Riley Brown: A Young Catfishermen with A Passion
by Terry Madewell
Already a tournament veteran at 18, Riley Brown enjoy catfishing on many levels.
When 18-year old Riley Brown was asked how long he’d been catfishing he had to pause and reflect a few moments.
“Longer than I’ve not been catfishing,” he said. “I remember I first got interested in catfishing was when I was eight-years-old and dad had a 16-foot Ranger boat with a 30-horsepower motor. We’d started catfishing and while I really enjoyed all the early trips, I remember very well the day we went to Lake Wateree and caught a 36-pound catfish. That was awesome, but then dad caught a 52-pounder. That did it for me and dad, we were hooked. And not just on catfishing in general but on big catfish specifically.”
Fast-forward ten years and as a senior at Boiling Springs High School in South Carolina Riley Brown is still hooked on catfishing. He’s also recognized as a veteran tournament catfisherman, teaming with his dad Benji in tournament fishing since he was 12.
“In our first tournament we weighed a 48-pounder as our big fish and people took notice,” he said. “So, then it’s wasn’t just catfishing that has us hooked, it was also tournament fishing.”
Brown said in addition to tournament fishing, he travels with his dad far and wide catfishing. In addition to the tournament fishing and local lakes they love to fish in South and North Carolina, other catfish targets include the Tennessee River, the Mighty Mississippi as well as the monster catfish haven, the James River.
During his fishing life, Riley has and continues to fish for other species. But none of them compare to catching big catfish.
“I enjoy fishing for several species and still fish for a variety of fish including largemouth bass,” he said. “But the desire to hook really big fish is very strong for me. A nice-sized bass is fun to catch but that fish can just be cranked in. A big catfish is different; you have to play a big catfish. You have to think about what you’re doing and have a plan. Catching a catfish is much more than just reeling a fish to the boat, it’s an actual fight. It’s what I’d imagine big time saltwater fishing is like and I admit, I just love the sound of the screaming drag when I’m locked into a big catfish.
“In fact, if I’m hard to get out of bed in the morning, Dad will come in and pull line off a reel and I’m instantly up,” he said. “I just love it.”
Loving the sound of a drag grudgingly giving up line is a great wake-up call for the younger Brown, but he hasn’t lost the thrill and enjoyment of simply fishing for and catching catfish.
“The entire process is fun and one of the things about fishing tournaments with dad is that I’ve been able to learn a lot quickly about the importance of electronics to successful fishing,” he said. “And of course, having the right equipment and adapting to changing catfish patterns that strangely often occur on tournament day has led to learning to have some patience when working out fish patterns.”
Brown’s perspective on tournament fishing is that it’s fun and needs to stay that way.
“We take competitive fishing serious and fish hard, but fishing with my dad is fun and most of the time I enjoy the pressure that comes with tournament fishing,” he said. “Time goes so quickly when we’re focused on the tournament, finding fish, and catching fish, and that’s fun. But the real pressure for me is when we’ve done well but we’re waiting to wait to see where we finish in the tournament.”
Riley Brown is certainly mature beyond his years in terms of his catfishing savvy. Competing with professional tournament anglers has taught the young Brown a lot about the sport of catfishing. He’s developed a list of things he feels are important to catfishing success and to the enjoyment of the sport in general.
“We catfish a lot, not just in tournaments, but fishing tournaments have taught me some good lessons,’ Brown said. “First, it’s important to use bait that is naturally found in that water. Also changing baits frequently does seem to make a big difference on big fish bites. Fresh bait is golden.”
Catfishing Goals are Important
It comes as no surprise that targeting really big catfish is also paramount on Brown’s catfishing agenda and he has a plan for that.
He said that when they find fish in a general area, sometime the biggest fish will seem to orient to specific places in that general area.
“We can be catching quality fish but if we continue to refine our presentation along drops, humps, and any change in bottom topography we can sometimes find the key to multiple big fish bites,” he said. “That’s always the goal, but of course it doesn’t always happen. But it’s important to have that as a goal.”
But sometimes this effort does occur and the day I fished with Riley and Benji Brown we fished from dawn until mid-afternoon in conditions changing rapidly from cloudy, to windy, and then torrential rain conditions. The father and son duo never swayed from the effort to find and catch big fish by constantly working and refining a good pattern into a strong big-fish pattern. Although multiple 20-pound-class fish were caught early, Benji and Riley refined the bottom topographical targets as the day and weather progressed and the final few fish were all large and the last two, caught within minutes of each other, were both in the 30-pound class and were the two largest caught that day.
Riley Brown’s current best catfish is 48-pounds, but his goal is significantly higher, yet certainly reasonable.
“Right now, I want the record size catfish caught in our boat,” he said. “That’s an 86-pound blue catfish a friend of ours caught fishing with us in the James River. I want to beat that mark. When I do, I’ll up it some more so I’ll always have a goal. That’s important to me.”
His next suggestion is one everyone should heed and that is to know your boat limits in terms of seaworthiness.
“Be respectful of water and weather conditions because on tournament days fishermen are usually gonna’ fish regardless of the weather,” he said. “Anglers can gear up for wind, rain, and cold but they need to avoid situations that are dangerous for their boat.”
As for his favorite places to fish Brown said he likes to target areas along, or near, changing water depths.
“Fishing ledges is usually productive, but we’ve got to find exactly where on a given ledge, hump, or channel fish are holding on a given day,” he said. “But working around areas with different depths is usually a good tactic.”
“Also, it’s crucial to learn the different general techniques of bait presentation to catfish,” he suggested. “On the tournament trail, we know fishermen that do very well drift fishing and others that do well anchor fishing. We like to drift fish when we can, but knowing the right procedure and how, when, and where to anchor us is crucial. We experience times when anchoring and fishing a specific target is much more effective, so we go with what works best for us on any given day.”
Riley Brown said he enjoys catfishing year-round and has found excellent catfish action is available throughout the year by changing tactics and patterns.
“We’ll fish right through the winter with December through early spring being a great time for quantity and quality catfish,” he said. “And I think experimenting with different methods is great because we’ve found we can catch big catfish in shallow water in the dead of winter as well as in the summer. But some fish will also be deep.”
Fishing is by no means Riley’s full agenda; he not only has school but works part-time at a Metal Fabrication company after school and whenever he is free.
“I’m a senior this year so I’m thinking about college choices,” he said. “I really enjoy what I do in the metal fabrication so I’m thinking about pursuing Engineering and going that route,” he said. “But I’m also attracted to perhaps get into the Natural Resources field since I love the outdoors so much. Both are very attractive to me at this point.”
Regardless of which professional field he eventually selects, Brown is adamant about his passion for catfishing.
“Catfishing is something I can do with dad, the whole family, by myself, or with friends,” he said. “Plus, in addition to catching lots of fish at times, which is really fun, the potential for a bigger fish is always on my mind.”
Epilogue: Since Madewell’s fishing trip and interview with Riley for this story, Riley upped his personal best. He and his dad were fishing on Wheeler Lake in November 2018 when it happened. Riley wrestled a 101.1-pound blue cat to the boat and doubled his personal best.
“We were trying to cook lunch on our Coleman Grill,” offered Riley in a Facebook post. “We were also watching college football when I heard drag peeling out of the Penn and saw a Warrior Cat Rod nearly touching the water.”
“After a long, and tough fight, the fish was in the net,” recounted Riley. “We had to call our buddy Eric with Team Hook Line and Sinker to bring over his 350-pound scales because we didn’t know if our 110-pound scales were big enough.”
“It was a once in a lifetime fish,” said Riley. “It will be a hard personal best to beat.”