Benningfield and Eiselt win MRM at Memphis

The 2018 Mississippi River Monsters event was more than just a catfish tournament.

Mississippi River Monsters (MRM) was a catfish celebration that demonstrated the importance of the sport and confirmed the dedication of those who love to chase the whiskered fish.

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Rob Benningfield and Ricky Eiselt won the top prize with 142.36 pounds.

The celebration began with the MRM Excel Boats Warm Up Event on Saturday, September 1, 2018. Fifty-eight boats launched from the Mud Island boat ramp to compete. When the weights were tallied the team of Randy Dodd and Cedric Poyner claimed the top spot with 105.35 pounds that included the Big Fish at 53 pounds.

The next five days, Sunday thru Thursday, featured Monster Week Daily Big Fish Challenge. The largest fish weighed on each of those days won a cool $500. By the end of the week, Roger Willy and Chris Stout (50.85 pounds); Jody Atkins and Brandy Brooks (47.65); Anthony and Yasmin Mora (75.15); Aaron Churchwell and Ron Goucher (62.05); and Carl Morris Jr and Rob Parsons (60.05) had all claimed their Big Fish prizes.

Friday began the MRM Angler Round Up and Expo where vendors demonstrated catfishing equipment from booths in the parking lot of the Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid. Fishing rods, anchors, custom rod holders, clothing and a variety of other products and accessories were on hand for visitors to ponder.

Friday afternoon featured seminars from experienced catfish anglers. They included Paul Blackwell, James “Big Cat” Patterson, the Masingale Brothers, and Phil King.

Friday night the Captains Meeting took place at the Eugene Wood Community Center, in West Memphis. The normal door prize drawing was awesome with hundreds of items up for grabs. But the angler drawing and the routine business of reading the rules took a back seat to a spontaneous support for veterans.

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Veteran Big Fish Winner Aaron Churchwell is shown here with Leslie VanDerau

Leslie VanDerau operates Heroes Outdoor Therapy (HOT). It is an organization that supports veterans in outdoor activities. Leslie had donated a prize of $300 to be given to the veteran who caught the largest fish in the MRM.

VanDerau took the mic to explain what her organization does when anglers started walking forward adding dollars to the prize. The Veteran Big Fish Prize grew from the original $300 to about $2,600. It continued to grow the next day and before the award was made it had reached $3,030. Given the spontaneous acts of kindness, there was hardly a dry eye in the auditorium.

The veteran winner was Aaron Churchwell with a blue catfish that weighed 78.9 pounds. While accepting the award Churchwell gave back $400 to HOT to replenish the fund for next time.

The following morning, Saturday, September 8, 208, 341 anglers on 153 teams launched from Mud Island in Memphis, TN to compete in the 2018 Mississippi River Monsters tournament. Thirty-eight of those anglers were veterans and were eligible for the Veterans Big Fish Award that Churchwell ended up winning.

The gates at Mud Island opened at 3:00 am for launching. The anglers would fish from 7:00 am until 3:00 pm. They were required to be in the weigh-in line by 4:00 pm.

The weigh-in took place at the Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid. Weighmaster Jody Harrison and his crew weighed in 284 live catfish totaling 4,707 pounds!

The MRM Top Five 

First Place

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MRM Photo

Rob Benningfield and Ricky Eiselt won the top prize and took bragging rights at MRM. They brought a limit of five fish to the scales that weighed 142.36 pounds to finish first and claim the championship belts.

They had not planned on fishing the event, but changing circumstances allowed them to come to Memphis. As revealed by Aaron Wheatley, Benningfield was planning to attend the Kentucky catfish regulations meeting in Frankfort.

“Had the catfish meeting in Kentucky not been rescheduled Rob Benningfield and Ricky Eiselt would never have won the MRM,” said Wheatley. “Rob was willing to give it up to fight for the catfish in Kentucky waters. That my friends is a true sportsman that has his priorities in order!”

“We caught our fish bumping in 60-80 feet of water,” reported Benningfield. “We had two primary areas we focused on. We were fishing medium current with fresh caught skipjack. One area had the big fish and the other one gave up our unders.”

“We caught eight fish for the day and threw back one over 34-inch fish,” continued Benningfield. “Sometimes in tournament fishing you just have things fall into place and this was one of those days for us. It’s getting harder and harder to win these big events with so many people getting so much better. We are very thankful to have had it all fall into place for us in such a big event.”

“We love coming to fish the Mississippi River anytime we can,” offered Benningfield. “And MRM is a great place to do it. If you aren’t catching them in the Mississippi River, it isn’t because the fish aren’t there. That river has the fish in it.”

“Sadly, I️ can’t say the same for my Home waters of the Ohio River,” lamented Benningfield. “All of the growth in catfishing in recent years is going to come to nothing without sustainable management by DNRs across the region. There are other market forces putting serious pressure on our fish and they need protection.”

“Kudos to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) for their presence at the MRM event and for being a leader in catfish conservation,” concluded Benningfield. “TWRA, as far as I️ know, was the first department in our region to implement real measures to protect their catfishing. I’m anxiously awaiting the day that my home state starts to take this issue seriously.”

The MRM was an awesome tournament,” added Eiselt. “I love catfishing the Mississippi River. It was an awesome feeling when we knew we could not be beaten.”

Second Place and Big Fish

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The Tennessee team of Cedric Poynor and Randy Dodd claimed the runner-up spot with only four fish. But those four catfish weighed 130.27 pounds. Their weight included the Big Fish of the tournament at 81.83 pounds. Interestingly enough, the big fish came within 100 feet of where the team caught the 53-pound fish that helped them win the Excel Boats Warm Up Event one week earlier.

“We started at exactly the same spot as last week,” reported Dodd. “We had our big fish caught within the first 45 minutes. This particular stretch of river is about 100 yards long with a couple of good pieces of cover. The water runs about 30-35 feet at the current river level. It took about 20 minutes to land the big one and she is my new personal best blue.”

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“We caught our big fish to start the morning,” confirmed Poynor. “The digital scales that I normally have with me were broke and we didn’t have a way to know what we really had.”

“The rest of the day was a repeat of last week,” continued Dodd. “It was overcast and the temps were pleasant but the bite was really slow for us. We fished three or four more spots in a two-mile stretch but just could not get our third under so we were left with a four fish weigh in.”

“We threw back an 18 pounder that was almost exactly on the 34-inch line,” revealed Dodd. “It might have measured as an under at the weigh-in but we didn’t want to take that chance and risk a disqualification.”

All in all, we had a great day,” concluded Poynor. “We were lucky enough to stay out of the rain and bad weather. We don’t have any sponsors but I would like to thank Jeff Dodd (Randy’s brother) for getting me into this sport and teaching me what little I do know.”

Poynor and Dodd are relatively new tournament anglers and remain unsponsored. Recognizing the importance of understanding wives to catfish tournament anglers they are considering new jerseys.

“I have been joking with Cedric that we needed shirts that say Team LaJeana and Team Leslie (our wives), concluded Dodd. “I had a blast with the entire MRM experience and freely acknowledge that we were extremely lucky to go in pretty much as amateurs and finish second against the elite of the catfish world.”

Third Place

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Chris Souders and Nick Conaway traveled from Ohio to claim the fifth spot. Their five fish limit weighed 125.40 pounds. They praised the entire Monster Week experience as top notch.

“The monster week tournament was a hit in my book,” said Souders. “We had an absolutely great time and a wonderful experience. The weather was very nice most of the week with sunny skies and light wind but turned to rainy conditions with heavier winds a couple of days before the MRM main event. It made for some rough water conditions.”

The team used the week prior looking for patterns that they could use in MRM. Their search included mud flats, sand rollers, granaries, mud/revetment lines, deep holes, and curve points. They were concentrated on 35 to 70 feet but reported that most of their catfish came from 45- to 55-foot water.

“We used a few different techniques,” reported Souders. “But found bumping to be most effective with skipjack being our bait of choice. We always tried to find a current speed we felt comfortable bumping in. For us, we felt comfortable bumping in 2 to 3.5 mph current. We did catch fish in faster current but just didn’t feel as comfortable bumping in such high currents.”

“The captains meeting was incredible with all the donations for the veterans,” offered Conaway. “That meeting just shows what a great group of men and woman we have the privilege of fishing with. Chris and I had an absolute blast fishing through the week and managed to catch some decent fish. I’m looking forward to it again next year.”

“I couldn’t be happier with our finishes during monster week tournaments,” concluded Souders. “We credit our success to the great sponsors the support us with great products. They include Warrior Cat Rods, Offshore Tackle, Daiichi Hooks, Wallace Knife Works, Monster Rod Holders, Hidden Bay Graphics, Demon Dragons, Katfish Clothing, Jeff Jones Marine, Hurricane Anchors, Cadence Fishing and Slunger Cat Outdoors.”

Fourth Place

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Fourth place went to a B’n’M Poles team with a celebrity angler. Known for his role in the Duck Dynasty TV show and his love for crappie fishing, John Godwin was in town for MRM. He teamed up with Roy Harkness and Don Sweat to weigh a team total of 122.16 pounds. Their weight included Godwin’s new PB of 45 pounds.

“We had a great day,” reported Harkness. “We left the ramp at 3 am and had nice weather most of the day. We caught fish all day by targeting water that was fishable for the way we fish (bumping) and it paid off. Don, my father-in-law, struck first and continued to keep me busy with the net. We ran into a few sprinkles on the way back but were close to Memphis and the weigh-in. It was not until later that the monsoon set in.”

“The tournament was a great success,” continued Harkness. “It was amazing watching all these great fishermen step up and do what they did for the veterans. I would like to congratulate all the winners and also all the fishermen that put in the time and work to fish the Mississippi River.”

Harkness went on to thank his sponsors for helping the team do what they do. They include B’n’M Poles, Driftmaster Rod Holders, Engel Coolers, and TTI Blakemore, He also thanked his wife and kids for putting up with and being supportive of his catfish addiction. He also thanked John Godwin for fishing with them and keeping them laughing.

“The thing I like the best is when you hook one,” added Godwin. “It’s like opening a present you don’t know what you’re getting. It could be four pounds or 44 pounds. Either way, you’re getting a fight and that’s why you want more. Yes, I believe I could get used to this catfishing lifestyle.”

Fifth Place

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The fifth-place honors went to Capt. Ben Geobel and Tim Spencer. The Indiana team weighed 115.14 pounds. They found a good pattern and caught a lot of fish. Their weight included Spencer’s personal best blue cat at about 65 pounds.

“We bumped sandbars in the mainline current,” reported Geobel. “We were fishing about 45 feet deep using skipjack. This fish that we were targeting before tournament day had moved out right on the channel ledge on Saturday. They had been closer to the banks of the river midweek.”

“We had to stop fishing a little early because of a thunderstorm,” said Geobel. “We had a good weight and wanted to make sure we got back to the scales. We hit two thunderstorms on way back in.”

“Overall, MRM was an awesome experience,” concluded Geobel. “We were on fish all week and caught more than 20 catfish. I had told Tim he was due for a big one and he would have his chance on tournament day, and he did. I can’t wait to do it again next year.”

Capt. Ben Goebel is sponsored by B’n’M Poles, Vicious Fishing, Engel Coolers, Lowrance, Bass Pro Shops, Bass-N-More & The Catfish Bunker, RIGRAP, Hooker’s Terminal Tackle, and Millennium Marine.

Epilogue The eight days of Monster Week were given high marks by the anglers, sponsors, and organizers. The Mississippi River obliged by producing plenty of big catfish all week long. Tournament director, George Young Jr. summarized it nicely.

“I was blown away at all the thanks I got from people on how great the whole monster week went,” said Young. “The captains meeting was one for the books with a tremendous demonstration of support for our veterans. I’ve even got texts saying this tournament compares to the Bass Masters Classic!

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MRM Photo

“The MRM team is what makes this tournament a success,” concluded Young. “I want to thank my wife, Kristi Cope Young, and daughters, Ashton and Mary Catherine, Leslie Kirkpatrick Finney, Karie Gibson, Bucky Hays, Camille Reasons, Alicia Wilkes Stevens, my son Jeremy Young, and his wife Rachel, Jody Harrison, Jeremy Coe, Bill Dance, and all the great sponsors.”

“We worry all year long about everything turning out great for the fisherman,” concluded Young. “And I think that overall it went well.”

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