Andy Thompson and Mike Sanders Win KingKat Classic at Decatur
by Ron Presley
The best is yet to come!
The Bass Pro Shops/Cabela’s KingKat Tournament Trail ended the 2022 season with their Classic at Decatur, AL on the Tennessee River.
As an American Catfishing Association (ACA) Tournament Alliance Member, participating ACA member anglers enjoy many benefits, including a chance at winning the 2022 SeaArk giveaway boat. More details are available on the ACA website.
A captains meeting and registration were held from 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm at the Ingalls Harbor Pavilion and Event Center. Anglers and guests enjoyed good food and fellowship and the year-ending awards were presented.
Doug McAnally, Matt Russel, Secody Howard received the Overall Points Champions Award. The Angler (Team) of the Year went to Joe and Demetria Westbrook who took home one of the two Lowe Boats that were awarded this year. And the Sportsman of the Year Award went to the father-son team of Wade and Jordan Rose.
On tournament days anglers were allowed to fish Wheeler and Wilson Lakes on the Tennessee River beginning at 6:30. Tournament rules required the anglers to stop fishing at 3:00 pm and be back in the weigh-in line by 4:00 pm.
Forty-seven teams representing 18 different states competed for a purse that totaled more than $90,000 in the November 4-5, 2022 event. The weigh-in took place at Ingalls Harbor where a three-fish limit (blue cat, channel cat, or flathead) determine the winners. Rules allow 2 fish over 34 inches and one under for a legal limit.
The emcee duties were shared by Kevin “Stump” Grant (Weighmaster) and Lisa Haraway. Other team members including Travis Justice, Lisa Gail Haraway, Arianna Malcolm, Alicia Banks, Scott Peevy, and others handled the various duties required for a smooth and efficient weigh-in.
As anglers began fishing the weather was near perfect and the expectations soared. As day-one progressed anglers reported a tough bite as anglers worked hard for their fish. In the end, plenty of trophy cats came to the scales.
Day one of the two-day tournament ended with Andy Thompson and Mike Sanders leading the field with a weight of 135.89 pounds. Following in second place were Charlie Blair and Bryan St Ama with 131.91 pounds. Bradley Lail and Daniel Champion claimed Big Kat honors on day one with a 67.52-pound blue.
Competing anglers went to bed with the weatherman predicting a breezy morning with low clouds and a couple of showers. Winds for day two were predicted to be SSE at 14 mph gusting to 30 mph with a thunderstorm in the afternoon. It was destined to be a much tougher fishing day.
The forecast was right and everything changed for the anglers on Saturday. Heavy downpours and brutal winds created challenging fishing on both lakes. The bite was off and the average weights were less than on day one. As is often the case on Wilson and Wheeler Lakes the weather did not stop dedicated anglers from finding some good fish.
The top spot at the 2022 KingKat Classic went to the Kansas team of Andy Thompson and Mike Sanders. They added 91.71 pounds on Saturday to the day-one leading weight of 135.89 pounds to claim the first-place prize of a Lowe Boats motor and trailer package valued at $45,000 Their two-day total weight was 227.60 pounds in 3 fish.
Thompson and Sanders were, in a way, unlikely competitors. At first, they were not sure if they could get off work to go to the tournament. But Wheeler Lake has been a bucket destination where they wanted to travel to and fish. So once they arranged to go the next problem was transportation.
Sanders didn’t think his truck was ready to make a 10 1/2-hour drive so he borrowed a truck from his mom to pull the boat to Alabama.
“We were gonna both lose a week’s wages,” revealed Thompson. “So we planned to keep the traveling cost down to as little as possible. We packed up a tent and some camping equipment and a grill and stayed at Colbert Alloys Park. It was an awesome place to stay right on Wilson Lake. We prefished each day until dark and then went back to camp to strategize our plan for the next day while cooking our supper.”
“We prefished Wheeler Lake on Wednesday and Thursday,” continued Thompson. “We didn’t get on any quality fish so Thursday night before the tournament we changed our game plan to go fish Wilson Lake.”
On the first day of the tournament, Thompson and Sanders were fishing blind on a lake they had never fished before. They planned day one on Wilson after studying Navionics Maps to choose a starting point.
“We picked an area to begin fishing,” recalled Thompson. “We chose to drag baits with Parks Planer Boards and using Dirty South Dragging Weights. We used the Cody Forshee heavy cover rig baited with skipjack as bait.”
The team questioned their decision to switch lakes when the day started off slowly. Then the first rod doubled over and a big fish started peeling drag. They boated a 60-pound blue as their first Wilson fish.
“As we were filling the livewell another rod doubled over,” said Thompson. “It was a 40-pound fish. Next, we hooked up on an 8-pound under. Around 1:00 pm another rod doubled over with another big fish.”
After boating that fish they decided to leave the area and save it for day two.
“We didn’t want to disturb the area anymore after culling a 40-pound blue,” explained Thompson. “Day two started out kind of windy and then the wind changed and picked up. It also started raining as we continue dragging baits.”
The team put a 61, two 25-pound fish, and a 6-pound under in the boat before the wind was too strong to drag baits. They finished the day dragging in a sheltered area where they caught some small fish but nothing that helped them overall.
“I would like to thank my family and my amazing fiancé who is 6 months pregnant,” concluded Thompson. “Thanks to them for supporting us and holding down the fort while we were gone. Thanks to Shellie Wood for letting us borrow the truck and thanks to Parks Planer Boards, Dirty South Dragging Weights, Cody Forshee for his heavy cover dragging rig, and Mad Katz Rods for providing outstanding equipment.”
“I would like to thank my beautiful wife Rickie, and my kids Khloe, Faith, and Corbin for supporting me,” added Sanders. “The best part for me was just being able to get out on the water and catch some big fish. And being able to fish a body of water that I have wanted to fish on for a long time now.”
The runner-up spot went to JR Hall and his father-in-law, Randy Jones. They were setting in 6th place after day one with 94.27 pounds. A good day-two weight lifted them to the second-place spot where they earned a check for $6,500 with a weight of 181.83 pounds.
JR had not been fishing tournaments as frequently as in the past, but when he discovered that his 1st place win in the affiliated North Alabama Catfish Trail qualified him to fish the Classic he called his father-in-law and told him to get ready.
“To say Randy was excited is an understatement,” revealed Hall. “He hasn’t catfished as much as he’d like with me but we had never had a bad trip.”
The team set out at 5 am on Friday morning. Hall had a notion of where they would find some fish and they began dragging Spread Em Planer boards. They fished Wheeler on both days.
“We drug boards all day Friday,” reported Hall. “We caught 11 fish and only 2 were unders. Our day-one weight put us in 6th place with one more day to go.”
“Saturday’s forecast didn’t look promising for being comfortable and safe with my father-in-law on board,” continued Hall. “I told him we were gonna go way upriver on a prayer and see if we could find some fish with what little current was predicted.”
The plan worked well for Hall and Jones. They caught 7 fish by noon and lost a monster bite that screamed the drag before pulling the hook. They decided to stop fishing at about 12:30 pm and head for the scales with the intent of baby-setting the fish they had until weigh-in. He also contacted his wife so she could come to share the day.
“We made it to Decatur and hung out at the boat ramp,” offered Hall. “My wife was waiting at the scales so she could share the day with me and her father.”
Hall and Jones took the hot seats in first place and sat there all afternoon until the last boat of the day weighed and knocked them out.
“I have to give credit to the awesome job of the first-place team,” concluded Hall. “Their tournament story was something else. We are extremely happy with our finish and have no regrets. Props to Cabela’s KingKat organization. The whole event went well. I never heard any anglers complaining about anything and look forward to watching their trail grow even more. Blacksheep Catfishing will be back!”
The team of Tim and Tommy Walsh made the trip from Illinois and put together the right strategy to take third-place honors at Decatur. They had nearly identical weights on both days proving that consistency pays in two-day tournaments. They added 90.09 pounds on Saturday to their day-one weight of 90.05 pounds to earn a payday of $5,500 with a total weight of 180.14 pounds.
“We prefished Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday,” noted Tommy Walsh. “We were not catching anything of any size. Finally, at the end of the day on Thursday in one last ditch effort we caught a 30-pounder and a 40-pounder, the biggest we caught prefishing.
Those good fish on Thursday gave the team a starting point for tournament day. They fished Wilson Lake in about 12 to 15 feet of water.
“We fished from a spot-locked position in the same area both days,” Tommy said. “We were using skipjack for bait. Where we fished the weather was not a factor because we were out of the wind.”
“I want to thank the Cabela’s KingKat ownership and staff,” concluded Tommy. “They have worked diligently to right the ship.”
The Anvil Rods Big Kat award went to Doug McAnally, Matt Russell, and Secody Howard. They began the day in 22nd place with 59.92 pounds. The Big Kat weighed 69 pounds and helped lift them to 16th place in the tournament. They earned a check for $1,000 from Anvil Rods.
Second Big Fish (500)
Bradley Lail and Daniel Champion held Big Kat honors on day one with a 67.52-pound blue. That weight held up until a 69-pound fish came to the scales and beat them out on Saturday. Lail and Champion finished in 11th place overall with 149.8 pounds. They earned a check from Jenko Fishing for $500 for 2nd Big Kat.
Final results can be viewed on the KingKat website for all anglers, complete with weights, hometowns, and the top 12 big fish.
With the 2022 season complete, KingKat Owner Bob Denen and his staff are already planning for next year. Nineteen regular season events are tentatively scheduled and posted on the KingKat Website for 2023. Current plans bring the Classic back to Alabama in 2023. Anglers will compete on Wheeler Lake out of Huntsville, AL.
“In January when we announced we had taken ownership of KingKat one of the things we were most excited about was meeting all the people on the trail,” said Bob Denen following the Classic. “What we didn’t anticipate was how quickly all of those anglers would become such a crucial part of the KingKat family.”
“We posted a simple phrase the day we announced the new ownership,” continued Denen as he reflected on the season. “Our theme for 2022 became, ‘It’s a New Day at Cabela’s KingKat’—and it really is. The people we’ve met and come to know have been an incredible blessing and we can’t wait for what’s next. The 2022 season exceeded our greatest expectations and we know it’s just getting started.”
“Congratulations to all of our anglers in 2022,” concluded Denen. “We can’t wait to see you on the 2023 trail. We will visit more cities and NEW cities, and we can’t wait to meet a whole new set of anglers as well. Come join us in 2023 because the best is yet to come!”
The Bass Pro Shops/Cabela’s KingKat Tournament Trail launched the 2022 season under new ownership. The new owner Bob Denen is well-known and respected in the fishing industry. Denen shares ownership in the trail with TJ Perkins and Andy Denen, Bob’s son. Perkins’ role involves all financial operations and Andy will produce the media and TV coverage. New ideas and new momentum are at the forefront as they plan for the 2023 KingKat Tournament Trail.