Catfish Class

A fishing dream come true for a cancer patient and fellow angler
by Troy Basso-

Before I can tell this story properly, we must go back a few months to Memphis Tennessee. While at the Mississippi River Monsters event many catfish Anglers had the honor of meeting Michael Conley. Michael had his life impacted profoundly by fishing and brain cancer. He is a parent, catfish angler, and soon to be a  grandfather.

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The mission was accomplished when Michael Conley landed his new personal best 28-pound blue cat.

After the event, Michael had a new list of friends on social media. It was through this new group of friends that he expressed a wish to go to Wheeler Lake and fish for trophy blue cats. He had never caught anything bigger than 17 pounds and simply wanted to beat his personal best. The two flies in the proverbial buttermilk were money, and chemo treatments.

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The motley crew of fisherman for the weekend trip included (left to right) Chris Parker, Michael Conley, Cad Daly, Ryan Lawrence, and Scott Lovelace.

At this point, pro catfish angler Cad Daly enters the story. Cad heard of Conley’s wish and quietly put a plan in motion. Many catfish anglers know Cad from when he won the Excel Storm Cat boat in Memphis at Mississippi River Monsters tournament. Behind the scenes, he was able to rally a group of catfish anglers together and began work on making Michaels wish come true.

The first hurdle for this endeavor was getting him from Arkansas to Alabama. Cad managed to find someone who donated a plane ticket and the trip was a go.

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Ryan Lawrence cleared the other lines as Michael enjoyed his first encounter with a Tennessee River toad.

Now, all that was needed was accommodations and meals. The catfish community, once again, stepped up and donated over $300.00 for meals and travel expenses for Michael though a GoFundMe account.

The kind staff members at Joe Wheeler State Park and the Florence/Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau stepped in and not only covered Michaels cabin but provided a second cabin at a very steep discount. As many know the Florence area has always been kind and receptive to professional catfish events.

Cad provided his new Excel Storm Cat and covered the fuel expenses for the trip. He knew that with Michaels health condition he would need a second set of hands on board. This is where B’n’M poles pro angler, Ryan Lawrence, stepped in and became metaphorically and physically the trips “first mate.”

Jason McDuffie at B’n’M poles provided Michael with a nice two-piece rod, one that he could take home on the airplane following the event. As most catfish anglers know you must have good quality bait. Yanmer & Sons Bait Company stepped in and donated all the bait.

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Michael is shown here trying to fight one out of a big tree top.

Cad wanted to pre-fish before Michael arrived, so getting him from the Birmingham Airport was an issue until Jarrett Tempus, of River Rats Reel Repair, offered to get him to and from the lake.

As a precautionary measure Cad had a second boat on the lake looking for fish and serving as a backup in case of a breakdown. Scott Lovelace captained the backup boat and stayed with them all weekend. The much-anticipated trip appeared to be coming together seamlessly. Or at least everyone thought it was.

In the Army, we had a saying, “A plan is always great until you meet the enemy.” The enemy turned out to be air flight. Michael had never flown and he inadvertently missed his flight out on Thursday afternoon. Luckily Southwest Airlines was very understanding and got him an early morning flight on Friday.

Friday afternoon turned out to be a little breezy and Michael was tired from his travels. They fished a couple of hours and boated a 15-pound blue. After that, they had a nice birthday dinner for Michael and retired for the night with the hope of a new personal best on Saturday.

Saturday dawned with little wind, warm temperatures, and a blue sky. We hit the water at 8 am with the motley crew of good-hearted anglers. It appeared the word had traveled throughout the catfish community as there were catfish boats everywhere. They all stopped to check on Michael and share their hotspots with Cad. That is not something you see every day from competitive anglers.

According to my camera, the whole adventure culminated at 10:08 am. That’s when Michael landed his new personal best catfish. It was a 28-pound blue that Michael said, “about wore him out.” There were other boats around us waiting on this to happen and to hear Ryan Lawrence holler, “New personal best on board.” That was a moment that would send chills down even the most jaded anger’s spine. All the planning for this trip came to fruition at that moment in the form of a smile on Michael’s face. The trip was a flaming success by any standard.

Before I can wrap this up, I must share a few things that helped make this trip a true example of Catfish Class. Cad’s trolling motor remote failed prior to the trip. And as if on cue, Ryan Lawrence pulled his out of a tackle bag. After that, the battery that powered the graphs decided to crap out. Another boat of anglers captained by Robert Scott, Sr. gave up one of their batteries. If you were to try and find a better group of anglers, it would take a lifetime. Everyone who participated, donated, or just stopped to say hi to Michael exhibited what we like to call, “Catfish Class.”

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