Dec 2020 Techniques

Enjoying the Birthday Blues

Fast action on chunky blue catfish made Grayson Bannister’s 16th birthday a special day.

 

A Birthday Catfish Trip Brings a New Angler to the Sport

by Terry Madewell

Fast action and big fish will do it every time!

 

The transition from a peaceful sunrise on a mirror-slick lake to drag-screeching, fish-thrashing mayhem occurs in the twinkling of an eye when targeting big, blue catfish. When the first catfish rod doubled over, 16-year-old first-time catfish angler Grayson Bannister reeled hard, as he’d been coached, to bury the 8/0 circle hook into the catfish’s mouth.

Fish solidly hooked, he held the rod high and planted his feet to battle the heavyweight blue. In that instant, the 8-foot rod to his right buried 3-eyes deep into Lake Wateree as the drag screamed like a banshee. He instinctively grabbed the rod with his right hand and now had a double-handful of big-cat power stretching his arms in different directions.

His first catfish ever was two catfish and both were drag-screamers.

Enter the backup plan. Grayson’s granddad Tommy Lucas, who’d planned this event as a surprise birthday catfish trip for Grayson’s 16th birthday took one of the rods.

They worked the big blues to the boat and despite the water-churning, close-quarter action with two wallowing ‘water hogs’ we boated both.

Grayson Bannister strains to get another big blue close enough for Poppa Lucas to net.

You only get one ‘first time’ in anything and that first-time experience impacts your perspective on that subject the rest of your life. Grayson’s very first catfish-catching experience definitely left a positive mark on the young man’s psyche.

Happy Birthday young man.

A high school freshman at Blythewood High School in South Carolina, Grayson lives with grandparents Tommy and Tina Lucas and calls Tommy ‘Poppa’. An avid athlete specializing in baseball he’s always liked fishing but family, school, and ‘ball’ consume his time so his fishing experience is limited.

Being longtime friends with the Lucas family and having known Grayson since he was knee-high to a beagle pup, this old writer was honored to take him on his first catfishing trip. Tommy found a hole in their weekend ‘ballgame’ schedule that coincided with his birthday, which might be the sole good fortune of the entire 2020 COVID 19 experience I’ve seen.

The adventure began 90-minutes before sunrise cast-netting for bait. He talked about how he’d always wanted to get involved in fishing and learn more about it.

“I’ve always played sports and weekends are always planned well in advance, so I just haven’t had the opportunity,” he said. “But just being out on the water before daylight to catch our own bait is different than I expected. A lot more goes into fishing than just casting a line into the water and waiting.”

A very good first lesson for any angler.

Grayson stayed involved with the entire fish-finding-catching process throughout the trip. His eyes were glued to the graph screen while we searched to locate specific underwear features where forage and catfish were marked.

He asked questions about what was marked on the screen.

“So, we’re actually seeing fish around the boat with white perch and catfish right here, right now,” he said. “And we’re fishing for them. That’s cool.”

Grayson is a quick study and the wheels were turning in his mind about the extensive ‘process’ involved in catfishing. We went through the drill about catfish rigs, how to use circle hooks, keeping pressure on the fish, and holding the rod high.

He watched rods like the proverbial hawk and went on point when a tip scarcely moved. Despite being up since 3:30 a.m., he was alert and focused. The lake was quiet for about half an hour after our first set up, but as the sun began to light up the eastern sky the hoped-for feeding melee began.

When that first rod bowed down to the water, Grayson was on it. He kept the rod tip high while wrangling the fish toward the boat once Poppa Lucas took over the second rig. He obviously listened and comprehended as I’d explained what would likely happen when a big fish was hooked and what his counter-measures should be.

In the next few hours Grayson, with assistance from Poppa (who quickly became an expert ‘netman’ with some seriously-fast on-the-job training) put 11-more double-digit sized catfish in the boat. With multiple fish over 20-pounds landed and smaller ones scattered in, it was a wild, successful morning.

By the end of the trip, Grayson had a good handle on spotting big catfish and forage on drops and humps and was a confirmed catfisherman.

Of course, no fishing trip would be complete without the “big one that got away” story. After boating his first two catfish he hooked, the next one taught the young angler a lesson in catfish power. To his credit, Grayson fought the fish to the boat, but the thrashing, rolling monster-cat that I estimated at 35-pounds-plus, broke the line right at the boat, mere inches from the outstretched, long-handled net.

“Wow, I had no idea a fish could be so strong,” Bannister said.

Before he had time to dwell on the lost fish, another rod bowed and he was back in fish-fighting mode.

Between catfish bites Grayson busied himself with catching two-and-three white perch at a time.

“Even with rods rigged for catfishing we’re catching perch for bait, and can even keep the big perch for supper,” he said. “Yeah, I’m into this kind of action.”

By the end of the trip, Grayson was correctly identifying shad, perch, and catfish images on the graph screen.

“Catfish are going to be where they can eat,” he said, nodding and reciting something said before dawn that morning.

We named him honorary Captain and he took us home following the track we’d marked on the graph that morning.

“This is a really fun birthday, not just for catching a bunch of fish but learning what all goes into it,” he said. “This is an absolute ball and more challenging than I’d imagined. Yeah, I’m loving this.”

The old saying about baseball skills holds true with catfish-catching and from my perspective Grayson Bannister is a ‘natural’. While baseball consumes his summer and fall, he said he’s now locked into going catfishing whenever he can, and the young man is welcome on my boat anytime.

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