Rogersville, AL lies between Athens, AL on the east and Florence, AL on the west. It is in the heart of big catfish country. Rogersville served as the location of the captains meeting for the 2019 Fishlife National Championship of Catfishing. All the boats launched from the ramp at Joe Wheeler State Park.
An overcast day and pretty good fishing characterized day-one of the championship on Wheeler Lake. The March 3rd and 4th event had eight teams weighing in more than 100 pounds of catfish on the first day.
The weigh-in line was kept very short, similar to the system used at Monsters on the Ohio. Boats came directly out of the water to enter the line to the scales. There were never more than 7 or 8 boats in line at a time and then it was a short distance from the scales back to the water. The whole setup was good for the fish.
The leader after day one was Mike Mitchell and Rick Sexton with 166.44 pounds. Their tournament leading weight was anchored by the Big Fish of the day at 80.04 pounds.
Following in second place was the father/son team of John and Ryan Burgland along with Eddie Henney. They brought 149.41 pounds to the scales that included a 43.19-pound blue cat.
The third-place spot on day one was held down by David Shipman and Hunter Shipman. The Corinth, MS team brought 147.98 pounds to the scales.
The rain came in overnight Saturday and competing anglers began day two in wet and cold conditions. The weather was bad enough that some anglers made the decision not to compete on the second day of competition. Winds predicted at 5 to 7 miles per hour quickly increased to near 14 mph. Temperatures remained in the low to mid-40s right through weigh-in. Anglers had to compete against each other and Mother Nature.
First place went to Mike Mitchell from Russellville, AL and Rick Sexton from Helenwood, TN. They used the precision anchoring technique to weigh 305.79 pounds in two days of fishing. Their bag included the Big Fish of the tournament at 80.04 pounds.
“Precision anchoring works well when you’re targeting a specific small area,” said Mitchell. “It is also the best way I’ve found to get big fish out of heavy cover. We anchored very close to trees making very short casts with a few rods out the back and a few straight down. We also cast a few out to the sides away from the structure.”
Nearly all the fish they caught were very tight to trees. When they are in tight like that, they can be very difficult to get out because of their brute strength. Mitchell and Sexton only lost one fish in the trees. Mitchell had to break it off. The team released one over on Saturday and five on Sunday. The Sunday releases included a 30-pound flathead.
“I use the Heavy action Big Cat Fever rods for this technique,” explained Mitchell. “The rods are paired with a Shimano Charter Special lever drag reel. I run a lot of drag and push it all the way up. Sometimes I add tension to the line with a finger just to turn their head and get them coming my way.”
Team Mitchell/Sexton was rigged with 40-pound Slime Line mono. They added a three-foot of 100-pound leader tied by Blacksheep Catfish Leaders. Hooks were 8/0 Team Catfish double action hooks which Mitchell choose for their sharpness that results in a quick and solid hookset.
“We experienced a sporadic bite on both days,” concluded Mitchell. “On the first day, the bite was best from 12:00-12:30. We caught about 7 fish and the 80-pounder. The second day we caught our two biggest fish in the first 10 minutes. All of our fish were 25-35 feet deep. As always, fresh bait paired with confidence and patience in gear you are using is key.”
Mitchell went on to thank his sponsors, Team Catfish, Monster Rod Holders, Big Cat Fever, Slime Line, Blacksheep Leaders, G3 Boats, Foley Spoons, and TTI Blakemore.
The father/son team of John and Ryan Bergland, and Eddie Henney claimed the runner up spot with 282.51 pounds. After being in second place after day one the Lawrence Lawn Care sponsored team had to use every trick in their arsenal to adapt to the changing conditions and hold on to their position.
“We used a little bit of everything to produce fish for us,” reported John Bergland. “We looked for water with structure that was holding fish. Despite the elements, we consistently located fish on both days of the tournament. One of the fish, about a 30-pound blue, already had a hook in its mouth with a few feet of line attached. ”
The team from Kansas was on a mission with their sights set high. Even though they would be fishing waters they never fished before, in weather that was less than agreeable, they gave it their all and it paid off. John credited Warrior Cat Rods for part of their success.
“We initially started dragging baits along tree rows,” reported Bergland. “That produced good fish but also came with a lot of hang-ups. So, we decide to anchor on the structure and fan cast around it. That method ended up working better. It produced better numbers of fish and less lost tackle.”
“Coming to Alabama on a fishin’ mission with a couple of hometown Kansas boys was awesome,” added Henney. “We set personal records for the amount of fish put in the boat for any two days ever fished. To do it in the Fishlife National Championship all the way across the country makes it a memory I will never forget.”
John was very proud of his son Ryan for his efforts at the tournament. Ryan actually put the first keeper in the livewell both mornings of the tournament. And he started them off on Sunday with a 48-pound Wheeler blue. He was the only youth angler to compete in the National Championship this year.
“Fishing the national championship was an incredible experience,” concluded John. “Especially since I was fishing new waters with two awesome teammates!”
The third-place spot went to Tim “Doc” Lange, Jason “Big Cat” Mathenia, and Vicky Mathenia. They depended on their years of experience to lead them to a two-day total weight of 258.56 pounds.
“We were spot-locking on the edges of the ledges in 50-70 feet of water,” reported Lange. “There was a transition of mud and trees with a ledge nearby. We would spot-lock about 150 feet away and cast the baits so as not to spook the fish.”
The team was marking the fish on sonar and throwing fresh bait to them. Emphasize the word “fresh.” According to Lange, they wanted it Carolina style on day-one and he caught most of the fish. On day two they hit the three-way rigs and Jason and Vicky caught most of the fish.”
“Mom, Doc and myself had a blast all week,” added Jason. “But I would have to say the most memorable thing about this weekend for me was the permanent grin on Doc’s face!”
“We talked all the time using our years of experience,” concluded Lange. “And there was plenty of that in my boat to make the correct decisions to target our fish.”
The Remaining Top Ten
4th Place – Steven Shugart and Anthony Ford – 218.09
5th Place – Roy Harkness and Cedric Poyner – 210.32
6th Place – Ruger McNeal, Blake Boecker, and Danny Combs – 201.11
7th Place – Gary Taylor and Devon Harvey – 194.62
8th Place – Wayne Reed and Randall Kirkland – 191.05
9th Place – David Shipman and Hunter Shipman – 182.80
10th Place – A.J. Giannetto and Matt Gannaway – 172.30
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