How Team Baldwin Won $25,000 at Possum Kingdom Catmasters Tournament
by Ron Presley
Making the right decisions at the right time.
Catfish tournament payouts continue to grow. The 2018 Possum Kingdom Catmasters tournament got the catfishing world’s attention last year with their guaranteed top spot payout on Possum Kingdom Lake. One-hundred twenty-nine tournament catfish teams showed up for the competition on a dreary October morning. It followed several days of wet and windy prefishing. Challenging the inclement weather, struggling to get bait, and making frequent strategy changes proved to be the key to winning.
Oklahoma anglers, Chris (Chris Baldwin Guide Service) and Kyli Baldwin put the right game plan together to claimed the $25,000 first-place prize money. Not a bad way to spend a vacation.
“We always make fishing trips our vacation time,” explained Kyli. “We get our fun spending multiple days learning new waters and trying to figure out what the fish are doing. This was my first experience on the lake and Chris’s second time there.”
Their story from last year is a good learning experience for anglers planning to compete in 2019 to understand how a strategy is developed. The next event is scheduled for October 18 and 19, 2019. The guaranteed first place money is $30,000.
The Baldwin Experience
Team Baldwin approached Possum Kingdom with a good deal of confidence, but not really sure what would be needed to win.
“I had no idea what it would take to win,” offered Chris. “But I knew we had to be as versatile as possible. Our goal was to figure out the numbers game instead of just looking for the biggest fish in the lake.”
There was not a lot of time spent on the tournament before leaving Oklahoma for Possum Kingdom Lake.
“We didn’t do much preparation at home,” revealed Kyli. “We did tie new rigs on our poles and made sure we had enough pre-made rigs so we didn’t have to worry about that when we got there.”
They traveled to the lake on Tuesday preceding the tournament and actually got on the water Wednesday for pre-fishing. The weather was a big factor. It rained five straight days preceding the tournament and a cold front rolled in keeping the daytime temperatures cool. Add in the wind, and fishing conditions were tough.
“I think one of our biggest obstacles was the changing weather,” stated Kyli. “Each day was different right up to tournament day. Because of that, we did not expect that the fish we caught pre-fishing would necessarily be in the same area all week, and we were right.”
One tool that successful tournament anglers use is local knowledge. Marina’s, boat dealers, bait shops and local anglers all have a wealth of knowledge that can benefit tournament anglers. Spending time talking to these individuals and developing friends and relationships over time can pay big dividends.
“We got on the lake Wednesday morning,” reported Chris. We were struggling big time to get quality bait. After driving 25 miles around the lake I sucked up my pride and made a phone call to my friend, Cody Waldrop. He put us on some 5- to 7-inch shad. I made one throw and had more than 30 nice baits.”
“Fresh bait is the most important thing you need to catch big catfish,” added Chris. “If you don’t have fresh bait you may as well go bass fishing!”
With the pressure to find bait eliminated, Chris and Kyli began to develop their tournament strategy. As it turned out it was probably their ability to make the right decisions and adapt to changing conditions that put them in the winner’s circle.
They were pulling planner boards and the first adjustment they made was to slow down. This was on Wednesday, their first day to pre-fish. At this point, they had no idea they would give up the planer boards completely.
“I noticed we were going about .8 mph,” revealed Chris. “Deciding that was too fast to keep my 2.75-ounce drifting weight on the bottom we slowed down to about .3 or .4 mph and BAM—we hooked up a nice fish.”
On Thursday Chris and Kyli fished upriver hoping to learn something to add to their strategy. Chris wanted to check out some shallower water. They caught one fish in three hours, pulling boards over a two-mile stretch. Another decision was executed and they made a 20-mile run upriver only to find a blank sonar screen. So, they headed back out to the lake and deeper water. They caught 10 quality fish in the same hole they had fished on Wednesday and added the spot to their list for tournament day.
Trial and error continued on Friday as they stayed away from the fish they had caught previously because they did not want to sore-lip them before the tournament. They were able to eliminate some more water. They fished north of where they caught fish on Thursday without success making Chris think they should try going south.
“We ended up going five miles south and caught some more smaller blues,” recalled Chris. “So, we went on the hunt again. We continued to move south about five more miles downriver and caught an 18 pounder. We added that spot to our list.”
Their pre-fishing indicated that the fish were in transition, moving south. That finding gave them one more part of the pattern for fishing on tournament day. They decided to start where they caught the 18-pound blue and move south from there.
Tournament anglers often mention the mind games that must also be overcome. Rumors of, “they are biting at the dam,” or “everything is shallow,” have to be dealt with. Sometimes it is hard to stay on track and stick with the game plan that’s based on your own intel and not the competition’s reports.
“The mental game can be frustrating and takes a lot of patience,” said Chris. “You just have to keep moving forward. During this chaos of running up and down the lake, Kyli made sure that I stayed on my path to success by not letting all the rumors get in my head and send me in a different direction.”
“She puts all of her faith in me and lets me do my thing,” continued Chris. “She doesn’t let me listen to anyone and won’t let me go off our course no matter what someone has caught or where they caught it. She has no problem letting me know when I’m straying.”
On tournament day they started out just as they planned, with good results. They quickly had four quality fish in the boat. When the bite stopped, they moved further south and caught one more decent fish just 30 minutes before the day’s fishing ended. That last fish helped them take the lead on day one. So far so good, But the decision making was not over as they would discover on the final day.
“Sunday morning, we head right back to our spot,” said Chris. “The group of fish we were following had been in transition downriver for the last five days. We made the call to move two more miles downriver and they were there.”
“We boated an 18- a 10- and a12-pounder,” continued Chris. “We knew that wasn’t enough so we waited it out and here came a 21-pounder. We had lost big fish after big fish due to the amount of current flow that we weren’t used to dealing with. We are not normally current fisherman and don’t know the best way to go about it.”
“We spot-locked all tournament long,” said Chris. “We did not continue to use planer boards, as we had in practice, because we found that every time we would slow our drift down to nothing we would get a fish on. So, we knew we needed to anchor and the fish were moving slower than normal. Our solution was to spot-lock upstream from the fish and let them come get the bait that they could smell.”
With the weigh-in complete, Team Baldwin had brought 145.88 pounds to the scales and claim the top honors. They set an initial strategy and then adjusted it as needed. Basically, they found good fish while pre-fishing and followed them as they moved, making one decision after another to stay up with the transitioning fish. Their success was based on their ability to find the pattern and their confidence in making the decision to move when the bite stopped.
“We were very worried that we may not have enough weight to win, after losing a couple of fish at the boat that were 20-pounds plus,” concluded Chris. “We had followed these fish 20 miles down the lake from Wednesday to Sunday. We never caught a giant but we were fortunate to come out on top with the quality fish we had. We had taken it home!”
Possum Kingdom Catmasters 2019
The 2019 Possum Kingdom Catmasters tournament has been scheduled for October 18 and 19, 2019. The guaranteed First Place prize has been increased from $25,000 in 2018 to $30,000 in 2019.
Check-in and Captain’s meeting will be from 5:00 to 9:00 PM on Thursday, October 17th at the Possum Kingdom Chamber of Commerce. The tournament is supported strongly by the Chamber and local businesses.
“The Chamber is one of our biggest donors and supporters,” said tournament director, Bryan St Alma, “We have a lot of local support from businesses and some just fans of the event. Even more supporters are lining up for the next one.”
“We feel like this year’s tournament was a success,” continued St Alma. “We learned a few things that we will use to improve next year’s event. It is our goal to raise the bar each year with bigger payouts and hopefully gain more support from the industry. We had 129 boats this year and expect more in 2019. We have capped the number of boats at 200.”
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