Catfish Conference 2019 Follow Up
Where catfish anglers seek products and camaraderie.
Catfish Conference has been a hit among catfish anglers from its inception. The conference’s small beginning in Versailles, KY was not really that small in terms of expectations and reality. The organizers didn’t really know what to expect. The results were overwhelming and the event continues to grow with nearly 5000 people attending in 2019.
It has become abundantly clear the catfish anglers from across the spectrum are searching for more information on the sport of catfishing. Catfish tournaments go a long way toward educating a certain segment of catfish anglers, but catfish conference has provided an educational component that does not include the pressure of competitive fishing and pushes information out to a larger population of anglers. It also provides hands-on shopping for many catfish products.
From the beginning in 2016 to the recently completed event, Catfish Conference has been all about promoting the sport of catfishing while introducing anglers to available products in a consumer show environment where vendors have historically reported record sales as people come ready to buy.
The catfish extravaganza grew from its location in a small marine dealership to a large hotel conference room. That history has been well documented. Now in its fourth year, it took place on February 22, 23, and 24 in the Kentucky Exposition Center, Louisville, KY. It has grown from that original one-day event to three days which gave even more catfish fans an opportunity to visit.
Many conference participants play dual roles at the conference. Their interest is high in just being able to visit with friends they don’t see that often, but many of them also spend some time in their sponsors’ booths.
Benji Brown and his son Riley have been to three of the four Catfish Conferences to date. Benji has personally witnessed where it started and where it is now. At first, it was more about just seeing everyone and talking catfishing. The past couple of years he has put some time in at booths for Warrior Cat Tackle and Monster Rod Holders.
“Once the doors open its chaos,” joked Brown. “We actually had to send someone to the store to get us lunch around one o’clock, because we lost track of time and we were starving.”
“Catfish Conference was a success once again,” offered Brown. “And it just gets better and better. The expo center was much larger than last year’s venue at the Crown Plaza. We had much more room in our booth and for just walking around.”
The crowds were large on Friday and Saturday but fell off some on Sunday. But the composition of the visitors caught Brown’s eye as the number of families appeared to be larger than in the past.
“I noticed more women and children this year,” reported Brown. “I would be curious to know the number of people that came through over the three days.”
“The thing that most impressed me was the professionalism I witnessed,” continued Brown. “As everyone knows, catfishing has a little drama nowadays. From rods to boats, and even tournaments, the drama finds it way in. Well for this one time of the year, catfishermen and women seem able to put this all aside and come together for the sport of catfishing.”
“Rod companies were getting along,” concluded Brown. “And even the numerous boat manufacturers were seen chatting it up and even hanging out. Everyone put their differences aside for this event and it is good for the sport.”
Chris Souders is a tournament angler and YouTuber. He has been to all the conferences so far. He reported a similar experience to Brown’s at this year’s conference. He regularly shares his own knowledge of catfishing with others through his YouTube channel, Slunger Cat Outdoors. Similar to his teaching on YouTube, he found visitors eager to learn about catfishing at the conference.
“Visitors that talk to me wanted information,” said Souders. “The more information I could give them the happier they were. They were very eager to learn.”
“The crowds were good for Friday and Saturday,” said Souders. “But to me on Sunday things were slow. One thing that stood out to me more than just about everything else was the number of women and children that attended this year’s event. I was very impressed with this year‘s conference.”
“The conference has definitely changed over the years,” concluded Souders. “The booths and company’s appearances have gotten more professional looking. Also, the amount of product that is being brought in and the new products being introduced is just amazing. I continue to be blown away at how this industry continues to take shape.”
A Vendor’s Perspective
Peter Drees is the National Sales Manager for Hooksetter USA which manufactures products in the fishing, kayaking, and boating markets. The company acts as manufacturer, distributor, and dealer, distributing a large number of catfish products, nationwide, through a network of 60 dealers. And that network is growing, partly due to Catfish Conference. He has represented his company at all four conferences as a vendor.
“This year was a great conference with a good crowd,” offered Drees. “We did need tables and chairs as those were surprisingly not provided. I love opportunities like this as we see a lot of friends only once a year. We always pick up a few new dealers as well.”
“The conference has gotten bigger, with many more vendors,” continued Drees. Sunday was slower and we could probably do without it. But I used it to catch up, talking with friends, finishing requested interviews with YouTubers, and wrapping up new deals with new dealers.”
“Catfish Conference is a very hectic and fast-paced event,” concluded Drees. “But then again I set up our business so we will never ever run out of things to do.”
Steve Douglas has had the idea for a while to include a catfish cookoff at the conference. He worked on it seriously in 2019 and made it happen. The winners, as it turned, were a last-minute entry from a team that had a message for everyone.
“I was originally coming just cuz’ I love catfishing,” said team member Derek Ellis. “I wanted to meet everyone and get some new tackle. At the last minute I decided to do the cookoff just to help Steve out and it paid off!”
Derek had heard the competition was still needing teams so he messaged Steve Douglas that they were in. Then, on Thursday night before traveling to the conference, Team Flatiators met to practice a new and different spicing recipe and worked to master it. The next day they drove 8 hours from Little Rock Arkansas to Louisville where they were soon to be cookoff champs.
“The part I liked the most was getting to meet and see everyone,” concluded Derek. “I still can’t believe we won the cookoff! Just like fishing or anything thing else competitive. It’s any man’s game until it’s over so if there is something holding you back don’t let it!”
Derek’s advice was made in a Facebook post following the conference and it really summed up the success of Catfish Conference. What started four years ago in a small marine dealership in Versailles, KY has grown into a first-class gathering of the catfish community because a few people were willing to take a chance and put in the work. Now, masses of people are receiving the benefits as the conference continues to grow.
“The new venue caused some issues but we are learning and making adjustments,” said conference founder Steve Douglas. “We strive to make it better every year.”
Douglas is proud of where the conference has gone and has ideas for its future. Some of his ideas relate to other cities that are interested in the conference.
“We have a lot of dates and a lot of cities that have an interested in bringing Catfish Conference to their areas,” reported Douglas. “Personally, I would like to have a conference that has a tournament associated with it. Of course, it would have to be a time when the weather is normally good.”
“I would like it to be a high scale event attracting the more seasoned guys,” said Douglas. “It would be a real production, one that would bring awareness to the community.”
“Overall, we were satisfied with the event,” said Catfish Conference spokesman Herve Drompt. “We made some good contacts and we got major companies interested in the 2020 edition. The State of Kentucky came to visit and were very impressed with the evolution of the event from the first edition to what we are today.”
“We would like to thank all the patrons for coming out,” concluded Douglas. “Without them, it would be nothing. My hope is that it continues to grow as a place for the catfish community to gather.”
The catfish community pulls together in this event because it is something they obviously want. The result is the biggest event of its kind in the nation. Catfish Conference is one cog in the wheel of building a stronger, better organized and better educated catfish community.
More information can be found at www.catfishconference.com. Be sure to follow and like their Facebook page to keep up with conference activities.