Mississippi River Monsters 2017
by Ron Presley
The challenge of a repeat
What are the odds of winning a catfish tournament with 166 boats and twice as many anglers competing? The odds are pretty high. What are the odds of repeating in a tournament that you won the previous year. Astronomical!
Those odds were beaten at the 2017 Mississippi River Monsters (MRM) tournament in Memphis. The September 16, 2017 event was the second of what has become one of the most popular catfish tournaments in the nation.
Men, women, and youth anglers anticipate the tournament for months, knowing that they will be competing against the best of the best. To win is an ultimate achievement.
Conservation is high on the list of MRM priorities. Organizers wanted the fish to be taken care of and enlisted the help of Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency (TWRA) to achieve their goal. Between the MRM volunteers, the Fishlife crew, and the TWRA a great job was done to keep good care of the fish.
When the weigh-in was over, weighmaster Jody Harrison and company had weighed in 325 fish, totaling 5,165 pounds! Bass Pro Shops personnel had conducted water quality studies, the TWRA had measured, tagged, resuscitated, and returned all those fish to the water.
Harrison reported, “From what I have heard, we did not lose a single fish! How amazing is that? It just shows what a commitment these anglers make to conservation and for preserving the sport for the next generation.”
Out of those 325 fish, that weighed more than 5,000 pounds, five of them belonged to the repeat winners, Jason and Daryl Masingale. Their bag of 158.67 pounds, included the Big Fish of the tournament at 77.27 pounds.
“Winning any tournament is not easy,” said Daryl. “That especially applies to the MRM tournament. We seem to have a knack for somehow putting wins together, but none have come easy. We put lots of hard work and time into each tournament we fish.”
“The MRM is a topnotch tournament and one that brings the best of the best to the Mississippi River to test their skills,” continued Daryl. “When you show up for the captains meeting on Friday night and see all the other teams in one room, it sinks in and you realize how hard it will be to win the tournament. It’s then that you realize that you will need some luck on your side as well.”
“To win it once is a feat and something to be very proud of,” said Daryl. “To win it two years in a row is almost unthinkable. We heard a few say there was no way we could win it twice in a row. We knew it would be very hard, but never lost the confidence that we could do it again. All we wanted was for the fish to give us a chance, they did, and we capitalized.”
Jason and Daryl had a strategy to stay close to the downtown area. They wanted to get as much fishing time in as possible.
“The area we fished is very popular,” offered Daryl. “We knew it was a gamble to fish an area that had been prefished hard for over a week straight. We wondered if we were making a mistake, but went with our gut feeling and stuck to our plan.”
“We stayed close, kept moving and fished hard,” continued Daryl. “We kept baits in the water for as many minutes of the tournament as possible.”
“The first area we fished had 20 boats on it first thing Saturday morning. We knew it wasn’t going to last long. We also knew we wasn’t going to catch many fish because of the fishing pressure that area had experienced all week long.”
Only two fish came to the Masingale boat from that area, and they came within the first 30 minutes of the tournament.
“After 2 1/2 hours we knew we needed to move to less popular waters,” revealed Daryl. “We expected fewer opportunities for fish, but we were only looking for 8 to 10 good bites for the day.”
Team Masingale stuck with their pattern for the rest of the day. They fished five different spots to catch their winning weight.
“We didn’t get the 8 to 10 bites we wanted,” reported Daryl. “We only got seven, but with a little luck we got the right seven bites. We didn’t catch 20-plus fish like several teams we talked to. They were on numbers of fish, we just got the quality bites.”
“Our bites were spaced out and there were hours between bites,” continued Daryl. “Jason and I both had to keep each other motivated and thinking positively. It can get very frustrating when you fish so hard and don’t have anything to show for it. Staying positive is key to being successful.”
“We made a team decision twice that day that made the difference,” said Daryl. “We decided to fish two areas we had never fished. We adapted to fishing with all the high pressure prefishing that had gone on and picked two areas that we thought were not fished as hard. Those two areas produced our last two fish of the day.”
“Skill is involved in making decisions under pressure; skill is involved putting together a good plan; skill is involved when getting your baits in the areas the fish like to hide; and skill is involved after getting the bite and fighting the fish to the boat. But luck plays a factor too. You must have a certain amount of luck to get the one or two big bites you need for the day.”
“While waiting in the weigh-in line we knew we had a very respectable weight, but didn’t think we had enough to win. We didn’t weigh our two biggest fish in the boat so we weren’t really sure what we had. We thought we might have 135 to 140 pounds. We thought it would take 160 pounds to win. When the scales flashed 158, we both couldn’t believe it. It was then that the thought creeped into our minds. We could win, we might actually repeat. It is still hard to believe, that we pulled off the repeat. It is slowly sinking in.”
“Ultimately, we feel blessed,” concluded Daryl. “We feel blessed to have the opportunity to fish with the best group of fishermen around. It is the people who put all the hard work into putting the tournament on; it’s 166 teams of the best men and women who have ever fished that we get to compete against that makes us feel blessed; It’s our sponsors that believe in us that make us feel blessed; It’s the sponsors of this tournament that believe in all of the fishermen who fish this tournament that make us feel blessed. The MRM is a tournament we hope continues year after year and continues to draw positive attention to catfishing and conservation.”
Roy Harkness fished with his father-in-law, Don Sweat, to claim the runner up spot at MRM 2017. The B’n’M Poles team weighed in a bag of 132.97 pounds to claim the second-place spot.
“We had located some fish earlier in the week on our electronics,” stated Harkness. “I felt that if we could find two good fish, and some decent unders, we might get a top-ten finish. A drift through the fish on tournament day resulted in no decent bites. We had to make an adjustment.”
“Using our electronics, we marked a couple of fish,” continued Harkness. “Instead of drifting we anchored up above the fish and walked baits back to them. We continued to fish on the rope and put our big fish in the boat along with several nice under fish.”
“The fish kept moving on us so we started drifting some other spots. We were moving in and out until we got bit. Our strategy was to keep baits in the water as long as we could.”
We tried to fish where we felt others would not normally fish. By the end of the day we had caught about 17 fish.”
Harkness credited teamwork as a big part of their success. “My father-in-law and I do well together. We know what each other is thinking and keep each other coached up and in the game. Communications is important between teammates. It can all change at any second.”
Jason Jackson from Illinois and Tyler Moses from Alabama claimed the third-place spot. They weighed in 120.58 pounds to earn their position.
“We were back bouncing in 45 to 60 feet of water,” reported Jackson. “We caught our fish using skipjack along a channel ledge.”
It was a hot day weather wise and a hot bite for the Jackson/Moses team. “We caught about 20 to 25 fish for the day,” said Jackson. “It was a pretty common day except for one unusual catch.”
“We caught a 22 pound under that was 32 inches long,” revealed Jackson. “The fish had a genetic defect on its tail that made it short.”
That out of the ordinary short fish may have made the difference between third and fourth place, since Jason Aycock and Hunter Jones finish only a few pounds behind Jackson and Moses.
“Mississippi River Monsters is one of the toughest field of competitors I’ve seen,” concluded Jackson.
The remaining teams in the top 12 all weighed in more than 100 pounds of Mississippi River Monsters. A check of the leader board showed that the top 20 teams weighed in more than 80 pounds, and the top 35 teams weighed in more than 70 pounds.
With his second Mississippi River Monsters catfish tournament under his belt, tournament director George Young Jr. earned a short breather before beginning the preparations for next year’s event. Tournaments like this don’t just happen. They require a lot of hard work and dedication to the sport. George Young, Jr and his band of catfish fanatics should be commended for their success.