by Ron Presley
Winter tournaments continue to grow in popularity.
The First Annual Reindeer Catfish Games took place out of Lexington Riverfront Park, Lexington, Missouri on December 8. 2018. As the name implies, a Second Annual tournament should follow. In fact, that is exactly what Alex Nagy and Tim Berger have planned.
Nagy is the tournament director for the Twisted Cat Outdoors catfish tournament trail and Tim is the tournament director for All American Catfish Tournaments. Their trails end in October and with the growing number of anglers wanting to fish tournaments the First Annual Catfish Games was created as a winter tournament. They wanted to bring anglers together from their own trails as well as anglers from all over the county.
Winter is traditionally a down time for tournament action, but other tournaments, like Winter Blues on Wheeler, have proven that anglers will challenge the cold if given a chance to fish.
Because of their own experience on the Missouri River in the winter, both directors know that the location is a great fishery. And, given the caliber of fishing at Lexington, there is a good possibility that any competitor would have a chance to catch a personal best while trying to win a tournament.
One major factor stands out above the rest when conducting a tournament. Savvy catfish anglers who have committed to a tournament weekend know that they might have to fish under adverse conditions, be it weather or river conditions. They understand that as part of the game. But to a tournament director, angler safety should be a top concern and they must be ready to make that go or no-go decision.
There are conditions under which events should not be held. Maybe the worst part of this is that weather and river conditions cannot be planned for or controlled.
“My concerns always start with safety,” offered Berger. “But that is probably true for anyone that does events. River conditions are a big factor in angler safety.”
Berger and his volunteers go on what they call “Ice Watch” for cold weather tournaments. It happens before their first tournament of the year which occurs after the winter freeze and it happened for Catfish Games because the river can begin to have ice flows in December.
“During ‘Ice Watch’ we are keeping an eye on the river to see if it clears,” continued Berger. “If we see ice on the Missouri River the week of the event, we will make the call to reschedule it.”
Beyond the safety deliberations, there are many operational factors to consider. As tournament directors, Berger and Nagy are always looking for ways to improve the angler’s experience.
“Our goal is to set up a situation that will allow anglers to focus on preparation prior to launch,” said Berger. “And then making things run smooth for them during weigh-in.”
That focus on anglers means they have to check out all the facilities and be sure they will accommodate the expected number of boats.
“I want to look at the locations and ask some obvious questions” instructed Berger. “How big is the ramp? How easy is it to get the boat in and out of the water and then to the parking? This all has to be done while other vehicles are trying to do the same thing. A tight parking lot will not work for us because we feel it doesn’t make for a good experience for our anglers.”
Winter events add another factor—Ice. At Catfish Games 2018, Berger and Nagy had hundreds of pounds of salt on hand as a precaution. That kind of planning can prevent issues from happening at the ramp.
“Making a fair and safe event for everyone is key, added Nagy. “You want to make sure people understand the dangers of winter fishing. Overall, set up the rules and stick to them!”
“We also learn from attending or observing other events,” said Berger. “Sometimes you learn what not to do and other times you learn something that you can add to your own event.”
Observing other events has added the playing of the National Anthem to Berger’s All American Catfish Tournaments and eliminated live well checks.
“Seeing how anglers respond at other events can help improve your own,” said Berger. “I fished one of Alex’s events a couple years ago and immediately incorporated playing the National Anthem at our events. This year we are moving away from livewell checks, like other series are doing, and relying on the polygraph test for any issues. Every little adjustment that makes the anglers experience better, while improving our efficiencies for running events, is just worth it.”
Realizing that anglers take a risk and use valuable time if they stop along the road for food, they try to remedy that at the event.
“We want to give the teams a chance to eat, and drink something at all our events,” revealed Berger. “That way they don’t have to stop on the way home, or if they do, it is something small. These teams are tired and have a lot of equipment in their boats. So, stopping on the way home to get something to eat is a risk each time. It also makes the trip home that much longer. So, we try to feed them, at no extra cost to the anglers, and it also helps them all socialize with each other during weigh-ins. It’s something we have done since day one and so far, it has been working great for us.”
“I think other tournament directors across the country could take lessons from Tim Berger,” concluded tournament participant, Dave Swearingin. “He goes above and beyond to make every one of his tournaments a great experience for all involved including special prizes for kids.”
“All year long during Tim’s tournaments he has provided Gatorade, water, coffee, and hot chocolate,” continued Swearingin. “He even served biscuits and gravy before daytime tournaments. Then after tournaments he usually has chili, hot dogs, and chips with more drinks. I love the way he takes care of people and appreciates the fisherman that come out to his events.”
Scheduling a tournament on the Missouri River in December is a roll of the dice. Anything can happen in terms of weather and water level. In 2018 the dice were against them. In the first place the weather was really cold and secondly the river was unusually high. Nevertheless, 70 anglers in 32 boats showed up to fish.
That strong showing in 2018, under sever weather and river conditions, convinced Nagy and Berger that the Second Annual Catfish Games should be produced.
The permits are obtained and the date has been set for December 7, 2019 for the Second Annual Catfish Games. Nagy and Berger will roll the dice again in their pursuit of giving catfish anglers another winter fishing opportunity.
“I know you can’t change the water levels and the weather,” concluded Nagy. “But you can stay positive and make sure all anglers have a great time!”