SeaArk Owners Invitational — How They Fished
by Ron Presley
Anglers released 441 catfish, totaling 7,780.27 pounds.
Catfish anglers are a special breed. They take great pride in their equipment and they like to show it off. Ingalls Harbor in Decatur, AL recently had more than 350 anglers from 22 states showing off and enjoying their SeaArk boats. The occasion was the 8th Annual SeaArk Boats Owner’s Invitational Tournament.
The streets, gas stations, restaurant parking lots and the motels of Decatur were filled with SeaArk boats in the days preceding the tournament. It was rare to travel anywhere and not see a SeaArk boat. One of those lucky anglers, Stephen Higgins of Nashville, TN, won a $500 drawing donated by Decatur Morgan County Tourism just for staying in Decatur.
The event kicked off on Friday night with a BBQ dinner and captains meeting. Tournament day was Saturday, April 28 with the competition taking place on Lake Wheeler out of Ingalls Harbor in Decatur. While the anglers were fishing the SeaArk staff teamed up with Pond Hopper Nation to get the kids involved. A “Teach A Child to Fish” event provided free fishing poles and instructions from the SeaArk Staff to the kids who came to the event.
The anglers were there, not only to show off their rigs, but to compete for more than $85,000 in cash and prizes. The big prize was a new SeaArk ProCat 200 with Suzuki DF200ATX, Marine Master Trailer and American Canvas Cover valued at $50,000. The winner was declared by a random drawing that named the team ofJames Bardsley, from Perry, AR and Jim McCabe, from Mountainburg, AR as the proud new owners.
The only requirement for the drawing was to be registered for the tournament and check in one legal catfish through the weigh-in line or at the dock on their return from fishing.
“We had a team member on the dock for people who caught a fish but didn’t feel like going through the weigh-in line,” explained Racheal Roofe, Marketing Coordinator at SeaArk Boats. “Anglers either decide they can’t compete with the weights or just have one fish. Checking them at the dock helps us have fewer boats coming through the weigh-in line and at the same time, take better care of the fish.”
At the end of the day 441 catfish, totaling 7,780.27 pounds, were weighed and released. A Fat Cat Chute was used to safely return all the fish to the water with no fatalities. All those catfish are swimming free so some lucky angler can catch them on another day.
How They Fished
When the catfish were weighed, and the results tallied it was the team of John Rath of Athens, IL, and Corey Rath from Sherman, IL that took the first-place check for $6,600. The father/son team weighed in 185.58 pounds in a bag that included a 93.22-pound monster blue to also earn big cat honors and an additional $2,500.
As a side note, the team from IL also had a 50-pound blue that they had to release. Anglers fishing in Alabama are allowed one fish per person over 34 inches and John had to release his biggest fish of the day because Corey caught a 71.89-pounder to go with his big fish. Corey reported that those two big fish came pretty close to each other.
John and Corey started their day as they normally would, but circumstances caused them to change their strategy.
“We were on track with our strategy until today,” explained John. “We are catfisherman and we catch catfish all the time. We tried everything during the week, and we caught some fish, but we didn’t really go by our game plan today. It totally changed, especially with the trolling motor quitting on us. Not having the trolling motor made us switch up a lot of things that we did.”
“We were dragging bait all day until the battery on the trolling motor went out,” reported Corey. “We had about 3 hours of fishing left. We finished drifting the run we were on and then just started marking spots and throwing out the anchor. It was a lot more work, but we were able to get some unders.”
“We downsized our baits today,” said Corey. “We also checked out other water depths than where we found them prefishing and adjusted rigs by taking off the floats and using different weights. We were kinda’ going for the smaller ones but kept getting the big ones. Man, it was fun!”
When ask what the secret of their success was, Corey outlined their overall strategy for catfishing.
“My first strategy is to always leave it up to the fish,” instructed Corey. “It’s up to me to put in the work to see what they want and how they want it. I always try a few different things and then go with what’s working best. Second, prefishing is key to catching fish on tournament day. Just remember, it can also be a bad thing if done too much in the same area. I have learned to keep fishing other areas or just keep moving and marking fish. It helps to see where they are going and what they are eating. Prefishing is especially important during times of changing weather conditions.”
“Staying focused is a must when fishing,” added Corey. “Especially when problems occur. Never give up. Try everything. Don’t quit.”
John and Corey praised their Tangling with Catfish Rods, saying they had no problem landing the big blues with them. They did, however, have an anxious moment at the boat.
“That big fish came up and I missed him on the first try,” said John. “My son was shaking so I figured I better hit him on the second try and not knock him off the hook.”
“We had to throw that 50 back,” joked John. “It was horrible, it was the one I caught. But it was awesome fishing and winning with my oldest son. He caught his two personal bests today, within 20 minutes of each other. It was a pretty awesome experience.”
Second place Jesse Linscott and Justin Diehl – 160.27 pounds
Third place Justin Neece and Brent Riddle – 149.68 pounds.
Fourth place Gary Taylor, Jason and Vicky Mathenia – 142.23 pounds
Fifth place Jerry and Noah Ishcomer, Wallace Sams – 134.52 pounds
The Goose Egg Award (no weight) – Ken and Thomas Luttrell
The Little Cat Award (youngest participant) – Jon Reeder Cooksey
More photos and standings can be viewed on the SeaArk Facebook page.
Steve Henderson, President of SeaArk Boats, summed up the event saying, “The Owner’s Tournament is one of our favorite events we conduct each year. We get to see old friends, make new friends, get valued input for improving our product, see large fish, and most of all, we get to see the joy in people’s faces when they weigh a fish or win a prize. This segment of the industry continues to grow and we are very proud to be a part of it. The catfishing community includes some of the best people that you could ever meet.”
Sponsors for the event include Suzuki Marine, Marine Master Trailers, Whisker Seeker Tackle, LINE-X®, Monsters on the Ohio, Welsco®, American Canvas Products and the Decatur Morgan County Tourism.
About SeaArk Boats: With over 59 years of experience in boat building, SeaArk Boats (owned by Correct Craft) is the industry’s premier aluminum fishing boat known for outstanding product quality and excellent customer service. Mostly known for heavy-duty aluminum boats built specifically for cat-fishing, SeaArk also builds bass- and crappie-fishing boats, jon boats, duck boats, and bay boats, offering a wide variety of tunnel and jet tunnel hulls. For more information visit www.seaarkboats.com.
About Decatur-Morgan Tourism: The Decatur-Morgan County Tourism is a not-for-profit organization promoting tourism and economic growth in Morgan County. For information on special events and attractions throughout Morgan County, contact the DMCT at 800.524.6181 or 256.350.2028; or visit its website at www.decaturcvb.org.