot of splashing, pulled in a fish that later made the crowd hush at the weigh in. It weighed 32.5 pounds, the biggest fish of the day. With my other three catfish added, we also won with our total weight.
Adventures like these happen all up and down our big rivers as anglers discover the potential of catfish and the fun of catfish tournaments. Ask at bait shops or look in newspapers for details of a big river catfish tournament near you. It's a shame to miss the fun and the challenge offered by these hard fighting gamefish.