Inaugural King of the James win goes to Davis and Carden
The inaugural King of the James Catfish Tournament (KOJ) kicked off on Saturday, March 23 out of Hopewell Marina in Hopewell, Virginia. There were 296 anglers competing, some on two-person teams and some on three-person teams.
The KOJ started with a challenge and met other challenges along the way to its successful launch. It’s opening invitation to anglers asked, “Do you have what it takes to be crowned the first ever ‘King of The James’ Catfisherman?”
One-hundred twenty-three teams from 11 states responded to the question with a “yes” and registered for the event. Surely all had the same hope of catching a James River monster. In the end, more than 5,700 pounds of James River cats were caught and weighed on the way to distributing $28,000 in cash and prizes. An outstanding start to what is likely to become one of the most anticipated tournaments on the catfish trail.
For many, the KOJ was an opportunity to fish new water. For many, it was their first big tournament. For many, it was a chance to fish against some of the best catfish anglers in the country. For many, it resulted in a personal best. For all, it was an opportunity to visit with old friends and make new ones.
First Place and Big Fish
Kevin Davis and Sterling Carden claimed the top spot with 221.47 pounds that included Big Fish at 89.69 pounds. They were fishing the tidal waters of the James River on the rope in 20 and 40 feet of water. Davis and Carden had gone to the tournament just to enjoy talking with old friends and meeting new ones.
“I’ve been fishing that river since I was a teenager,” reported Davis. “So, I know some decent spots. There wasn’t a whole lot of life upriver on sonar so we decided to make a rundown river. We went 7 to 10 miles to a spot where I’ve caught good fish in the past. We made that run early Saturday morning and sat on the spot until 6 am which is when we could put lines in the water. At 6:30 am a rod went down. It was a stud 89.61-pound blue. Sterling landed that one.
“It was the most exciting part of the tournament for me,” said Carden. “It was fun and stressful at the same time. I was just hoping that I could land him and not let him get off. The current is a huge factor on where you fish and how you fish.”
“We knew that getting that 89-pound blue in the boat gave us a shot at weighing in the biggest fish,” continued Carden. “It was a tough fight with the size of the fish and the current of the river made it tougher. All I could do was try to wear him out because he did what he wanted to do.”
“We only caught one more fish that first day,” said Davis. “It was 32 pounds. We missed two more big ones, but that still put us in the lead for the first day.”
With that good fortune on Saturday, Davis and Carden decided to return to the same spot on Sunday. It was a good decision. They added a 65- and a 35-pound cat to their total which was enough to claim first place and Big Fish.
“The wind was terrible and the bite was slow,” concluded Davis. “It was actually really windy on Saturday, but Sunday was beautiful. We anchored up fishing with shad. We were truly blessed and lucky!”
The runner up spot went to Capt. Joe Cannon (Big Cat Guide Service), Bobby Vassar and Joey Fincher with a two-day weight of 165.59 pounds. Interestingly, Capt. Joe was taught how to catch blues on the James River by his son, Capt. Scott Cannon, who founded Big Cat Guide Service.
“We still tweak our methods of fishing to suit us,” said Capt. Joe. “Scouting, pre-fishing and overall organized preparation are required. It basically takes hours and hours and hours on the water to get the right feel for that day’s strategy. In the case of this tournament 2 of our fish were caught in 4 feet of water and the other 2 fish caught in 34 feet of water. All fish came on gizzard shad that was caught the same day as we fished.”
The team was fishing with Tiger rods with Penn Squall 30 reels and Diawa Saltist A40 reels. They used 50-pound Hi-Vis Yellow Suffix mono line with 80-pound Anderson leader line. They added red Gamakatsu Octopus Circle Hooks and 3- to 5-ounce sinkers.
Capt. Joe, Vassar, and Fincher hooked 4 fish in two days and landed 4 fish in two days. Those 4 fish were the right fish to put them in the money. They were fishing out of a pontoon boat.
“Over the years I have caught 95% of my fish from a pontoon boat,” revealed Capt. Joe. “There are pros and cons for fishing from a larger slower boat but obviously, as happened during this past weekend it sure didn’t affect our second-place finish.”
The third spot went to Capt. Scott Cannon (Big Cat Guide Service), Travis Clack, and Anders Blixt. Capt. Scott is the son of Joe Cannon who captained the second-place boat. The team captured the third spot with a total of 148.24 pounds in two days of fishing. They included the forecasted windy weather and the large number of boats in the tournament as they developed their strategy. They moved up one place from fourth on day one to third on day two.
“We knew the wind was going to be a factor on Saturday and part of Sunday,” reported Scott. “We used that to our advantage. We found a spot where we could be somewhat out of the wind and used multiple anchors to keep the boat from swinging.”
Cannon, Clack, and Blixt had the most success anchored in shallow water. Their best bites came later in the day using cut gizzard shad on fish finder rigs. The team was equipped with Penn Squall 20 reels spooled with 40-pound Suffix line on Shakespeare Tiger rods. Their terminal tackle included a 100-pound Suffix leader, a Gamakatsu 8/0 Octopus Circle hook, and 3- to 5-ounce sinkers. The main channel of the James often requires 8- to 12-ounce sinkers, but the shallow water they were fishing allowed much less weight.
“During the weeks before the tournament we took many trips to the river,” continued Scott. “We pre-fished different sections of the river looking for those giants we knew it would take to win. During the tournament, we knew with so many boats on the river it would be hard to fish a lot of different spots so we narrowed it down to 3 or 4 of our favorite holes each day.”
“Our day-two fish moved my boat up to third-place for the tournament,” concluded Scott. “And Capt. Joe held onto his second-place spot! I am so proud of both of our boats. It is awesome to have both of the Big Cat Guide Service boats in the top 3!”
Remaining Top-Ten Teams and Other Categories
4th Place – Todd Anderson, Josh Burton, Terry George – 140.16
5th Place – Joe Granata, Jimmy Samarco, Joseph Gordon – 137.24
6th Place – Chris Krammes, Howard Staton, Chris Parvis – 131.61
7th Place – Archie Gold, Maggie Smith – 130.61
8th Place – Dean Irwin, Jie Hecht – 126.92
9th Place – George Isley, Timmy Carter, Matt Prontaut – 124.63
10th Place – Adam Cook, Jason Berns -0 123.85
Lady Angler – Maggie Smith – 34.26
Youth Angler – Damien Eberwein – 52
Veteran Big Fish – Josh Carr – 53.2
G3 Boats Bonus – Joe Granata, Jimmy Samarco, Joseph Gordon – 137.24
Successful events like King of the James do not happen in a vacuum. They require volunteers and supporters of all kinds. Matthew Miles (Katfish Clothing) was assisted in organizing the event by Trey Thorpe and Adam Cook as well as many others.
“The big message we wanted to bring to light was how special the James River trophy catfish fishery is to so many people across the country,” offered Trey Thorpe. “It was amazing to see so many anglers competing and working together at the same time. One Angler from Pennsylvania had a starter issue before the captains meeting on Friday. The next thing you know, one of the local anglers pulled his starter off of his motor and ran home to get a backup. The Monster fish and the amazing people is what makes our sport so great. The James River needed a super event and I think we have one now.”
“This tournament was just an idea a few months ago,” continued Thorpe. “It is a tournament designed for anglers by anglers who are promoting the safety of the fish and CPR. Every single fish our anglers weighed swam away happy and healthy. It was a beautiful sight!”
“This event was special for many reasons,” offered Adam Cook. “I’ve never lived more than 15 mins from that river my whole life. Every single time I’m on it, it never ceases to amaze me, even to this day.”
“I’ve seen a lot of events come through this river,” continued Cook. “Even two world championship bass tournaments, but the interest of catfishing before that time wasn’t like it is now. Maybe my opinion is biased, but I’ve yet to see an event run as smoothly as this project did, especially for a first-year tournament.”
“KOJ had registrations from across the country,” reported Cook. “To see the comradery and competitiveness, and to be among all kinds of anglers that share a true passion for the sport was incredible. It brought me great pride in what we had accomplished, after many setbacks, in such a short period of time. The experience took me back to something my preacher mentioned one time, ‘We don’t all have to agree to be kind to one another.’”
“Despite the social media drama that unfolds occasionally, we brought 300 anglers together under one roof and not one argument or even disagreement to my knowledge unfolded,” concluded Cook. “To me, that is outstanding and shows the kind of sportsmanship that will bring catfishing to the next level.”
“This tournament represented the character of the people in our sport,” said Matthew Miles. “We fought through adversity in nearly every front, but reigned as Kings of the River in the end. A group of people with a dream of growing the sport came together and pulled off one of the largest inaugural tournaments in the history of the sport. We are thankful and excited at the prospect of next year!”