West Point Anglers Win King-Kat Tournament Up The River
Results of the 2005 second annual Cabela's King-Kat tourney on West Point.
The popular saying goes that the third time is always the charm. But for Calhoun catfishermen Lester and David Harrison, it was actually the second time around at the Cabelaʼs King Kat Tournament on West Point in July that saw them go from bridesmaid to bride. The father-and-son angling duo, which placed second last year in the event, took home the top prize in this yearʼs event, held almost a year to the day earlier.
The younger Harrison, holding the $750 first-place check, beamed as he stood taking pictures with his father.
“It feels good,” David said. “It feels real good.” Davidʼs name should be familiar to regular GON readers. He holds the certified fishing record for flatheads caught using rod and reel on the Oostanaula River, after he boated a 27.12-lb. fish in March 2003. He also holds the record for blue cats on the Oostanaula with a 40.08-pounder caught last summer. Both fish were weighed, photographed and released.
The Harrisons, who regularly fish the Oostanaula and Coosa rivers, used their river-fishing prowess to catch four catfish at West Point that totaled 33.75 pounds. The catch, comprised of three flatheads and one blue cat, was anchored by a 19.9-lb. flathead that took big-fish at the event. Each of the fish came from up the Chattahoochee River, where the anglers were able to find cooler water temperatures and deep holes adjacent to wood cover. That tactic was enough to give them a commanding lead over the 27.69 pounds brought in by the second-place team of brothers Donnie and Lonnie Fountain of Jasper.
The water up the river may have been cool, but the hot sun beating down on the anglers was anything but as they took part in the second-annual Cabelaʼs King Kat Tournament on West Point, held July 10. Cabelaʼs used this venue to kick off the national trail last year, giving catfish anglers a way to compete for prizes and money. The national circuit holds tournaments on lakes and rivers all across the country, often drawing anglers from hundreds of miles away for each event.
This year the number of participants taking part in the West Point tournament dropped to 11 from 12 in 2003, a fact that led to the tournament only handing out checks for the top two spots. But King Kat officials plan to continue visiting the lake, a spot that anglerʼs frequently request a visit to, said Richard Williams, tournament director.
“I really believe the attendance was so low because of the heat,” he said. Tournament officials, coordinating their efforts with the LaGrange-Troup County Chamber of Commerce and Highland Marina, are looking to move the date up for next yearʼs event, possibly to late April or May. “I think that would help the fishermen and the fishing,” Richard said.
But even with the knowledge that the temperatures would climb into the 90s, the teams left Highland Marina shortly after 6 a.m. destined to ply the lakes warming waters for the winning stringer of cats.
The River Was The Key
The Harrisons came into the tournament with a plan not unlike the one they had last year, when they finished with 30.35 pounds, just one-tenth of a pound behind the winners, Phil King of Mississippi and Stacey Thompson of Texas. Their plan was to go up the Chattahoochee River several miles, where they hoped to find current, then fish the deeper holes and flats near channel bends.
But after motoring up the river a ways and stopping on a location that produced last year, they knew things wouldn’t go exactly as planned. The spot failed to give up a single fish this visit. Reeling in their rigs, they headed several more miles up river, all the while knowing that they were flirting with disaster given their boatʼs small gas tank.
The pair stopped near the Highway 27 bridge, setting up about 100 feet upstream of the pilings then fan-casting six rods all around the boat. Their rigs were baitcasters and spinning combos variously loaded with either 40-lb. test Trilene Big Game monofilament or 65-lb. test Spiderwire. Their bait was cut bream, which were fished on Daiichi circle hooks.
“We were just hoping that something would come through there and take our baits,” said David of their decision to fish the pilings. Something did. They caught two flatheads of about three pounds each from the spot — a good start for what both men knew would be a tough day of angling.
“They weren’t really big,” David said, “but they were keepers.”
Wanting to abide by their self-imposed rule of not spending more than 30 minutes on one spot, the two left the bridge pilings shortly after catching the second fish.
The anglers scoured the shoreline as they headed back toward the main lake. What they looked for was an irregularity — a blowdown, a snag —that would slow down the current and likely provide an ideal spot for a flathead poised to ambush prey. After trying what turned out to be another unproductive location, they finally found what they were looking for: an isolated blowdown.
But this wasn’t just any piece of wood. Unlike the other blowdowns, this one hung out farther into the river, and, more important, caused an eddy to form behind it. Bingo! This is the spot, they thought.
“If you find several blowdowns in a row, there might be or there usually is fish on (at least) some of it,” said David. “But if there is only one blowdown on a long stretch of the river, thatʼs the best.”
Again they positioned themselves upstream of the cover, then cast the cut-bait into the eddy just above the fallen tree. A few minutes in, their first taker was boated, an 8-lb. blue cat. David, after re-baiting the same hook, cast right back out into the eddy, and again his line began to tail off.
“I knew it was a good fish this time because it bent the pole into the water and started stripping drag,” said David. He gripped the rod and fought the fish for several minutes before boating the 19.9-lb. flathead.
“So much for only catching them at night with live bait,” he said sarcastically, referring to the common belief that flatheads bite only at night in the summer months, and then only when live bait is present.
Obviously this is a notion he does not share.
“I believe flatheads are pretty much the lions of the river,” said David. “They like live bait. But they arenʼt going to turn down an easy meal.”
While the two were elated at the catch, they still had two significant problems. For one, the fish wouldnʼt fit in their livewell. Their cooler was also insufficient to hold the fish, a fact that saw them tying it to a rope and hanging it over the side of the boat in the water. Their other problem — and one that could render the catch useless — was that they were a 30- to 45-minute ride from the marina, and that was before adding in time for having to stop and submerge the flathead between runs down the lake.
They didnʼt chance fishing much longer, even though it was only about 1 p.m., and the weigh-in didnʼt start until 3 p.m. They hit a few more spots, then began a trip that would take well over an hour.
“We knew we already had over 30 pounds,” said David. “We knew we had a chance.”
Close, But Not Close Enough
Unbeknownst to the Harrisons, the Fountains were not very far behind them, literally and figuratively. The second-place team had set up just past the Harrisons on the river.
Like the eventual winners, the pair from Jasper spends most of their time fishing the rivers near their respective homes. With the Coosa nearby in Rome and the Tennessee River just above in Chattanooga, theyʼve spent many a days on the flowing waters, often catching blue cats exceeding 40 pounds, said Donnie. So when they arrived at the King Kat tournament, they knew to fish to their strengths: the river.
“We actually just planned on going up river to fish for flatheads,” he said. “We had an idea that was the way to go since the channel cats in the lake were so small.”
The area they fished was up the Chattahoochee roughly 25 miles from the launch, Donnie said. It is literally as far as they could go up the river before a large shoal impeded their progress. Here, they found the main river channel, located the outside bend, then used their electronic graph to find the deepest hole located near the bend.
They fished cut bream and live minnows on the bottom on Daiwa 6500 spinning reels affixed to Shakespeare Ugly Stik rods, using 80-lb. Spiderwire and 8/0 Gamakatsu hooks. It took only 10 minutes for the team to get their first hook-up, which was followed by a brief tussle with a 9-lb. flathead, their largest fish.
“Once you get a hold of one of those flatheads, you donʼt have to wonder whether itʼs going to take off or not,” said Donnie, describing the brief skirmish with the fish. “Usually he just takes off.”
Over the next several hours they didnʼt move far, containing their angling to a small area, fishing several holes on the outside bends in the river. The approach netted them five fish by the weigh-in.
“We were hoping for 30 pounds,” said Donnie. “We figured that if nobody else caught flatheads, we had a good chance of winning.”
Bridesmaids to Brides
At the weigh-in, the Harrisons pulled out their 19-pounder to the “oohhs” and “ahhhs” of the crowd gathered around to watch the event.
As other anglers trotted in their catch, mostly small channel cats and an occasional blue, it became apparent that the Harrisons would be the eventual winners.
The Fountains didnʼt find themselves in the winnerʼs circle this year. But their 27.56-lb. total was nothing to blow their nose at. For two anglers who had only been to the lake once but never fished it, it wasnʼt a bad day.
“It feels good,” said Donnie. “We knew all along that we could win it.”
Rounding out the top five teams: third place, Phil King of Tennessee and David Coughlin of Mississippi with 18.45; fourth place, John Duck and Daniel Eason of Scottshill, Tenn., with 12.9 pounds; and fifth place went to the Greer, S.C., team of Boyd and Joyce Plumley with 9.6 pounds.
Considered by many to be the countryʼs best catfishermen, Kingʼs daily total was testament to the conditions.
“It was just a tough day,” he said. “We just couldnʼt get anything but small ones.”
Along with the check for $750, the Harrisons took home a Minn Kota AP 65 trolling motor for big fish.
Though surprised at the win, David said the lake fished about the way he thought it would. He figured the better catches would come out of the river, especially with a tournament held during the daylight hours. The river, where the water is flowing and cooler, he said, is a high-percentage location for flatheads and blues during the hot summer months.
“Weʼre definitely more comfortable fishing in the river,” he said. “Thatʼs what we do.”
This marked the third Cabelaʼs tournament the pair has fished, having also competed in the King Kat Classic on Alabamaʼs Lake Wheeler last year. David said heʼs glad to have the King Kat tournaments providing the countryʼs anglers with a venue to showcase their skills. He also hopes the tournaments raise anglerʼs awareness of the need to release the large fish so they can be caught another day.
“Itʼs very important for catfish anglers to practice selective harvest,” he added. “Georgia would really have some trophy fisheries if people kept the small ones but let the larger ones (above 20 pounds) go.”
All the anglers who took part in the West Point event and weighed in at least one keeper are eligible to fish the 2004 Cabelaʼs King Kat Classic to be held on the Mississippi River at Fort Madison, Iowa on Aug. 27-28.
For details about the Cabelaʼs King Kat trail, visit their website at www.kingkatusa.com.
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