Everybody knows about fishing tournaments.
High-stakes bass contests have been a staple of outdoor television for decades. Contestants streak away from the boat ramp at daybreak and spend the rest of the day plowing frothy furrows across vast reservoirs in search of a few more pounds of Micropterus salmoides. At weigh-in time, media throng the podium, and grinning superstars hoist pot-bellied fish from live wells.
Several years ago, I accompanied a hard-driving professional bass angler during a national championship. More recently, I attended a twoman team catfish tournament on the Missouri River out of Waverly. All things considered, I prefer the catfish event. It was contemplative, with less glitz and more heft. What it lacked in cash it more than made up in cachet. Two fishing- based events could hardly be more different.
Difference No. 1
Buddies, Not Rivals
At big-league bass tournaments, camaraderie is mainly for the cameras. Bass pros are lone wolves. In contrast, my companions for the catfish contest—Larry Dorsch and Tim Hager—have been close friends for more than 20 years. They finish one another’s sentences. If one forgets to take his medications, the other reminds him. During dozens of events and hundreds of hours on the water, they have acquired catfishing friends from Missouri to Canada. This far-flung network stays in close touch via mobile phones, pausing during tournaments to share choice bits of gossip with companions up or down river and with others who couldn’t make it to the event. Their goodnatured ribbing is as funny as it is merciless.
Difference No. 2
Like Day and Night
When bass anglers are coming in to weigh their fish, catfishers are just getting started. They hit the water at sunset and return shortly after sunrise. This is because catfish are more active at night. Maybe it explains why catfishing hasn’t caught on as a spectator sport. There is no light for pictures, and not many television crews would show up at sunrise for a weigh-in.
Some competitors in catfish tournaments zoom off at the start of the event to stake out their favorite fishing spots. After that, however, things slow way down. Larry and Tim were not in a big hurry to reach their first fishing destination alongside an L-shaped rock dike. They fished the swirling, gurgling mocha water in that spot until almost dark, then took a leisurely ride upstream to anchor above a notched wing dike, where