Cat Tales! Stories from life on the road

by John N. Felsher

Perseverance through adversity

Tournament anglers spend considerable time away from their homes and families in chase of Mr. Catfish. While on the road, equipment breaks, the weather turns rotten and many other things occur. Through it all, anglers face triumph and tragedy with perseverance. Every angler can tell many “Tales from the Trail,” but we couldn’t possibly print them all. Therefore, enjoy reading these sample “cat tales!” 

Steve Johnson of Stockton, CA travels all over the nation to fish tournaments. He is shown here at Winter Blues on Wheeler, 2019.

Steve Johnson

Steve Johnson of Stockton, Calif., began fishing catfish tournaments in 1999. He usually teams with his son, Joseph. Steve holds the record for catching the largest catfish in the annual Clear Lake Catfish Derby. Steve also guides for catfish and crappie. Contact him by calling 209-490-3747 or sending an email to Also, check out his Facebook page.


SJ: Being from California, we have to travel a long distance for each tournament. There are always many interesting stories of adventures and mishaps. The first time we fished the Monsters on the Ohio in Kentucky with Denver Zinn really sticks out. While pre-fishing, we caught some quality fish including a 40-pound flathead. That fish made us feel confident.

I normally drive the truck and launch Denver in the boat. On the night before the tournament, I stayed in getting last minute things together. Denver wanted to hang out with some fellow fishermen and didn’t return to the room until after 2 a.m. We needed to get up at 3:30 a.m.

On tournament day, I backed down the ramp as usual to launch the boat. I watched the boat clear the trailer and drove up the ramp to park at what seemed like a quarter mile away. Denver was supposed to pick me up at the bulkhead. But with 192 boats floating in the dark, Denver was nowhere in sight.

Eventually, I spotted him standing waist deep in water holding the boat off the rocks next to the ramp. There were three-foot rollers crashing in on him from the wind and a cold front that came in overnight. Nobody wanted to help him or get wet.

I called out to Denver and he yelled back, “I forgot the boat keys in the truck!” I ran the quarter mile up to the truck and back to fetch the keys. When I returned, I throw the keys to Denver, who was still in the water shivering. He needed to drive back to the hotel to change into dry clothes. The delay meant we would miss the blast-off and maybe a chance of losing our planned starting fishing spot.

After the national anthem, he drove back to the hotel while I held the boat. We finally got to our first fishing spot and fortunately, no one was there! Within 10 minutes, we called “fish on!” We finished with a 30-pound flathead, the second largest flathead and seventh largest catfish caught during the tournament. A hectic morning turned out to be an awesome day!

Tournament anglers gain many experiences as they travel


After a tough day one, Team White borrowed a huge foam cowboy hat from a friend to help change their outlook and have some fun. The result was a spectacular day of fishing.

Eddie White

Eddie White of Broadview, Mont., began tournament fishing about six years ago. He won back-to-back Angler of the Year and the Montana State Championship titles. Also a guide, he normally fishes the Yellowstone River, Tongue River Reservoir, Big Horn Reservoir or Fort Peck Lake with his wife Ann and son Spencer. To book trips, call 406-696-1281 or send an email to Also, see his Facebook page.


EW: Every year my wife Ann, son Spencer, and I fish the Scheels Boundary Battle in Grand Forks, N.D. In the 2018 tournament, we found some fish pre-fishing, so we felt good about our plan. Then, it turned into one of those days we want to forget.

On tournament day, finding biting fish was next to impossible and we missed every fish that did bite. We lost two rod holders to trees and suffered more broken lines, snapped off rigs and snags than normal. That led to my frustration, which resulted in the uttering of numerous words unfit to print!

My wife was irritated and my son discouraged. For the first time ever, we zeroed in a tournament. When fishing for money, it’s very easy to forget that we are also supposed to be having fun. Before hitting the ramp on day two, we borrowed a huge foam cowboy hat from our friends, Troy and Ken of Whisker Seeker Tackle (

With the hat on, our mood changed as we left the ramp. At our first stop, we missed yet another fish. I thought, “Here we go again!” Moving to our second stop, Spencer almost immediately whacked a 15-pounder while wearing the hat. A few stops later, I was wearing the hat when a rod doubled over. The fight was on and we landed another quality fish. We now had our two “over” fish and needed to hunt for “slot” fish.

Spot hopping, we consistently caught 2- to 3-pound fish. Making a difficult decision, we threw them back and crossed our fingers for something bigger.

Bam! Ann reeled in a fat and round fish just under the 24-inch limit. Without even weighing it, we ran to the weigh station. Each member of our team landed a significant fish that day and we took home three checks. We won biggest slot fish; biggest overall weight; and the “Hard Charger” award given to the team that made the biggest jump from day one to day two.

Although we were ready to give up after day one, we changed our outlook, changed our plan, and it paid off. We never gave up and hung tough as a family as well as a team!

Melinda and Bryan Folsom use tournament fishing as a time to relax. This photo was taken in Memphis, TN where they traveled to fish Mississippi River monsters.

Melinda Folsom

A stay-at-home mother, Melinda Folsom of Cedartown, Ga., fishes tournaments with her husband Bryan when not looking after her two daughters, ages 9 and 5. As the Backwoods Catters, Melinda and her husband fish the Hold’em Hook Trail of northern Alabama, but have fished many other trails and waters. This year, she will direct the Chick Fight, ( the first ladies-only catfish tournament at Lake Wheeler in Rogersville Ala. Look for her on Facebook.


MF: I am a wife, mother and tournament angler. My roles go in that exact order. Many things can happen in my first two roles that can delay or stop me from competing. Time with my family is a blessing, but time on the water is my relaxation time, even when we are crazy busy catching fish!

The best thing about fishing tournaments is traveling all over the country to fish events and meeting people who love to fish. Catfish anglers are the best because they are always nice and willing to help fellow anglers.

Traveling throughout the year can be extremely difficult. Hitting the road to fish tournaments means we must leave our girls with their grandparents. On the bright side, occasional time apart is good for my girls and me.

I am truly blessed to have catfishing as a hobby that Bryan and I can share. Plus, we enjoy our time together on the road and in the boat. However, traveling across the country to fish new and unknown waters can be dangerous. There is always a chance that something could go wrong.

Luckily, thanks to modern technology, we can message and spend facetime with our girls. Our 9-year old, Emily, uses her tablet to keep up with us whenever we travel and check how we’re doing in the tournament. To know they are both at home rooting for us is the best feeling in the world!

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