Holtz and Tardo Win HOLD’em HOOK Charity Catfish Tournament

Twenty-five teams participated in the HOLD’em HOOK Christmas for Kids Tournament. The Saturday, November 17, 2018 event raised $4,000 to be distributed to local kids and families in need during the Christmas season.

The event kicked off at Ingalls Harbor in Decatur, AL. Registration began at 6:00 am, followed by a Captains Meeting at 6:45. The rules were simple with catfish weighed in two major categories—anglers would be targeting the biggest catfish they could catch and the one catfish nearest to 20 pounds. So, each team could bring two fish to the scales.

catfish, tournament, Wheeler Lake, Christmas for KIds

Holtz and Tardo teamed up to win Big Fish honors.

Following a prayer, for the safety and success of the anglers, they launched under foggy conditions. The air temperature was near freezing but warmed as the day developed. The 3:00 pm weigh-in was conducted under mild temps and a bluebird sky. It was a beautiful Tennessee River kind of day.

Wheeler Lake is a big fish lake so expectations were high for a good day of fishing. Many anglers predicted that plenty of personal best records would be broken.

catfish, tournament, Wheeler Lake, Christmas for KIds

Case Daly claimed a new PB during the tournament.

One example I heard of was nine-year-old Case Daly, son of Cad Daly. Case put a 54-pound Wheeler beast in the boat to set his new PB. That was just one of several other PB’s caught during the tournament.

catfish, tournament, Wheeler Lake, Christmas for KIds

Julie Potts Lovelace broke her PB twice during the tournament.

Another one went to Julie Potts Lovelace. She upped her PB, not once, but twice. The HOLD’em HOOK regular was fishing with her husband Scott and Aaron Churchwell. She now holds a personal best of 45 pounds to join scores of other anglers who claim PB’s from Wheeler Lake.

Big Fish Honors

Shane Holtz, originally from Michigan, and Bryan Tardo, originally from Mississippi, are now neighbors in Florence, AL. They teamed up to win Big Fish honors with a giant 84.1-pound Tennessee River blue cat. Two minor delays affected the team’s day.

“The blast off was smooth but there was lots of fog,” reported Holtz. “We stopped at the nuke plant and tied off to let the fog burn off. We caught one small channel cat there. “By 9:30 we were off to where we originally wanted to go.”

“We headed downriver,” continued Holtz. “We got stopped at the power lines. There were at least four boats out there with lights intercepting people. We think it was TVA but not sure. Police was stenciled on the side of the boat and TVA was in the air in a helicopter dropping men on the towers inspecting something. It was pretty neat to see. They said they were going to close the river but that it shouldn’t be for long. They let us through and we continued downriver to a ledge I have been wanting to fish.”

“We set out four lines and were dragging baits for about 10 minutes,” concluded Holtz. “That is when the big fish hit. He fought for about 15 minutes. After that, we boated a 17- and 28-pound fish and then had another trophy-class fish on but we lost him at the boat. It was a great day on the water for sure.”

Holtz and Tardo were awarded custom-made trophies from Dustin Faul (D &M Custom Rod Racks and Livewells), a custom Christmas themed Tom Cat Rod, an RTIC Cooler, a cutting board made by Robin East, and a free entry into Winter Blues on Wheeler presented by SeaArk Boats.

catfish, tournament, Wheeler Lake, Christmas for KIds

Chris Robinson fished solo to take Second Big Fish.

A second 80-pound class catfish was weighed in by Chris Robinson to claim Second-Big-Fish honors. Fishing the tournament solo, Robinson caught his 81.3-pound Wheeler trophy in Decatur.

“I spent most of the day out in the bigger section of the lake and up the Elk River,” reported Robinson. “Last weekend I caught six or seven overs out of there so I figured they would still be there. I marked fish but couldn’t get bites so I went back down to Decatur to fish my holes there. The first one I stopped at produced the big one around 1:00.”

Robinson reported a lot more current than what he is used to seeing. He caught his fish on the rope in three feet of water. His Charter Special lever drag reel was spooled with 40-pound Slime Line on a Big Cat Fever medium heavy rod. Terminal tackle included 100-pound leader and a 3-inch float made by J.R. Hall. The big fish could not resist the skipjack he was using for bait.

catfish, tournament, Wheeler Lake, Christmas for KIds

John Wesley Nugent and Warren Simmons caught 232 pounds on the day. They were joined by youth angler Jaxson Lovelace.

Third Big Fish went to John Wesley Nugent and Warren Simmons. The Alabama anglers teamed up to put over 200 pounds in the boat that include a 66.46-pound blue to claim the third spot.

“Our day started out really foggy,” confirmed Simmons. “You could barely see a hundred foot. We started dragging lines about 8:00 and by 8:30 we actually had our biggest fish of the day. We were pumped up and excited and ready for what the day had for us. Little did we know that we were going to catch seven fish that weighed a total of 232 pounds!”

Nugent and Simmons carried a youth on board for the day. It was Jaxson Lovelace and he had a great day too dealing with that boatload of catfish.

“The good Lord blessed us with a great fishing day,” offered Simmons. “It really warms my heart

to know that there are still people that like to help kids. Ask anyone that knows me and they’ll tell you that kids are my weakness. I hate to see one go without and hate to see one do without. This tournament lets everyone know that the fisher community cares about each and everybody around us.”

“I’m new to the Trail so I really don’t know all of the names of the people involved,” concluded Simmons. “I want to give a shout out to all those folks because they are just as important as the anglers because they put this event together. Happy Holidays and keep sinking bait!”

Closest to 20 Pounds

The second challenge of anglers in the HOLD’em HOOK tournament was to catch a fish closest to 20 pounds without going over. Trevor Nederhoff and Tyson Emery accomplished that feat with a 19.8-pounds, just .2 pounds off the mark.

“Fishing was pretty good for us,” reported Nederhoff. “Within the first 30 minutes, we had the two fish that we weighed. They were 65 and 19 pounds. We were anchored up in around 25-30 feet of water all day. For us, the bite slowed down as the day went on. We caught, I believe, seven fish for the day (65, 40, 25, 19, and a couple others).

Second place in the 20-pound Challenge was Marshal Hughes and Judson Akin. Their entry weighed 19.6 pounds.

Third place in the 20-pound Challenge went to the team of Jake Herman and Steve Lyon with a 17-pound Wheeler blue catfish.

The Top Female award went to Holly Clark with a 58.1-pound Wheeler Lake trophy catfish.

Top Youth at the Christmas for Kids event was Allie King with a 62.4-pound fish. 

Final Thoughts

Everyone involved said they had a great time at the tournament. Most are already looking forward to next year. Tournament director, Steve Dobbs, thanked all the volunteers who made it happen and gave a special shout-out to Melinda Folsom and Scott Lovelace for their work.

“Now that the tournament is over and I have made it home, my thoughts reflect back on our awesome day,” said Dobbs. “I thought of a gospel song that I have heard that says, ‘I’m drinking from my saucer because my cup is running over,’ and that’s the way I feel. I am so thankful and blessed to be a part of such a great family of catfish people who poured their heart into making this the best event of the year. All the sponsorships that helped us is outstanding. I can’t express how thankful I am for everything from the smallest things to the largest. May God continue to bless our catfish community.”

Tournament officials have been in contact with local schools to identify this year’s recipients. They have already identified eight. Dobbs also invite anglers to nominate families that they are aware of that might use some help at Christmas. He said that this year they might also help some families with food that need it during the holidays.

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