by Ron Presley
Chattahoochee River tournament is open to the public and features a 100 percent payback.
With their sights set on South Georgia, South Alabama and North Florida, M&J Catfish Wars has shown steady growth in their short existence. It all began when avid catfish anglers Marty Highnote and Joe Belcher, decided to organize a local catfish trail. After giving the idea some thought the two anglers settled on the Chattahoochee River as their targeted waters. The name M&J came from the initials of their first names.
Highnote and Belcher, who were tournament fishing partners, reasoned that by choosing the Chattahoochee they could draw catfish anglers from Georgia, Alabama, and Florida. Of course, anglers from any state were welcome.
Following the trail’s third tournament Mark Johnson joined the team. From that point on Highnote and Belcher from Americus, GA, and Johnson from Dothan, AL share tournament duties as co-directors.
“I came on as one of the page administrators,” confirmed Johnson. “We all serve together as tournament co-directors. And we all share duties.”
“Mark came on board to help secure sponsors and sponsorships,” added Belcher. “So, all three of us have equal roles in the administration of the trail. We don’t make any money off of this deal. Every dime taken in goes back to the anglers. And the anglers help make it a success by showing up and working behind the scenes. It’s been a good combination thus far.”
The first tournament was out of Fort Gaines where a good turnout convinced them of the possibilities the trail had. They then identified their exact tournament waters as the Chattahoochee River from the dam at Fort Gaines, Georgia to Lake Seminole and part of the Flint River. Their goal was to establish a trail were anglers from all three states could compete in “good clean tournament fun.” The boundary stops at Woodruff Dam where the Apalachicola River begins.
“We expected 10 to 15 boats and had 19 show up,” recalled Belcher. “That showed us there was more interest than we thought. So, we decided to have the trail based in Gordon Al, further down on the Chattahoochee River. We also added a points race and big fish prizes for blues and flatheads for the year.”
“This stretch of river … offers an attractive destination for anglers.”
This stretch of river has proven to be productive and offers an attractive destination for anglers. A new record for flathead catfish on the lower Chattahoochee River was set on Saturday, March 9, 2019 by Tiff Thompson (Get A Life Guide Service) of Americus GA. while fishing the M&J Catfish Wars Tournament. It weighed 40.7 pounds. Tiff was fishing a stretch of the Chattahoochee between Fort Gaines and the Columbia Lock & Dam.
Offering more proof of the river’s productivity, Donna Johnson, the wife of tournament co-director Mark Johnson, recently caught her new personal best. It was a 51.2-pound blue from the Gordon, AL area on the Chattahoochee River where the M&J tournaments are held.
Since the first tournament in August of 2018, anglers from as far away as Jasper GA., Panama City FL, Southeast AL, and everywhere in between converge in Gordon AL at the boat ramp on the Chattahoochee River where they conduct the tournaments.
“Anglers from as far away as Mississippi and Tennessee have expressed interests in fishing the M&J Catfish War Trail,” said Highnote. “And more are expected and welcome. M&J Catfish Wars is now an affiliate of the Bass Pro Shops Cabela’s King Kat Tournament Trail. All of our winners can go on to qualify for and fish in the Cabela’s King Kat Classic each year.”
“We conduct our tournament out of one location,” added Highnote. “But we allow trailering to any boat ramp along the river or lake. Five fish bags regularly exceed 100 pounds. All M&J Catfish War tournaments are open to the public and distribute a 100 percent payback.”
The trail has averaged 17 teams at the first three tournaments this year. The third one had 23. They fully expect to maintain the 23, or more, for the rest of the year.
“This deal has expanded beyond our imagination,” offered Belcher. “It did it in a very short amount of time and we hope it continues for a long time to come.”
“For anyone out there who would like to fish M&J Catfish War Trail come on out,” concluded Highnote. “We are family friendly and invite you to bring your spouse, children, grandchildren or friends. Why not give them an opportunity to develop the same love for the sport that we have. Joe, Mark and myself conduct the tournament for the love of the sport of catfishing and a desire to see it grow.”
Keep up with the M&J Catfish trail by liking and following their Facebook page. Join them for their next tournament at the Gordon Boat Ramp off Jowers Road in Gordon, AL.