Stefanie Stanley needed a little help from her net man, her husband Rob, in posing for a photo with the 82.05-pound blue catfish she caught in 2013 at Milford Lake.
Kansas Cat Woman
Kansas couple spell trouble for big Kansas blue cats
by Brent Frazee
Let’s get one thing clear right from the start. Stefanie Stanley is more than just a “tag-along” when she goes fishing with her husband Rob. True, Rob is well-known in Kansas for the 102.8-pound state-record blue catfish he caught in 2012 on the Missouri River.
But Stefanie has found some fame of her own. A year after her husband caught a record fish, she reeled one in, too.
Fishing in a buddy tournament with Rob, she landed an 82.05-pound blue cat at Milford reservoir in northeast Kansas—a lake record and believed to be the biggest blue cat ever caught in a Kansas reservoir (or at least, the biggest weighed on certified scales).
So, who gets bragging rights in this family? To keep peace in the boat, the Stanleys agree that it’s a tie.
“Stefanie has what it takes to be a good catfisherman,” Rob said. “When we go out, we’re looking for the biggest fish that swims. And those big ones don’t come along every day. It might take 10 trips to catch a big one and Stefanie knows that. She has the patience that it takes. She has a passion for catching these big fish just like I do.”
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the Stanleys often see a reward for their patience. The couple from Olathe, KS, have caught and released many fish in the 40- to 60-pound range and still have their sights set on a blue cat larger than the ones they caught in 2012-2013.
Those fish don’t come easily, but the Stanleys frequently fish in a region where those big ones live. They fish weekly on the Missouri and Kaw Rivers in the Kansas City area, where many big blue cats reside. They also travel to Milford, Coffey County, La Cygne, John Redmond and Melvern reservoirs in Kansas, all known for their big blue cats.
When they do, Stefanie is easy to spot on the water. She is the one fishing with her customary pink fishing rods and purple reels.
“At one time, we worked together and fished together,” Stefanie said. “My friends would say, ‘How do you spend so much time together?’ But we get along. We fish the same way and there isn’t a lot of arguing in the boat. We each carry our weight.”
Indeed, Stefanie knows where to find the shad and Asian carp that the Stanleys use as bait, and is adept at tossing out a throw net. She also knows the ways of the river—where to fish under certain conditions, where the big ones hang out, and making decisions such as when to anchor and when to drift.
The Stanleys use the electronics on their boat to find the big blues. But success often comes down to acting on their hunches.
That’s how it was back in 2013 when Stefanie caught her 82.05-pound blue catfish in a Catfish Chasers tournament. It was late in the tournament and the couple decided to make one last stop before heading to weigh-in. When they marked what they thought to be catfish on a flat, they anchored and cast out their lines. Within minutes, Stefanie saw her pink rod bounce a bit, then bend. The drag started screaming and the fight was on.
If you’re expecting a story about an epic battle, you’ll be disappointed. It took Stepfanie only eight minutes to get the blue cat into the net. That’s when the real fight started.
“It took us as long to get the fish into the boat as it did for me to reel it in,” reported Stefanie.
The Stanleys eventually had the giant blue cat thrashing around in their boat and they were headed to weigh-in for the tournament, which they won. The fish was later released, as are all the big blue cats and flatheads they catch.
For the 45-year-old Stefanie, that experience amounted to a highlight in a life filled with chasing catfish. She was brought up fishing for channel cats with her dad on Perry Lake in northeast Kansas. They would camp along the water, and spend hours fishing. They used homemade bait—dough balls made of Wheaties and strawberry soda—and stinkbait.
“One time, my dad told us the stinkbait was peanut butter,” recalled Stefanie with a laugh. “I had a cousin who tried eating it and he almost threw up.”
Today, the Stanleys target big fish and it runs in the family. Their daughter, BayLeigh, held bragging rights at one time when she caught a 72-pound blue cat while fishing with Rob on the Missouri River. But now both mom and dad have bigger fish and they’re still aiming for something bigger.
Along their catfish journey they’ve gained the respect of the region’s catfish community. Though Stefanie is one of the few women competing in area tournaments, other competitors know she can put big fish in the boat.
“Oh, yeah, Stefanie is a good fisherman,” said Ryan Gnagy, a catfish guide at Milford who was one of the Stanleys’ mentors early on. “She definitely knows what she is doing. She catches some big fish.”
But Stefanie says she is still learning. After a year of flooding on rivers and reservoirs in 2019 that limited boating access, she and Rob plan to do more fishing this year.
“Rob goes out with friends several times a week, and I try to go with him a couple times,” concluded Stefanie. “Even if we’re not catching much, I still love the peacefulness of being out. It takes you out of the grind.”