Korte and Suttner win First Annual Catfish Games

The Christmas Spirit abounded and fun was had by all.

The First Annual Reindeer Games was held on the Missouri River near Lexington, MO. Frigid weather, a slow bite, good spirits, and #catfishclass characterized the December 8, 2018 event!

A spirit of catfish unity was there from the start as Alex Nagy (Twisted Cat Outdoors) and Tim Berger (All American Catfish Tournaments) brought their resources together to create the First Annual Catfish Games.

Scheduling a tournament on the Missouri River in December is a roll of the dice. Anything can happen in terms of weather and this time the dice were against them. In the first place the weather was really cold and secondly, the river was unusually high.

With a Missouri River that was higher than normal and falling, 70 anglers in 32 boats blasted off in 17-degree weather in search of that winning bag of catfish. The water temp was at 35 degrees. Some with enclosures and some without battled the elements in what turned out to be a tough bite. There was a total of 14 fish caught on the day.

First Placecatfish, tournament, Missouri River, Christmas

At the end of a very cold day, it was Ben Korte and Josh Suttner who claimed the top spot at the First Annual Reindeer/Catfish Games. They brought a total weight of 52.4 pounds to the scales. Their bag included the big fish of the tournament at 21.7 pounds and earned them the first-place payout of $2,575 plus the Big Fish prize of $320.

“We  did not prefish,” reported Korte. “This time of year, I generally stick to fishing deeper holes. We anchor fished and fanned our rods throughout the area. The bait was hard to find. I believe we spent almost 4 hours gathering 23 small shad. I call them 2 baiters. In other words, I could get 2 baits out of 1 shad.”

“The river was dropping but still over the dikes,” continued Korte. “There was a strong current, but we suck with our normal 8-ounce weight. It was hard to find  your typical calm wintertime hole. Conditions definitely made fishing more challenging for this time of year.”

Since they considered themselves short on shad, they did not want to rebait anymore than they had to so they were waiting them out. Their first fish came after about 30 minutes. Then another came after about 45 more minutes of wait time.

“We bounced around the same area and picked up 4 fish,” said Korte. “The fish didn’t have any major size and we never would have thought it would be enough for first place! Finally, even the slow bite died and we didn’t catch a thing after noon.”

“It was cold,” concluded Korte. “The air temp was 17 degrees at take off with a fairly strong east wind and the river dropping. It was not very good fishing conditions. But my spirit is never dampened as long as I’m fishing. Alex Nagy and Tim Burger both do excellent jobs running their tournament series and this one was no different.”catfish, tournament, Missouri River, Christmas

“The most memorable thing was actually finding out we won the tournament,” joked Suttner. “This is the 3rd or 4th year I’ve fished tournaments. I don’t get to go to every tournament because of work. It was a big shock and the first tournament I had won.”

Second Place

The runner-up spot went to Dave Swearingin and Gregg Wing. They had a total weight of 36.1 pounds and earned the second-place money of $1,545.

“Brent Riddle and I had gone to get bait the previous day,” revealed Swearingin. “But he got sick and his partner had boat problems so they weren’t able to fish. So, I had plenty of extra shad. We did get to prefish a little, maybe about an hour of the 4 hours on the water the day before the tournament.”

“We did not prefish anywhere I was going to fish during the tournament though,” offered Swearingin. “I did a lot of graphing and looking at different types of water, current speeds, and slack water. I was just trying to figure out where the fished were holding.”

On tournament day Swearingin and Wing traveled about 30 miles downriver from Lexington. They started fishing in a hole with a medium speed eddy. They didn’t mark very many fish but did see one good one and the hole had produced in the past so they decided to give it a try.

“I guess he wasn’t hungry,” commented Swearingin. “So, we moved to our second spot which was a very deep hole. It was more than 50 feet deep with a big brush pile in it. We marked several fish but after an hour and no bites, we moved on. I did mark it to return to later this winter.”

Their next spot was one where they had caught a few fish a couple winters ago. It had a  back eddy that was nice and slow and it had minimal trash in it. They were using Carolina rigs with Hookers Terminal Tackle Reaper hooks. The only bait used was the fresh shad that Swearingin and  Brent Riddle had caught less than 24 hours before the tournament.

“This hole was not as deep as I would usually fish this time of year,” offered Swearingin. “But we had our first fish within 10 minutes. We moved around in this hole twice, but never left it for the rest of the day. We ended up catching all 3 weigh-in fish within an hour’s time.”

“There was a boat parked next to us,” reported Swearingin. “The two guys fishing out of it were dang near as big as the boat itself. They were all bundled up and I felt sorry for them, but they were in good spirits and eager to go. I asked them if they had any fresh shad and they stated no. I asked, ‘Do you want some?’ I had plenty of extra shad since Riddle and his partner were unable to fish. The guy asked me, ‘How much.’ I think ready to pay me. I kind of laughed and said no, it’s free and his eyes got really big. I gave them a gallon bucket full of fresh shad. I know they were fishing against us but that is just who we are. People have helped us out in the past, we just returned the favor. It was funny at the weigh in those same guys thanked me again and suggested that our second-place finish might be a little karma for giving them some bait.”

“I was impressed with the spirits of everyone fishing considering the cold temperatures,” said Swearingin. “Especially those guys without enclosures. Something else that was unique and probably doesn’t happen anywhere else in the country was having two tournament trail directors come together to host a tournament. I have to tip my hat to Tim and Alex for organizing this tournament.”

“I think other tournament directors across the country could take lessons from Tim Berger,” concluded Swearingin. “He goes above and beyond to make every one of his tournaments a great experience for all involved including special prizes for kids. All year long during Tim’s tournaments he has provided Gatorade, water, coffee, hot chocolate, and even biscuits and gravy before daytime tournaments. Then after the tournaments, he usually has chili and hot dogs and chips with more drinks. Tim is definitely not in this to make money and I intend to help him out with buying drinks and stuff for his tournaments next year. Tim and I are both veterans and a lot of his fisherman are veterans. I love the way he takes care of people and appreciates the fisherman that come out to his events.”

“It was a little cool,” joked Wing. “But Alex and Tim did a great job. It was a fun time.”

Third Placecatfish, tournament, Missouri River, Christmas

Third place went to Brian Saunders and Boomer Wilson with a total weight of 28.1 pounds. They earned $1,030 for their efforts. They never did any prefishing, but had fished the area a lot in the past.

“The fish we caught came on fresh caught shad from deep water holes,” reported Saunders. We were anchor fishing with sinker sliders on the mainline above the swivel. We added 2-foot 60-pound leaders. I always use Team Catfish 8/0 double action hooks. Boomer I think was using Charlie Browns.”

“The worst part was the high water,” offered Saunders. “It is not usually as high as it was. It was very tough fishing. The river is projected to finally, after about 6 months, drop and level off. The fishing is about to be awesome!”

“The winter fishing is usually on fire on the Missouri River,” continued Saunders. “In past winter trips I could expect 25 or 30 fish in a day trip, and a few would be good fish.”

“The directors did a great job and I will do it again next year,” continued Saunders. “As always it was great to see guys turnout and support the two trails. Everyone was laughing and talking and having fun—that’s what it’s all about!”

For Boomer Wilson, the tournament was much different than usual. His father had passed away the Monday before the tournament and Boomer had experienced a week of mourning. At the beginning of the tournament, a moment of silence was observed in honor of his dad.

“I was pretty bummed and didn’t want to really socialize with anyone,” stated Wilson in a Facebook post. “But my #1 guy, Brian Saunders, refused to let me do that and told me I was going with him Saturday, no excuses. So, we traveled to Lexington, MO to fish the First Annual Catfish Games Tournament.”

“Taking a moment of silence before launch is something I hold near and dear to my heart,” said Wilson. “I will never forget it. Tim and Alex are the best directors anyone could ask for. They announced it over the loudspeaker before the national anthem.”

Final Thoughts

“We could not have been hit with worse weather,” offered Nagy. “We put a lot of salt down to help get the boats off. But the tournament was great. Everyone had so much fun. I was surprised at the turnout for the Calcutta, which was a great success. The entire event was exciting using Christmas as the theme. I am already excited about next year.”

“Well the weather was frigid to say the least,” said Berger. “We got to the ramp at a little before 5:00 am and immediately put the coffee and hot chocolate on for the teams. We used a few hundred pounds of salt to keep the ramp clear of ice, but that didn’t help the boats that froze to their trailers. It was mostly the bigger boats that had that problem.”

“But the sun came out and the temp went up about 10 degrees,” concluded Berger. “So that was nice. The cold temps didn’t dampen the spirits as everyone was in a good mood and really enjoying each other’s company at weigh in. All the boats made it back without any issues.”

When asked about next year’s plans, Berger replied simply, “I’ve already sent out for the permit.”

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