Zach Srnsky is shown here holding the treasured Scheels Catfish Cup after winning the 2017 Scheels Boundary Battle Catfish Tournament. He partnered with Trevor Rodd
Family Catfish Tradition, Tragedy, and Success
Early success met with tragedy before coming full circle back to success.
by Brad Durick
Red River of the North catfish angler Zach Srnsky has been chasing catfish for as long as he can remember and tournament fishing for half of that time. Twenty-eight-year-old Srnsky, of Grand Forks, North Dakota has achieved one of the greatest successes of Red River tournament fishing. His life and fishing career were struck by tragedy and after years of trying to find his way back, he is now the man to beat.
Since 2017, Srnsky has won the Scheels Boundary Battle, Cats Incredible, Drayton Rod and Reel Rally, I-29 Classic, and was named 2019 Red River Valley Catfish League’s Angler of the Year. He has accomplished all this while fishing with different partners at each event.
Fishing and winning these tournaments is so much more than just going to a tournament with his buddies for a fun day on the water. Every tournament appearance is to honor his father who took him fishing as a kid and got him into tournament fishing. Srnsky says he has fished his entire life. He was on the bank or in a boat on the river with his dad every chance they got. That’s just how it was and he loved every minute of it.
Srnsky’s dad, Troy was known locally as one of the area’s top catfish tournament anglers for years. His fishing partner was his bother in law, Darwin Lunski. In 2005 the elder Srnsky and Lunksi won the once-famous Cats Incredible Catfish Tournament on the Red River of the North.
In those days, Cats Incredible was the largest catfish tournament in the United States. It was capped at 150 boats and it filled up the first day of registration. Some years there were so many entrants they had to use a lottery system to choose the 150 teams that would compete.
In 2007 Troy and Darwin decided to split their team up and fish the tournament with their sons Zach and Branden who were getting into their teenage years. That tournament is when Zach’s love for catfishing went into high gear. It is a passion that is even stronger today.
During the 2009 Cats Incredible tournament the stars aligned and Team Srnsky put together two huge days to take home the win. Their winning total weight remains the all-time high for the Cats Incredible tournament. With the winnings, they put money down on a newer boat, feeling confident they could pull off more wins in the future. The following year they placed fourth but were right in the hunt for the win until the end.
Due to flooding in 2011, the Red River tournament season was lost. That fall the Srnsky family was struck with tragedy as Troy passed away suddenly in an auto accident. This left young Zach lost for a while in fishing and in life. He says he had issues that most young people who lose a parent have to deal with and work through.
“He wasn’t just my dad,” said Zach when asked about the death of his father. “He was my best friend. Yeah, I had some very dark days.”
The next two years Zach fished Cats Incredible with his mom, Tami. She reported that they didn’t do all that well. It took some years to get things back in order and for Zach to find his mojo.
Then, in 2017, Zach and his partner, Randy Bauer, claimed victory at the Cats Incredible event. Nearly a decade after winning it with his dad, Zach won it in memory of his dad.
According to Zach, he now fishes every tournament in his dad’s memory—the Cats Incredible tournament in particular. Interestingly, he still tournament fishes with the same rods that the father/son team used to win the 2009 tournament.
Zach says that even now, as an adult, he would be partnering in tournaments with his dad. He carries the #1 team badge from that 2009 win for inspiration during the tournaments.
“Winning tournaments is a happy time,” offered Zach. “But it’s also hard because dad is not there to celebrate with me. It’s just not the same. I know he is always with me but I just wish he was here.”
When asked what his dad would think about all of the changes in the local catfishing landscape, he had a mixed response.
“He would be disappointed in the decline of the Cats Incredible tournament,” responded Zach. “But happy with where catfishing and tournaments as a whole have gone.”
Zach Srnsky has become one of the “heavy hitters” on the Red River. With a big list of wins in the past few years. Many who compete against him have come to wonder what his secret to success is. It is based on confidence and competitiveness.
“I am not happy just to be there, I know I am going to win,” said Zach. “And it’s fun to give Uncle Darwin a run for his money.”
Some may think his statement cocky. However, it is an approach that has kept him and his partners at the top of the leader board. His philosophy is relatively simple.
“Stay away from spots that you know other people fish.” advised Zach.
For a guy like Zach to be this successful there must be some trick to preparation and prefishing. But shockingly, he doesn’t like to prefish. He has a lot of success for a guy who doesn’t prefish. Maybe other anglers need to take note?
Zach Srnsky, a boy who just loved to fish with his dad, has become a champion in his dad’s memory. If you ever fish a Red River Catfish Tournament it is likely that you will compete against him. Keep in mind that he is a guy to beat and he has a guardian angel.
Captain Brad Durick is a nationally recognized catfish guide on the Red River of the North, seminar speaker, and author of the books Cracking the Channel Catfish Code and Advanced Catfishing Made Easy. For more information go to www.redrivercatfish.com.