for the greatest number of angler days expended in Missouri during 2006, which is the most recent data available.
Fishing tackle is a bit more consistent. Big fish call for big gear. Some of the fishing rods resemble extra-long broom handles equipped with industrial winches. Fishing line runs toward 30- and 50-pound-test. Some anglers use steel leaders to make sure a big cat’s coarse-grit sandpaper teeth don’t wear through the line. Lead sinkers big enough to tether a Shetland pony are needed to hold down bait in the Big Muddy’s powerful current.
When it comes to “big,” nothing beats catfish anglers’ landing nets. I’m talking scoop-up-a-Mini-Cooper big. I swear, some of them were wider than the boats carrying them. If this seems overly optimistic, refer back to Difference No. 4.
Bass anglers like to tack the word “bait” onto the names of their favorite lures—buzz-bait, stick-bait, crank-bait, etc. Catfishers use real bait. Stink-, dip- cut- and doughbaits live up to the name, as do liver and various live baits, including worms and sunfish. You would be amazed how seldom serious catfishers feel the need to resort to soap between handling bait and picking up a bologna sandwich. A quick swish in the river usually suffices.
Difference No. 6
A professional bass angler can take home $100,000 from one tournament and pocket upward of $1 million in residual earnings. When I mentioned prize money to Tim and Larry, they laughed out loud. “If a person fishes for the money, he’s going to go broke,” says Tim.
Their biggest win was in 2008, when they caught a 40-pounder and claimed $1,200 for the greatest combined weight. They say they do it for fun, peace and quiet and to get together with old friends. The possibility of catching a huge catfish has a place in the equation, too.
Tim and Larry didn’t do too well the night I was with them. Their two flatheads totaling 9 pounds left them way out of the money. But they made a huge haul in the currency of catfish-tournament society—a story about how the tournament boss sank his boat before the event even got underway. In the world of catfish tournaments, that’s gold!