This past weekend, my good friend, Jeff Rice, and I fished the Yantis Catfish Classic at Lake Fork together, using techniques that I am sure the majority of the contestants considered better suited to the 1950s.
As we pulled into the parking lot on the Friday afternoon before the tournament, a good crowd had already gathered. Tactics for the next couple days of catfishing were discussed and there was the usual air of excitement prior to a big tournament.
Fully rigged, state-of-the art catfish boats were filling the parking lot and a group of serious anglers had gathered at the pavilion to “talk shop.”
After our entry forms were properly logged in by tournament director and great friend Jerry Miller, I thought it would be fun to divulge some of the tactics we had planned for competing in the tournament. I invited Miller out to my truck so see some of the specialized gear that we planned to use in the competition.
I am sure Miller expected to see some newfangled electronics like a Livescope or, at the very least, side imaging sonar. When we got to the truck, all he saw were several fully rigged cane poles protruding from the back of the truck.
“Where’s your boat, Luke?” Miller said.
“Well, we won’t be using one. Oh, we do have a canoe that we can use to get to the better spots on the creek or use just in case a catfish pulls one of our poles loose and makes a run for it,” I said.
About that time, several other catfish anglers were coming by my truck, which is plastered stem to stern with a camo wrap. Granted, the camo wrap is a bit eye-catching – my wife describes it as “over the top” – but it does draw attention to my outdoor radio shows.
A few of the guys asked what my plans were for those cane poles. I expect they thought we would be using them to catapult cattle-range cubes to bait holes for catfish or some other novel use.
When I told them we would be using the hand-cut-and-rigged cane poles in the tournament, I noted a few subdued smiles. Here we were in a crowd of serious catfish anglers with boats sporting price tags averaging more than twice the price of my pickup truck and we were going to fish with cane poles.
Little did they know the plans Rice and I had for having a fun day on the creek and possibly even placing in the tournament.
We actually had one of those newfangled, modernized boats with a big motor on the back to fish from, but for this tournament, we chose to fish in a feeder creek adjacent Rice’s land and cane poles would be the best way to present our baits to the catfish.
We had previously scouted a stretch of the creek with easy bank access and baited each spot we planned to fish with cattle-range cubes to help pull the catfish in.
Our plan was to let the poles fish for us while we did some work revamping an old wooden dock. We used brightly colored floaters on the rigs and could easily glance up from our work and see when a catfish took one of our baits.
The first hour of the tournament, one of the cane poles bent heavily and the tip actually splashed the water. We were sure we already had the hourly pay out in the bag.
We netted a chunky channel catfish that weighted about 3.4 pounds. On many lakes, a channel cat this size would stand a good chance of placing in an hourly weigh-in, especially the first hour of a tournament, but Lake Fork is well known for producing big channel catfish.
Our first hour’s weigh-in came close to putting us in the money, but not quite close enough. This fish caught early in the day proved to be the biggest one we landed, but our plan for creek fishing did pay off with plenty of eater-size catfish for a big fish fry.
Placing in the tournament would have been icing on the cake, but at the end of the day, setting around a big platter of fried catfish fillets, Rice and I both came to the conclusion that we were winners after all.
We had spent a glorious spring day fishing a backwoods creek and even had a sounder of wild hogs run by within rock chunking distance. This old-school fishing is fun and something we both plan to do much more of.
My hat is off to Miller, his wife Phyllis, and all the guys and gals at the Yantis Volunteer Fire Department for the hard work and planning that went into this tournament, the proceeds of which goes to help fund the fire department.
This year’s tournament produced some hefty catfish. Bobby Driskill from Streetman took top place with a hefty blue catfish that weighed 18.04 pounds. Paul Miles won second place with a 15.66-pounder.