The New Madrid team of Billy Tanner and Jerry Whitehead took not only first place in the Cabela's KingKat Tournament at New Madrid Saturday but also Tanner pulled in the biggest catfish of the day.
All in all the teams pulled in 1,193.25 pounds of catfish in the day-long fishing tournament before releasing them back into the Mississippi River. Tanner won a trolling motor with his single catch weighing 52 pounds and 65 ounces.
Jim Perry, one of the directors of the KingKat Tournament, said he and others with the company were pleased by the turnout of 38 teams - 28 of which recorded catches for the day. The teams came from New Madrid, neighboring towns and seven states, one traveling from Georgia for the competition.
"As far as the locale, the people, the hospitality - this is one of the best as far as I'm concerned," said Perry in between photographing some of the big catches of the day. "They have gone all out to run this event as efficiently as possible."
Saturday's tournament was the fifth of the series which qualifies participants for the KingKat Classic this fall in South Carolina. Perry described the competitive catfish event, now in its second year, as one way to promote the sport. "Catfish have not received recognition like other species. We are excited about the future of the catfishing industry," he said.
The tournament, which paired up friends like Whitehead and Tanner, fathers and sons, even husbands and wives, drew a large crowd to the New Madrid Riverfront to watch as the competitors brought in their catch of up to seven fish to be officially weighed.
While some like Erica Palmer sat wide-eyed watching the fish, others along the levee marveled at the gear and the boats. Because the tournament is a catch-and-release event, each of the boats featured tanks, often modified cattle troughs, designed to keep the fish alive. The rods and reels used were described by Perry as similar to those used in salt-water fishing in order to pull in fish which can weigh over 100 pounds.
Emphasizing fishing as a family event, the tournament featured a children's fishing rodeo earlier in the day, giving away prizes. But Perry said the children's tournament also seeks to promote fishing. "There were 47 future fishing enthusiasts," he said.
But for those who were trying their luck Saturday's tournament, it was an opportunity to compete with some die-hard fans of the sport.
While Whitehead paced back and fourth after weighing in his team's catch, he said he enjoyed looking at how others had rigged their boats. "I got some good ideas," he said.
For Cary Winchester of Jackson, it was a way to introduce his 12-year-old son, Tyler to competitive catfishing. Tyler, who pulled in the biggest catfish for the father-son team, described the day as "fun."
New Madrid Mayor Donnie Brown watched the events with a pleased smile. "This was a great event for our town, hopefully it will be an annual event," he said, praising the city crews, the Chamber and many others had worked hard to make the event function smoothly.
The mayor added he would like to see more events scheduled along the river front.
There were even a few cases where the fish bested the fishermen. One man noted that day he lost a rod and reel to one catfish but added that is part of the sport and added, "it was just fun to get to fish."