Catfish Conference 2018

by Ron Presley

The aisles were packed as attendees visited with vendors and each other. Catfish Conference has definitely become an annual meeting place for catfish enthusiasts.

The aisles were packed as attendees visited with vendors and each other. Catfish Conference has definitely become an annual meeting place for catfish enthusiasts.

I really have to wonder if Steve Douglas and Jim Hopper had any notion of where their idea to have a catfish community gettogether would go when they conjured up the notion a few years ago.

The underlying premise was simple, it was all about catfish. Catfish anglers, catfish vendors, catfish families, catfish boats, catfish seminars—if it had to do with catfishing it was welcomed with open arms at the inaugural Catfish Conference 2016.

Now, the organizers and cohosts, Monster Rod Holders, Jeff Jones Marine, and Business House, have three years of experience to build on for the future. Each year just gets better.

Catfish conservation was also a topic of conservation at Catfish Conference

Catfish conservation was also a topic of conservation at Catfish Conference

Catfish Conference 2018 – Louisville, KY

Louisville has proven to be a hospitable city to the catfish community. The nice facilities at the Crowne Plaza Airport in Louisville provided a professional atmosphere for the conference. Lodging, places to eat, and other attractions were in good supply and the people of Louisville were more than welcoming.

The first day of the two-day conference has always started off with a bang. Catfish Conference 2018 presented by SeaArk Boats was no different.

“There were 3,200 people that walked in the door on Saturday alone,” reported Steve Douglas, one of the founders of the event. “They came from 25 states to see what the conference had to offer.”

Needless to say, the vendors love the crowded isles as catfish fans browse and bought products, conversed with other anglers, and generally had a good time adding to their catfish knowledge. The previous conferences have been a learning experience for vendors, and new vendors for 2018 were trying to grasp just what the size of the catfish market is.

“Saturday morning is always the busiest,” said Douglas. “Many vendors sell out of stuff before lunch. I think this is an indication of just how much the conference is a needed and popular event for the catfish community.”

Vendors like Off Shore Tackle were pleased with the heavy traffic and buying attitudes of the Catfish Conference attendees. Planer board expert, Seth McCallister, was on hand at the booth to help anglers with questions.

Vendors like Off Shore Tackle were pleased with the heavy traffic and buying attitudes of the Catfish Conference attendees. Planer board expert, Seth McCallister, was on hand at the booth to help anglers with questions.

“I think people look forward to this event each year because of the community interaction,” continued Douglas. “The conference is a place where catfish anglers from all over can mix and mingle while browsing the floor for new equipment. They find new ideas and they can put their hands on the rods and equipment they been viewing on the internet. It’s amazing how our sport is growing. The catfish conference is just a place for all levels of catfishing experience.”

Jim Hopper, another founder of the event was pleased too, recognizing that the inclement weather did not keep many away.

“The conference is doing very well again,” observed Hopper. “I am a little surprised, given the weather, that so many people are here. They did not let it bother them, they come on in. It is interesting to note that there is a lot of interest in catfishing right now. It just continues to grow.”

Herve Drompt is director of the conference. He is the guy in charge of organizing the event. He too was pleased with attendance.

Catfish boats, like this SeaArk River Cat 20-footer, was popular with show goers. More and more boat manufacturers are building catfish specific boats.

Catfish boats, like this SeaArk River Cat 20-footer, was popular with show goers. More and more boat manufacturers are building catfish specific boats.

“I think we had a really good turnout,” offered Drompt. “Attendance is really good from where we started. Remember that first year, we did not think we would have all those people. We were expecting maybe 250 people and that is what we were planning for. It ended up being at least 1,100.”

“Now, here today we have over 3,000 bookings online,” reported Drompt. “That doesn’t even count all those that just walk in. The growth in attendance is incredible.”

“We may need a bigger venue,” continued Drompt. “We are working on it. We definitely need more space so we can add more people and more vendors. Just for the commercial aspect of catfishing we need to allow everyone in here, different manufacturers that do the same thing. We want enough space where everyone can come and call it home.”

“It is really funny when we open the doors Saturday morning,” recalled Drompt. “Everyone knows we open at 8:30, but we have a line at 7:00 o’clock in the morning. It is like a rock concert. People are running to get to their favorite booth first and get the first product. It is incredible to see the visitor reaction. Some of the vendors, by 10 o’clock, have no product left. The vendors are happy and we are happy for them of course. People are here to buy and the vendors know it.”

“Everyone is welcome and that is what we want,” concluded Drompt. “Just the acceptance by the community is more than a blessing. All of us are very honored to be doing this for the catfish community. Personally, I just want to thank everyone who helped organize the event, and all the people who came.”

Catfish anglers could also get information on catfish tournaments. Several tournament trails, like Cabela’s King Kat, and standalone tournaments, like Mississippi River Monsters, were present at the conference.

Catfish anglers could also get information on catfish tournaments. Several tournament trails, like Cabela’s King Kat, and standalone tournaments, like Mississippi River Monsters, were present at the conference.

Jeff Jones, of Jeff Jones Marine, was watching the crowd to gage their acceptance of the conference.

“It is actually a little bigger than last year,” Jones commented with a smile. “The people coming in here seem so happy about doing this thing. People are glad to be here and be a part of it. The vendors seem to be very happy too. There is a lot of traffic and a lot of buyers.”

“Some of the vendors are selling out of stuff. I talked to a rod manufacturer who told me they sold 600 rods just this morning. Maybe we should get Guinness in here,” joked Jones. “We may have a world record for the number of rods sold in a morning.”

Pro staff anglers like Joe Ludtke were recruited by manufacturers to man their booths and network with customers.

Pro staff anglers like Joe Ludtke were recruited by manufacturers to man their booths and network with customers.

Seminars

Every year the seminar speakers draw big crowds of catfish anglers eager to learn. Some of the 2018 seminars attracted as many as 150 catfish enthusiasts. Attendees flowed back and forth between the conference floor and the seminar venue.

“The good attendance at the seminars tells me there are a lot of interested anglers still up and coming as the sport grows,” offered Douglas. “I pick the seminar speakers for their experience and involvement in the community. Up to now I have made it a point not to duplicate them year after year. I just like a variety of anglers with different subjects for the community to learn from.”

“Eventually I will have to duplicate speakers,” stated Douglas. “However, the catfish Conference has a great video library of past seminar speakers now. That library offers a wealth of info on different topics.”

“I’ve already booked the 2019 seminar speakers,” said Douglas. “It should be a great one with a lot of diversity in topic matter, not to mention entertaining.”

Douglas said he will be announcing that lineup of speakers for the 2019 conference soon. He said to keep an eye on the website at www.catfishconference.com.

“It is like a rock concert.”

Attendee Views

Catfish Conference attendees came from throughout the catfish community. From casual anglers to avid tournament fisherman, to catfishing YouTubers, the conference truly was for everyone.

Luke Hentges was a first-time attendee at Catfish Conference. He and his cohorts are well known for their YouTube channel, Backwoods Angling. Luke is both a catfish enthusiast and a YouTube creator.

Steve Douglas, Monster Rod Holders, convinced cat man Terry Rogers to help out in the booth. Both Douglas and Rogers are also YouTubers. A special gathering of YouTube creators met following the show on Saturday.

Steve Douglas, Monster Rod Holders, convinced cat man Terry Rogers to help out in the booth. Both Douglas and Rogers are also YouTubers. A special gathering of YouTube creators met following the show on Saturday.

“My feeling from the conference was very positive,” stated Hentges.  “It was a true pleasure meeting folks with the same passions as me, whether that was another YouTuber or catfish guy in general.

“My purpose for attending was to meet other creators,” offered Hentges. “I also wanted to check out all the vendors, and to spend quality time with others who have the same passion for catfish as me.”

“Some were commenting that they needed a bigger venue,” recalled Hentges. “I disagree. I thought the conference was great. Maybe they could have some drinks and snacks inside the site itself and maybe a bigger boat selection. Of course, more boats would mean the location would have to expand.”

“Overall, I had a blast,” concluded Hentges. “I can’t wait until Catfish Conference 2019 comes around. Northwoods Angling and Tomcat Rods will be getting a booth.”

“I had several purposes for attending the 2018 Catfish Conference in Louisville, KY,” said Joe Ludtke. “I attended to assist in the Tangling with Catfish booth, reconnect with some old friends and meet new friends. Everything at the Catfish Conference exceeded my expectations!”

Ludtke has attended Catfish Conference before. He provided one of the seminars in 2017. The long-time tournament angler has witnessed both the growth of the sport and the growth of the conference. Importantly, he sees the potential for even more growth in the future.

“I was amazed by how many new fishermen are getting into catfishing,” observed Ludtke. “Many were at the Catfish Conference purchasing catfish products and discussing catfishing in general. The conversations with new catfishermen and women were a highlight of the Catfish Conference for me.”

“The Catfish market is growing by leaps and bounds,” continued Ludtke. “We need to spread the word about the Catfish Conference because there are many other vendors who could benefit from having a booth at this event.”

“The Catfish Industry is busting at the seams and I am excited to see where it goes,” concluded Ludtke.

A good contingency of cat women was on hand at the conference too. Several gathered at the CatfishNow booth for a group photo.

A good contingency of cat women was on hand at the conference too. Several gathered at the CatfishNow booth for a group photo.

The Future

“Our team learns something new about hosting this event every year,” offered Douglas. “We are listening to our guest’s suggestions and we work hard to improve our guest experience each year. Herve and I have spent many late nights coordinating the the conference while looking to the future, but it’s worth it. We always look forward to improving next year’s event.”

All of the cohosts agreed that the conference may need a larger venue in the future. It is just a matter of growth. More visitors, more vendors, more boats, etc. It simply requires more space.

“There is a lot of stuff going on right now,” said Jim Hopper. “Over the next year to year and a half you are going to see some changes in the conference. There are several projects in the works. It is time to get this sport organized and move forward.”

“We would like to bring in more support from the outside,” continued Hopper. “Everyone within the industry does a really good job with product, but we have to reach out and bring in more corporate sponsorships. The interest is out there now. We need to bring in more money, we need to spend on conservation, and we want tournaments to pay further down the leader board.”

“Interest in catfishing has gone into warp speed,” suggested Hopper. “The interest from the outside business community is very strong right now. They kind of caught us a little off guard. If I could share some of that interest you would be surprised.”

“More people are starting to recognize the industry. Lots of things are getting ready to happen and I think we will be able to share that soon. I wish I was tackling this at 28 instead of 58,” joked Hopper. “We will do the best we can. It is going to be a fun ride.”

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