A Catfish Community Gathering
by Ron Presley
Catfish Conference 2016 judged a total success.
Author’s note: The following story is a slightly edited version of a story written in 2016 following the first-ever Catfish Conference in Kentucky. The popular event has flourished from its magnificent kickoff to a full-fledged Catfish and Crappie event visited by anglers from all over the country.
On Saturday, February 27, 2016, the first-ever Catfish Conference was held in Versailles, KY. By all measures, it was a total success. Billed as a “catfish community get-together” it certainly achieved its goal. A combination of vendors, tournament pros, and everyday catfish anglers came together in Versailles, KY to share information on the sport of catfishing.
Coconspirators in organizing the event were Steve “The Catfish Dude” Douglas and Jim Hopper. Douglas is the owner of Monster Rod Holders, a popular rod holder manufacturer. Jim Hopper is the General Manager at Jeff Jones Marine, the location of the first Catfish Conference.
“We are very pleased with the conference,” stated Hopper on the afternoon of the conference. “Very pleased and very relieved. It exceeded our expectations and it has gone off without a hitch, which is awesome. I have been worried about that for two months.”
“The response from the vendors has been incredible,” continued Hopper. “Most have already commented that they want to be more involved next year and this thing is not even over yet. It is very good for them because they have a captive audience.”
The conference was good for visiting catfishing men and women too because they had all the catfish stuff in one place. They can touch it, feel it, and talk to the folks who know the most about it. Many of the vendors had merchandise for sale at the show and given the consumer response, more will have goods at the show next year.
Douglas was pleasantly surprised. “I was expecting maybe 250 people when we first started talking about it,” said a proud and happy Douglas. “By our best calculation, we had at least 1,100 people walk through the door. I am pretty sure there were more that did not pick up a free ticket online or stop and register at the conference. The whole idea was to target catfish anglers and they came in big numbers.”
“Catfishing is big and it is getting bigger,” continued Douglas. “I think the conference is going to help it grow even bigger and better in the right direction. For the most part, it went very well. I wanted this to be a family-oriented thing where people could come touch and feel and listen. When you go to a boat show you find a little bit of everything from every species. These catfish guys and gals want to come and be involved with the vendors. They want to see catfish stuff and ask questions about it. That is what Catfish Conference 2016 offered.”
Douglas also praised the participants. “I just want to thank all of the people that came, the everyday anglers, the pros, the vendors, everybody. It is amazing to see the support we have had our first year.”
Jeff Jones, the owner of Jeff Jones Motors & Marine, also shared his pleasure with the event. “We had a great turnout, a great crowd,” said Jones. “I got a good response from talking to people that came in. The vendors all indicated they did well and I think the people that came really enjoyed it. You could tell by the gatherings in the hall.”
Attendees came from all over. “At last count, we had people here from 21 states,” reported Jones. “Everybody seemed to be very pleased with what we had to offer. I think it was a very good conference. I think the catfish community was ready for it. I also think we probably set some records for a first-time event like this.”
Seminar presenters at the conference were greeted by standing-room-only crowds. Monsters on the Ohio Tournament Director Aaron Wheatley gave the first seminar in a large tent that was set up outside the back door to the conference hall which in reality was the shop area of Jeff Jones Marine. The crowd filled the tent and backed up into the hall itself.
That trend continued throughout the day as seminar presenters Aaron Wheatley, David Shipman, Brooke Wilbanks, Mark Blauvelt and Ryan Lawrence, and Dave Hart pleased the large crowds with relevant and usable catfish information.
Two major catfish trails, Bass Pro Shops Big Cat Quest and Cabela’s King Kat were on hand to distribute information and schedules to potential tournament anglers. Location-specific tournaments like Mississippi River Monsters and Monsters on the Ohio were present too.
“It seemed like anglers were mostly interested in when tournaments would be scheduled close to them,” reported Bass Pro Shops pro-staffer Larry Muse.
Trip Banks was on hand at the conference representing Mustad Hooks. “We are excited to participate in the first conference and see where it is going to go,” remarked Banks. “The sport obviously is growing and it is a completely different animal than it was 10 years ago.”
Banks was impressed by the composition of the crowd. “It is interesting how enthusiastic everyone was,” observed Banks. “It is fun to see families, the wives and kids, involved in catfishing.”
“I got good feedback too,” continued Banks. “Everybody was willing to listen to my spiel and nobody stop me. It is really a pleasure to pass along information and have people thank you for it. Additionally, they gave me feedback that is needed to improve the product.”
Much praise came from attendees on Facebook following the event. Willis Brown said, “I had a good time there with my family. Seen a lot of nice cat equipment and cat boats. Met a lot of nice people and got educated a lot. Hope to be there next year.”
Attendee James Klauzer enjoyed the show and had a suggestion for next year. “Great event,” said Klauzer. “It was nice to meet everyone in person and not just on Facebook and/or YouTube. To be able to inspect and compare products and discover new ones was a plus. There were lots of people sharing knowledge. They might consider doing a 2-day event next year.”
Mark Duffield identified the sharing nature of catfish anglers in his comment. “Had a great time there, gained knowledge about the sport from everyone, and will definitely be back next year.”
Joyce Muse recognized the scope of the conference. “I really enjoyed meeting anglers and their wives from all over the US. I met some from Arizona, New Mexico, and even New York. I think the turnout shows just how much catfishing is liked and how hard those who put this event together worked. Thanks, Steve Douglas and everyone else.”
The die is cast; there is no turning back. Its form and content may change, but judging by the response to this year’s event, Catfish Conference is something that the catfish community wants. It will surely be bigger and better next time. The sport of catfishing is growing and the Catfish Conference is destined to hold an important place in the industry for years to come.