As a light mist settled over Tuttle Creek Lake on Saturday evening, a ragtag assortment of catfish anglers took off across the murky waters in various fishing boats.
The setting sun was barely visible behind a wall of gray, but the rain did not deter the fishermen from their overnight quest for catfish at the U.S. Catfish Angler Tournament.
7 p.m. Saturday
Despite the threat of bad weather, Al Dieball, president of the Kansas District of the U.S. Catfish Angler Tournament Series, had one thing on his mind: fish.
“This will be the fourth year we’ve had a tournament on Tuttle Creek, and our average fish is well over five pounds,” Dieball said. “A lot of guys like to fish Tuttle Creek at night because it’s not so windy, so I always pick this tournament here in July or August and fish at night, because it’s too hot to fish at daytime.”
Dieball said the conditions for this year’s tournament were similar to last year’s, and he expected the biggest fish this year to be close to the same size as last year’s largest fish, which weighed in at 40 pounds.
“It’ll be really similar,” Dieball said. “I’m expecting that tonight, with the conditions how they are, that it’ll take 60, 70, maybe 80 pounds to win. Maybe more.”
Dieball had the first weigh-in after three hours of fishing. The benefit of the early weigh-ins include the ability to get a live fish weighed before it dies and to clear up space in the livewells. Only one team attended the first weigh-in.
Russell Nixon and Tom Goudy, of Junction City, weighed three fish for a total of 18.6 pounds. The largest of the fish, a nine-pound channel cat, was caught using cut shad, a small type of fish, as bait.
“The conditions are good,” Nixon said. “Real good. No rain, luckily, so far. Could be a little more wind. We’re drifting, so you’d like to have a little more wind with it. It picked up a little, so it’s not bad.”
1:30 a.m. Sunday
Another team pulled up to the dock to weigh its fish. Alan Gilmore and Tom Murray brought four fish to the weigh-in for a total of 28.15 pounds. The largest of the haul weighed 8.10 pounds, coming up short of the nine-pound mark set by Nixon and Goudy.
The next weigh-in took place at 3 a.m., when Jim Diehl, of Topeka, and Delmar Thowe, of Alma, Kan., brought in six fish for a total of 52 pounds, taking the lead. They also garnered the largest fish thus far at 10.55 pounds.
After 12 long hours of fishing, the teams made their way back to the weigh-in station. It looked as though Diehl and Thowe were going to come away with the first-place prize, until defending champions Earl Murphy ,of Madison, Kan., and Virgil Brown, of Olpe, Kan., came riding up the boat ramp. The small group of onlookers gasped when Murphy pulled a 36.65-pound catfish out of his livewell.
“Well, I had caught a pretty good size carp right before, and my concern was that it could be another carp,” said Murphy, who caught the monster fish on a worm. “But after I had him on for a second it didn’t feel like a carp. It took me a while to get him in, but we figured he was a big flathead.”
After all the fish were weighed, Brown and Murphy took first place for a second straight year, winning $480 with a total of 98.70 pounds in catfish, plus $150 for catching the largest fish.
Diehl and Thowe earned the second-place prize of $360, with a total of 81.6 pounds. Third place went to Bob Schmidt and Joe Silva for their 74.8 pounds of fish, and Harold Fuller was awarded the fourth-place prize of $120 with a total of 74.15 pounds
Each of the top four teams brought in catfish weighing more than 9 pounds apiece. The next C.A.T.S. event will be a pro tournament on Sept. 9 at Milford Lake.