It’s all about catfish
Louisville, KY is the home of the Kentucky Derby, Louisville Slugger and Muhammed Ali. It was recently the home of the SeaArk Catfish Conference 2017, presented by Suzuki Marine. For two busy days Louisville provided an excellent venue for the catfish community to gather. The amazing facilities of the Crowne Plaza set the stage in fine fashion for the second year of the popular event. Catfish Conference is dedicated to catfish, the folks that fish for them and the people that support the growing sport with products that help catfish anglers catch more fish.
The original event was the result of discussions between Steve Douglas (Monster Rod Holders) and Jim Hopper (Jeff Jones Marine). On-again, off-again discussions had been going on for a couple years about having a dedicated catfish event. The discussions always evolved around the idea of stimulating the sport of catfishing and helping grow the catfishing community in a positive way.
Those discussions culminated in a decision to go forward with the idea and a dedicated catfish show was on the books. With the goal of educating anglers and introducing catfish specific products, Catfish Conference 2016 was launched. “If it has anything to do with catfishing it is going to be represented at the conference,” declared Douglas before the 2016 event.
Founding sponsors, Monster Rod Holders, Jeff Jones Marine and Business House spared no effort in making this year’s event bigger and better than the inaugural event in 2016.
One major change from 2016 was making the event a two-day get together that opened up more opportunity for the catfish community to attend. Opening day on Saturday, February 25, was similar to last year as throngs of enthusiastic visitors pack the halls.
Once inside, visitors found tons of catfish paraphernalia to peruse and other catfish anglers to visit with. The variety ranged from catfish bait to catfish boats and everything in-between.
Catfish education was high on the priorities of the conference. Live seminars were given by five well-known and knowledgeable catfish personalities. Jason Bridges, Phil King, Tim “Doc” Lange, Joe Ludtke and James “Big Cat” Patterson spoke to large audiences wanting to learn more about catfishing from the pros.
More than 45 vendors set up booths to display and demonstrate their wares. Catfish anglers were able to see and touch the equipment these vendors had to offer. “I like to see it before I buy it,” said one happy angler. “There is nothing like having it in your hands to help make that final decision to buy.”
The success of last year’s conference attracted a long line of new vendors to the event. It was a great opportunity for manufacturers to gage the response of catfish anglers to their products. For example, first time vendor, Vicious Fishing, had sold out of some sizes in their popular clothing line before noon. “I guess we didn’t bring enough,” said Vicious representative Greg Meunier. “Our Vicious Braid has been popular too, even the big spools. We will be bringing more next year.”
You could not look anywhere in the facility without seeing happy anglers carrying new catfish rods and bags of other goodies as they continue their trek through the booths. Plenty of other anglers were kicking the tires and feeling the finish on several models of new catfish boats. SeaArk Boats, G3 Boats, Gator Trax Boats and Excel Boats were displaying the latest catfish rigs. Suzuki Outboards and Yamaha were also on hand to educate visitors on their line of motors.
Organizers were pleased with the conference. “Last year was great,” said Jim Hopper, one of the organizers of the event. “We did not know, however, if everyone came because they were bored or what. This year I was a little bit nervous about it. We had lots of major manufacturers – Suzuki, Yamaha, G3, SeaArk, Excel, etc. There were a lot of people looking in on this conference. Its success made a big weekend for the sport as far as its future. Now, going forward, we have something to promote the industry.”.
“We think the sport will get a little more respect after this weekend,” continued Hopper. “That respect will come from the reports that will be taken back to these manufacturers that attended and it will spread to others.”
“Last year it was 62 days from when I called Steve Douglas and ask him about a catfish conference,” recalled Hopper. “I did not want to do a boat show, I wanted something that would be for our catfish guys. It was just 62 days from that phone call until Catfish Conference 2016. We had a year to plan this one, so people expected a little bit more.”
“I think the venue was just right, and it would be easy to come back here next year. I just don’t think it will hold us. The planning for next year starts Monday,” concluded Hopper.
The favorable report from Hopper was echo from vendors and visitors alike. Every person I talked to had favorable reports. Many visitors were also consumers, buying and taking home the catfishing products they found at the conference, while vendors were assessing the conference and planning for next year.
If you have not attended a Catfish Conference yet, put it on your bucket list and make plans for next year. By all measures, it is bound to be even better!
Other Louisville attractions
Louisville offered more than the conference. The city is loaded with popular attractions and eating establishments. I planned an extra day to visit a few. Louisville is one of the oldest cities west of the Appalachian Mountains, but never mind its actual age, because Louisville is a modern American city.
Personally, I can’t think about Louisville without thinking about the Kentucky Derby and Louisville Slugger baseball bats. Both were on my short list for my brief stay in the city.
The Kentucky Derby Museum/Churchill Downs was the first stop on the agenda. The museum is adjacent to Churchill Downs, an amazing complex representing years of sports history. Imagine, the first race took place on May 17, 1875. You do not want to miss it if you are in Louisville.
When I hear the name Louisville Slugger my thoughts drift back to my childhood. I fondly remember swinging a few in those days growing up in Kansas. My visit to Louisville gave me the opportunity to tour the factory where the legendary Louisville Slugger baseball bat is made and remember the baseball legends of my youth.
My next stop was the Muhammad Ali Center which celebrates the life and legacy of the world-class boxer. The award-winning museum is housed in a six-story multicultural center. I was highly impressed by the content of the many interactive displays that chronicle the life of Ali.
You can spend as little or as much time as you want perusing the exhibits, many supported with historic video footage. Depending on your age, your visit will be either a walk down memory lane or an education related to the life of this incredible athlete and humanitarian.
Finding an interesting and great place for lunch is easy too. You can take in a restaurant/bar on the famed Urban Bourbon Trail. As most folks know, Bourbon is a whiskey that has long been associated with Kentucky. The Urban Bourbon Trail consists of 34 bars and restaurants that showcase Kentucky’s best. You can also visit an actual distillery. There are several on Whiskey Row – Evan Williams Bourbon Experience, Peerless Distillery and Angel’s Envy (the newest one to open).
The restaurant that caught our eye was Merle Haggard’s Whiskey Kitchen. We spotted it downtown on our way to the Ali Center. It had outside dinning and the place was packed. We decided that would be our lunch spot after our visit to the center. I will just say, it was great food while listening to constant Merle Haggard music. We left very content and rested for our visit to the Catfish Conference.
For more information on Louisville visit the website at https://www.gotolouisville.com.