John Tinsley may have been the only one around that was older than the tournament.
Savannah Tennessee carries the moniker, “The Catfish Capital of the World.” The main reason for that designation is the annual National Catfish Derby and World Championship of Catfishing that has taken place there along the Tennessee River for 79 years.
It was an all-day event in Downtown Savannah. Food vendors, bluegrass music, kids’ activities, arts and crafts vendors, and an antique tractor show graced the streets from 9 am until 5 pm on September 26, 2020. In the meantime, catfish anglers were searching the surrounding waters for trophy catfish. The competitors would meet at 3:00 pm behind the town courthouse to weigh the fish and crown the 2020 WCC Champs.
This year’s champs were not new to the winner’s circle. Corinth, MS anglers, Phil King and Tim Haynie, brought 156.8 pounds to the scales to claim the 2020 title of World Champions of Catfishing. King and Hanie had won it several times before.
While these legends of the sport were doing their thing, a relative newcomer was lurking in the shadows. Lonnie and Dawn Fountain are also well known on the tournament trail, but on this day, they brought along Ellijay, GA angler, John Tinsley, Dawn’s uncle.
“I have been with the Fountains on several tournaments,” Tinsley said. “They have been teaching me to bump and drift. I had three trips on the Mississippi with no luck. This one was my best with two good keepers.”
When the fish were weighed and the tabulations completed, the family team from Georgia had placed third and John Tinsley had won the Senior Angler Award. They had a total weight of 103.8 pounds, thanks to Tinsley’s contribution of two overs to the bag, including his winning fish at 37.8 pounds.
Tinsley sounded like a seasoned pro as he described his day on the water with Lonnie and Dawn. I think he was savoring the day and at the same time looking to the future.
“We started our day a little way from the ramp,” explained Tinsley. “We were pulling planer boards and dragging weights with skipjack for bait. The morning bite was slow with only a couple of small fish.”
The threesome was fishing water depths from 35 to 50 feet deep. There were several other boats in the area so they set up on a straight line and started fishing.
“We managed a couple of small fish on the drag,” reported Tinsley. “Then about mid-day, I got a heavy bite. It was a thrill for me because it was my biggest catfish ever and the biggest fish for the day.”
A few minutes later the 83-year-old Tinsley got another bite and another thrill. Now he had the second largest fish of the day.
“Now I am having fun,” admitted Tinsley. “Dawn got the next one. It was about 25 pounds but was an over and had to go back.”
The team worked hard to get the big bite and replace an over but it didn’t happen. The remainder of their fish were unders. They headed to the scales to see how they would finish.
“Overall it was a good day but you’re always hoping for a bonus fish,” declared Tinsley. “Just to be able to enjoy the time on the water is precious to me. I have fished the Mississippi River with no luck, but this trip was so rewarding to me.”
Tinsley’s expertise is in bass fishing, but he is quickly adapting to the catfish game. He said he finds the sport challenging but given his skill as an angler the learning curve will likely be short. Just witness the two trophy fish he caught to help his team place in the money—not to mention the individual honor of winning top senior angler.
“Thanks to Dawn and Lonnie Fountain for their patience,” concluded Tinsley. “They have taught me the basic things I need to know to enjoy this sport. They have given me a new direction in my life and a new sport to enjoy. Our next one is in Texas where I have a good chance to get a monster. Catfishing is new to me, but I found out that older people can participate in this sport. Not like the younger ones, but at a slower speed while enjoying life.”
The team thanked their sponsors Bottom Dweller Tackle, Driftmaster Rod Holders, BK Products, Bloodline Tackle, and Anchor Wizard.