The Path to Catfish Glory
by Ron Presley
The Catfish Weekly National Championship
There are plenty of tournament catfish teams that would cherish the opportunity to be called the National Catfish Champions. That opportunity has become a reality with the creation of the Catfish Weekly National Championship Tournament.
The brainchild of this event, Lyle Stokes, believes firmly, that a true national championship should be based on a qualifying system that includes numerous local and regional tournaments.
Stokes is working closely with his wife Cindy and other advisors to bring his dream to fruition. The National Championship has been set in stone with the announcement of the first location of the new tournament. It is scheduled to be held at the PB2 Boat Ramp at Lake Ozark, MO on May 13, 2018.
The qualifying process is relatively simple. “Basically, every tournament director that wants to include his tournament can join the group,” explained Stokes. “They pay a membership fee of $100, which allows them to qualify their top 5 teams for the national championship. If they run more than one event they will pay $100 for each event and qualify 5 teams for each event. If a trail does a year-ending classic they can pay the fee for the classic and qualify 5 teams from the classic, like anyone else.”
For teams that qualify for the Catfish Weekly National Catfish Championship, the entry fee will be $300. The event will be 100% payout, plus sponsor prizes, to the top 10 teams in the tournament. “That calculation makes for a huge purse for those teams in the top tier,” explained Stokes. “Any additional money or prizes from sponsors will be added after the top ten places.”
Official championship qualifying started in 2016 with Winter Blues on Wheeler. With certifying tournaments well under way, the Catfish Weekly National Championship has qualified more than 140 anglers to date. Member groups will continue qualifying anglers for the Missouri event through the 2017 tournament season.
The first team to official qualify was Dale Smith, Gary Taylor and Chad Seals. They won the 3rd Annual Winter Blues on Wheeler New Year’s Day tournament. They battled the weather and fishing conditions to weigh in 177.43 pounds to take the crown. Their bag included a 76.5-pound blue that earned them Big Fish honors too. Their impressive win on Wheeler gave them the right to compete in the inaugural Catfish Weekly National Championship.
“I am glad to be qualified,” stated Missouri angler Dale Smith. “I look forward to fishing against the best cat fisherman in the nation. I hope in the future there are more invitational tournaments across the country, held on different waters. I think it will give our sport some way-overdue notoriety, and I also think it will bring guys out of their comfort zone and get them introduced to different people and skill sets.”
Jason “Big Cat” Mathenia (Troy, Illinois) and his mom Vicky Mathenia earned their qualify spot at the Twisted Cat tournament out of Columbia Bottoms, St.Louis, MO, where they won second place.
“The Catfish Weekly National Championship is one tournament that mom and I are looking forward to in 2018,” indicated Jason. “Lake of the Ozarks is a beautiful setting for such an event. My wife, mom, and I fished a Twisted Cat tournament at Lake of the Ozarks in March 2017 and had a blast. I expect that a tournament of this calibre will bring a wide variety of top anglers from all over the country. There have been several 50-pound fish caught every year and it wouldn’t surprise me if several 40-pound fish are brought to the weigh-in.”
“The MO department of conservation put an upper and lower slot limit on the size of catfish that can be kept,” added Jason. “Those limits will add another challenge to everyone’s game plan. This is one tournament that I would not miss. The fishing will be awesome and the competition with be fierce!”
Vicky echoed Jason words, saying, “I am excited to be able to fish against such great fishermen and women.”
The Current Details
As Stokes pondered the task at hand he called and messaged a substantial number of anglers to get their take on the national championship framework. He used their responses and advice to develop guidelines for the event.
According to Stokes, 100 percent of all the anglers queried agreed that a tournament with a qualifying process was the only fair way to lay claim to a national title. Stokes proceeded with that counsel to produce a tournament that is open to every state in the nation.
“Two overriding recommendation from anglers were that there would be no trailering, and livewell checks are a must,” shared Stokes. “This set up is the only way to have a large payout and try and get some of the cost covered by sponsors.”
“We have several sponsors on board now, but will be needing many more,” said Stokes. “The cost of an event this size is really high, and we want as many prizes for anglers as we can get.”
Catfish Weekly is working with Jody Harrison for stage production and weigh in help. The organizers plan to have runners available to take people back and forth to their trucks, and a dedicated area is planned for vendors and companies that want to showcase their products.
The important CPR function will be attended to also. “We will have people in place to transport fish back to the water,” informed Stokes. “Ideally we put the stage up right at the water’s edge to make that process run smoothly. Either way, we will take care of the fish. We are supposed to get assistance from the Missouri Department of Conservation and the Park Ranger with fish checking and parking.”
One of the biggest decisions has been made, that of an acceptable location. With the Lake of the Ozarks chosen, rules will be adopted that meet state regulations. “Everyone we talked to agreed that it should not be held on a lake or river that was already over fished. Lake of the Ozarks definitely meets that requirement.”
“We tried to take everyone’s opinion into consideration,” concluded Stokes. “We are now tweaking the rule package and it will be available very soon. We are working very hard to cover all the bases. I want the Catfish Weekly National Championship to come off right the first time, so people can’t wait to make the next one.”
More information and updates can be found on the Catfish Weekly National Catfish Championship Facebook page.