by Ron Presley
Aaron Wheatley has been presenting Monsters on the Ohio (MOTO) since 2010. This year’s event marked Wheatley’s tenth year of providing the catfish community with a popular catch and release tournament with an emphasis on fish handling and care. The tournament day festivities include special events for the kids and prizes for the spectators.
Monsters on the Ohio 2019 launched and weighed on the Newburgh Pool of the Ohio River out of Owensboro, Kentucky on October 12th from the facilities at English Park. Anglers braved a cold front and early morning fog to fish from 6:30 am to 3:00 pm. They were required to be back at the site by 4 pm. Legal fishing waters included the Cannelton, Newburgh and JT Meyers Pools.
Monsters on the Ohio 2019 attracted 167 catfish teams from several different states to fish the Ohio River. When the scales closed on Saturday evening October, 12th, 342 catfish weighing more than 3,500 pounds crossed the MOTO stage on the waterfront in English Park.
Anthony Murphy and Mike Snyder are the 2019 Monsters on the Ohio Champs. They teamed up to bring 129.1 pounds to the scales to claim the title. Their bag included the second big fish at 60.8 pounds. They made a run to the Cannelton Pool to catch their fish.
“We came down Wednesday night after work,” reported Murphy. “We were in search of some fish that we had found a few weeks earlier while fishing a Bass Pro Shops Cabela’s King Kat tournament. Thursday morning, we started our hunt hoping those fish had not moved around or at least not that far.”
As good planning would suggest, Murphy and Snyder located their previous spot and started marking fish right away. It was good enough that they decided that would be their starting spot on tournament day.
“There were some good ones mixed in,” continued Murphy. “We were excited but nervous knowing that the cold front was coming. We knew that a two-hour boat ride would not leave us much fishing time. We also knew that it could have gone either way but it was a risk we were willing to take.”
They continued their prefishing time in the area by marking mud, wood, and rocks in deep water. All their fish came from and area that ranged in depth from 50 to 55 feet.
“Finding those fish gave us a game plan,” continued Murphy. “We came back on tournament day and used mooneye, fresh skipjack, and shad to catch a total of 9 fish in a little more than 2 hours of dragging bait. Due to the cold front, we used a slower bait presentation to catch our fish.”
“Aaron Wheatley runs a great tournament,” concluded Murphy. “He is an awesome down to earth guy and we will be back every year to support him!”
The runner-up spot went to Ben Goebel and Rob Cloudfelder. They pre-fished the river from Mt. Vernon to Derby to put together a plan to accommodate the impending cold front that was expected. A final run in the rain on Friday morning gave them what they needed for tournament day.
Goebel, from Mt. Vernon, IN and Clodfelder from Hillsboro, IN put their plan to the test on tournament day. They caught 9 fish on the day and weighed 5 fish at 110.3 pounds to earn the second-place finish. They reported a fast start with several weigh-in fish coming early.
“The weather at tournament launch was cold as advertised,” reported Clodfelder. “It was a long boat ride upriver in dense fog and cold temps. Fortunately, the fish cooperated for us early. We put the two overs in the boat within the first hour of fishing.”
Goebel drew on past experience to help the team develop a tournament strategy. Thinking back, he recalled a previous MOTO when he finished in 4th place under similar conditions.
“In my opinion, if you can find fish in deep water before a cold front, the front doesn’t bother them as much as the fish in say 25 to 35 feet of water. Tournament day was the same conditions as 3 years ago. This year the fish were in sand and mud versus rock back 3 years ago.”
“We were dragging baits in 50 to 60 feet of water,” Goebel said. “We caught our fish on the main channel ledge using skipjack for bait. Because of the front, we were dragging very slow at .3 to .5 mph.”
“We fished that area all day to add three fair unders to go with the two bigger fish,” concluded Clodfelder. “We’d prefer to have been in the top spot but are very pleased with where we ended up in some not so ideal fishing conditions. As usual Aaron Wheatley and his team did one heck of a job with the MOTO.”
The third spot went to Tony Weathers from Danville, IL, and Danny Dillman, from Evansville, IN. Weathers and Dillman fished near the Newburgh Dam where they caught 8 fish on the day. A majority of their fish came early in the day. Their 5 weigh-in fish pulled the scales to 95 pounds and earned them their spot on the leader board.
“We had a little current at the Newburgh Dam,” continued Dillman. “We tried suspending for about 40 minutes but it only produced one 8-pound blue. We moved over and got closer to the dam.”
“I had used Google Maps to find an area to fish,” said Weathers. “That’s something I’ve never done before. The place I decided on had a 70 foot drop off. There were a few gates open so the current spun the boat around where it was facing the dam. We put the trolling motor on anchor lock and started walking/bumping baits back towards the dam.”
They were using line counter reels on B’n’M Bumping Rods. The rods were rigged with a simple 3-way rig that included some type of float and a rattle. Once they patterned the fish, a good fishing day developed. Their first fish came at 143 feet out and the second fish came at about 145 feet out. Both in 70 feet of water.
“After those first two fish, instead of slowly walking them back we started waking then back as fast as we could until reaching 145 on the line counter,” explained Weathers. “Then just set the rod down and bam, we caught our second over and 3rd fish for the tourney. We just kept doing that over and over until time ran out and we had culled our smallest fish.”
“Usually when I win or do good in tournaments, I have 6 poles out,” declared Dillman. “If tournaments allow more rods, I’ll have 8! This one here at Monsters I only used one rod. It was very different for me but worked out great. I just might have found a new technique I like. I used one pole and fished one spot the whole day.”
The team used skipjack for bait. Dillman noticed that they seemed to like the back/belly cut more than the heads. Sometimes they cut the belly out and just use the back meat, but made sure to leave the blood vein to create a good blood-leaking bait.
“We only had 5 frozen skips and 5 fresh skips on ice,” added Weathers. “That’s all I could come up with and it was barely enough to make it through the day. We managed, but used it sparingly.”
“It was a rough, foggy, cold, morning for the take-off,” concluded Dillman. “There was a lot of fog and a lot of boats taking off and shooting to the same areas. We made the best of it and made it fine. I believe our biggest catfish was around 27 or 28 pounds and the smallest was around 16 pounds. We obviously had some really good unders for such a high weigh-in total. It was a nice, simple, and relaxing day. But a better fishing day on a day when it meant the most.”
Big Fish – A Solo Happy Cat
Allen “Happy Cat” Houston from Memphis, TN fished solo from his SeaArk ProCat 240. He finished in fifth place with 91.88 pounds in 4 fish. His bag included Big Fish of MOTO at 70.7 pounds. The big fish came to the boat about 9:30 in the morning.
“It was a cold Kentucky morning,” reported Huston. “There was fog everywhere and I didn’t want to make a big run in the fog. I stayed close to the ramp, dropped my baits to the bottom, and started dragging in the deep holes. I caught my fish on skipjack. The happy cats were in water ranging from 30 to 40 feet deep.”
“I was in the middle of rebaiting all of my lines,” recalled Houston. “I look to my left and my second rod was at 90 degrees and pulling drag. When they pull drag on my rod, they’re doing something because I usually have them completely tight. I picked up the rod and he continued to pull line a good 50 feet. I had him almost back under the boat and he ran again. This time he pulled about 30 feet of line and I mean constantly squealing the drag.”
“I had a couple of frays in my line so I backed off the drag just a little,” continued Houston. “I knew it was a monster. I finally got him about 20 feet off the bottom and he started blowing bubbles, an amount of bubbles that let me know it was a true monster.
“On the third run he made it almost back to the bottom. I managed to stop him. There was structure down there and I didn’t want him to get into it. I reeled him up about three foot under the surface where I could see his big old tail flapping.”
“I was by myself,” offered Houston. “At this point, I had to hold the rod with one arm and under wrap my dip net with the other. He came in and out of the net at least twice. Luckily it didn’t hang the weight. On the third try, he went right in headfirst and curled over. He was all in the net it was all over but the crying. I grab him with both hands and snatched him into the boat.”
Houston weighed the fish with spring scales at 86 pounds while in the net. Then he realized the net had been caught in the rod holder. He still knew he had a monster; he just didn’t know how big.
Houston caught 6 fish all day long as he drug baits both upriver and downriver at about .1 to .7 MPH. All of his fish came while dragging bottom with the Larry Muse Dragon Tail Sinker. Everything he got was within a mile of English Park except for the big fish that was caught about 5 miles from the ramp. Houston is known in the catfish community for the nickname he gives all his catfish. As he releases them back to the water, he always calls them a Happy Cat.
“It don’t get much better,” concluded Houston. “This is my fifth year at Monsters on the Ohio and of course it’s my greatest year. It is one of the premier catfish tournament destinations on the Ohio River. It is a great place to fish and Aaron Wheatley is a great tournament director. Great job Aaron. Everybody was nice and organized. And it was easy in-and-out at the boat launch. It was all great!
The Remaining Top Ten
4th Place Justin Hedges & Rodney Hall (KY) – 93.55
5th Place Allen Houston & Ronnie Strickland (TN) – 91.88
6th Place Craig Collings (MO) & John Jamison (KS) – 89.6
7th Place Dale & Matthew Kerns (IL) – 89.1
8th Place Ryan Hasty and Travis Housley (IN) – 83.00
9th Place Ricky, Amanda Hall & Bill Basham (KY) – 73.9
10th Place Marvin Knepp & Terry Yoder (IN) – 73.8
SeaArk Boat Winners
The SeaArk RX170 SC with a Marine Master Trailer went to Greg Ollila and Jason Mercer. Ollila was also the winner, with his partner, Zach Fosbinder, of the boat given this year in Memphis at the Mississippi River Monsters tournament.
Lynn Lange Award
This year’s Top Finishing Female Award went to Amanda Hall from Owensboro. Amanda was fishing on boat # 130 with Ricky Hall and Bill Basham. She received a plaque and $500 sponsored by Jody Beavin at Clayton Homes and the Lynn Lange Award.
Larry Young Youth Award (Highest Finishing Youth Under the Age of 16).
The Youth award went to Carli Merritt. Carli was fishing with Josh and Zed Moore in boat #17. The Larry Young Youth Award was given to honor a man that loved to fish & Monsters on the Ohio. The youth winner receives a plaque and a cash prized of $250.
For more information on MOTO and to keep up with announcements for 2020 like Monsters on the Ohio Facebook page and visit the website at www.monstersontheohio.com.