Quality size catfish like this one boated by fishing guide Gary Paris would likely ring the bell at the upcoming Lake Fork Big Catfish Splash set for July 16-17.
If you think catfish don't get any respect, make the drive to Minnow Bucket Marina at Lake Fork on July 16-17. Those are the dates of the 2nd annual Sealy Outdoors Lake Fork Big Catfish Splash.
The amateur fishing tournament pays cash and prizes for catfish reeled in by pre-registered contestants. Entry fee is $60 for one day or $100 for two, per angler.
Catfish tournaments are nothing new in the freshwater world. But if there is a catfish derby with a purse that compares to the Big Catfish Splash, I haven't heard about it.
The pay back is a healthy one - $49,500, guaranteed. Included in the mix are boats for the two top spots, $2,000 for third, $1,500 for fourth and $1,000 for fifth. Plus, there is an open drawing for a new Honda ATV.
Anglers also can win hourly prize money on both competition days. The heaviest cat of each hour will be worth $500, down to $100 for the fifth largest fish. That's 40 hourly prizes spread out over two days.
"Those are pretty darned good odds if you ask me," says Martin Edwards, owner of the Minnow Bucket. "This is a tournament where anyone can compete from a boat or from the bank and have a good shot at winning some money."
The tournament is presented by the Lake Fork Area Chamber of Commerce. But the driving force behind the tournament is Sealy Outdoors.
Founded by Bob Sealy of Sam Rayburn, the organization has a long history of pulling off amateur fishing tournaments with big fish in mind.
Sealy's first venture was in 1983. That's when he brainstormed the McDonald's Big Bass Splash on Sam Rayburn Reservoir. The inaugural event drew about 500 contestants and paid out $10,000 in cash.
In April, Sealy hosted the 21st annual big bass event at Sam Rayburn. The three-day tournament attracted roughly 4,000 contestants who competed for $560,000 in cash and prizes. The purse featured a grand-prize package that included an H2 Hummer and Triton bass boat valued at $102,000.
Amazingly, the big truck and boat were claimed by an angler who was much too young to drive either one. Brandon Adams, an 11-year-old from Florence., won the tournament with an 11.57 pound bass he caught shortly after daylight on the second day of competition.
Sealy thinks the potential is there for the big catfish concept to snowball. It could become as large as his bass fishing format, which now covers lakes in several different states.
"There is no telling where this catfish deal could go," says Sealy. "From a tournament standpoint, catfishing is pretty much an untapped market. There are a lot of people who enjoy fishing for catfish, probably more than bass. It is going to be real interesting to see where this deal goes from here."
The attendance at Sealy's first catfish event had a striking resemblance to that of his first bass tournament.
Only 392 anglers competed in the catfish tournament last July. But there were about that many skeptics who stood in the shadows and watched as the $38,000 purse was divvied up.
"There were lots of anglers in the crowd who didn't fish last year, but said they intend to fish it this year," Sealy said. "Some just wanted to see how the tournament was run, what was caught and what it took to get in the money."
Many Lake Fork faithful were shocked that it didn't take more weight to win hourly and overall prizes, myself included. The heaviest catfish tipped the scales at a meager 8.92 pounds.
Most of the top hourly prizes were won with fish in the 5-pound range. My wife and I even collected a $200 check for a 41Ú2-pounder we caught early on day one.
Edwards has seen some giant cats brought to his dock and was somewhat surprised it didn't take heavier fish to get in the money. He is hopeful the low weights from last year might entice more anglers to fish this year.
"We heard several horror stories about people breaking off big fish, probably because they didn't have the equipment to handle them," Edwards said. "A 9-pound catfish is nothing on this lake. A lot of people are going to be encouraged by the fact that is all it took to win it."
For more information, call Minnow Bucket Marina at 903-878-2500 or Sealy Outdoors, 409-698-2591.
• Matt Williams is a free lance writer based in Nacogdoches. He can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.