Catfish Profiles in Passion – Vicky Mathenia
by Ron Presley
A legacy of catfishing
Vicky Mathenia’s love for, and experience with, fishing dates back for as long as she can remember. It started when she was only two-weeks-old. Her parents put her in a wicker basket and took her with them, on a boat, to go fishing. She has had a passion for fishing ever since. She describes fishing as something that is “hard-wired” into her DNA.
When it comes to everyday fishing her father was her biggest influence. Their early fishing was on the Mississippi River and small farm ponds around Jerseyville, IL where she grew up. “When I turned eight, my dad started taking me to the river to run trot lines,” said Vicky. “I would run the boat and daddy would run the lines.”
“I was only ten years old when daddy took us to an Olin Brass Company picnic,” recalled Vicky. “I won a Zebco rod and reel that day. It was my first fishing pole that was my very own. I made sure that I took that pole every time daddy and I went fishing. He taught me how to rig my fishing pole, tie my hooks, bait my poles, and how to catch bait. For as long as I can remember, I was his fishing buddy.”
Later in life, Vicky caught the fever for tournament catfishing with her son, the second most influential person in her fishing endeavors. “Jason ‘Big Cat’ Mathenia, and his old fishing partner, Rex, used to fish tournaments,” recalled Vicky. “I would go to some of their weigh-ins. I could see the passion for catfishing in Jason’s eyes and the enjoyment that catfishing brought to him. When his partner passed away, Jason and I teamed up, and we have been sharing a passion for catfish tournaments ever since.”
She is now a well-known participant on numerous catfish trails. Tournament fishing has provided her the opportunity to travel all over the United States. “I have fished from the James River in Virginia to the Missouri River near Kansas and just about every major body of water and tributary between them,” declared Vicky.
All those fishing trips to all those locations gave Vicky and Big Cat many memorable occasions on the water. One that stands out in her mind was a prefishing day at Cabela’s King Kat event out of Crystal City, MO.
“Our five biggest fish went over 300 pounds,” recalled Vicky. “Our big fish was 72 pounds. We never went over the same school of fish twice. I just remember all the fish being piled in like cordword. The fishing was on fire, but we didn’t want to beat the fish up too bad. There is no telling what we could have caught if we hadn’t been pre-fishing.”
Vicky’s belief that they should not “beat the fish up too bad” is reflective of a long-held belief about conservation. “I have been fishing the Mississippi River with my dad since I was a little girl,” said Vicky. “He made me conservation minded. I am a huge advocate of CPR and the use of circle hooks. Fish are less likely to swallow a circle hook and therefore less likely to get super stressed or injured.”
Vicky has seen firsthand the decline in fish numbers. “I can still remember my father telling me the importance of not overharvesting fish. We ate everything we kept and made sure we threw the bigger ones back.”
“The bait numbers have really been hit too,” continued Vicky. “I’m not sure if the introduction of big head carp has anything to do with declining numbers, but if you don’t have bait fish then you don’t have the fish that eat them. I truly believe that if we don’t do something about the bait population then we will continue to see a decline in fish numbers in the future.”
Vicky names kids as an important part of fishing’s future. “I think it’s important to get today’s youth involved in fishing and conservation. The kids are our future. Fishing with kids should be fun and at the same time educational. They should be taught the importance of respecting nature. Also, take plenty of food just in case they get hungry,” joked Vicky.
Today you will find Vicky where it all started─fishing on the Mississippi River near Alton, IL. “My intense love for fishing is one of the things that keeps me going,” offered Vicky. “It drives me to do better and to be better. I think about fishing all the time, from the gear, to the bait, and how to present it all to the fish. Sometimes ideas come to me in the light of day and sometimes in a dream. I’m always up for trying new things.”
“Fishing for me is more than just a hobby. It has become a way of life. There is nothing better than being outdoors, on the water with family and friends, enjoying God’s creations.”
“I don’t have any quit in me,” concluded Vicky. “I don’t see myself not fishing any time soon. As long as I can get to a body of water and hold a fishing pole, I will continue to fish. I love the competition of woman verses fish, verses man.”