“How stupid an idea is this?” That was the question that Jim Hopper asked Steve Douglas on a phone call just a couple months earlier. Hopper is General Manager at Jeff Jones Marine, the physical location of what turned out to be the first time ever Catfish Conference. Steve Douglas is owner of Monster Rod Holders. Known as “The Catfish Dude,” Douglas often shares his catfish knowledge with eager viewers on his You Tube channel.
Douglas responded to Hopper with his own question. “What are you talking about?”
“This catfish community that we have grown to be really fond of.” retorted Hopper.” “What do they do for a trade show? Do they do it once a year, or what?
“They have never done it,” answered Douglas. “Its been talked about but never done.”
With that phone call plans for Catfish Conference 2016 began to take shape. “On that phone call we decided to do it,” revealed Hooper. “I never liked going to boat shows. Most of the boat shows are tailored to the bass fishermen and other species. They always have been and may always be. It seemed like they have something for everyone but the catfishing community. We wanted something different, something that focused on catfishing.”
With the decision to go forward the invitations went out. “The response from vendors was incredible,” continued Hopper. “Names like Suzuki, Yamaha, Sea Ark, B’n’M Poles, Express Boats, Excel Boats, Bottom Dwellers Tackle, and many more. Everyone wanted to be involved.”
That burst of enthusiasm for the gathering brought worries of having enough space. “Running out of space was a big worry,” said Jeff Jones, owner of Jeff Jones Marine. “You know we had people here from 21 states the last count that I had. We have a working facility here and we had to turn it into a venue for vendors to display and visitors to view. We were expecting a big crowd, but you never know what you are going to get.”
On the day before the conference it was a sight to behold. While a mechanic worked on an automobile on the north side of the facility banners were being strung from the rafters. Bottom Dwellers Tackle was setting up their boat show display on the other side. Likewise, catfish brands like Warrior Cat Tackle, Catch the Fever Rods, Mustad Hooks and too many more to mention were carving out their space in what was to be an overwhelmingly successful event.
On conference morning more vendors showed up early to finalize their booths before the show began. The front lobby had Lauren and Herve Drompt from Business House, the firm that developed the Catfish Conference Website. They were signing folks in and distributing brochures that included the seminar lineup for the day.
Catfish Weekly was setting up a broadcast location where they videoed and broadcast interviews with catfish enthusiasts all day long. In the corner of the lobby was a “photo booth” where anyone could come by and have their pictures taken. Other vendors filled out the front lobby to welcome the throng of visitors that came. The whole scene was a beehive of activity.
Jeff Jones described the early hours of the show as people flowed through the lobby on their way to the main hall in the back. “It started off before we officially opened, which was 9:00 am,” commented Jones. “At 7:30 this place was crowded. One of our vendors sold out by 8:10. Every thing here was about catfish. What ever they were interested in there was something for them. Tackle, boats, poles, anchors, bait, electronics, what ever. It was not originally intended to be a selling show. It was for the awareness. Nevertheless, there was plenty of stuff sold. It was all here for the catfishers.”
“Great crowds gathered, continued Jones. “People hung out, they talked and they communicated. A lot of these guys do the tournament fishing and a lot of them are folks that just go fishing. They got to talk to the people that run the tournament trails, they got to talk to the pros and they got to talk to each other. It was a very beneficial day for a lot of folks.”
Jones took a moment to focus on the sport itself. “Catfishing is a family sport,” stated Jones. “No matter what age, they can participate in catfishing. If the wife doesn’t get into it that much she can still enjoy it because the family is together. And the kids, they all love it. Its fun, they just love being out there. That’s one thing about the catfish fishing part of it; it is a family orientated sport and we had a lot of families here today.”
“This conference was good for the catfish industry. It is probably the fastest growing fishing sport right now. The great thing about it is, how good you are, doesn’t matter. You don’t have to be a pro to participate. It is a sport that everybody can win in if they want to participate. And that’s another good thing about the sport.”
Hopper had similar feelings about the conference. “We are very pleased with the conference. Very pleased and very relieved. It exceeded our expectations. It has gone off without a hitch, which is awesome. I have been worried about that for two months.”
Hopper expects most of the vendors to want to be more involved next year. “It is very good for them because they have a captive audience,” said Hopper. “Based on reports that have gotten back to us, many vendors want to be more involved next year and this thing isn’t even over. That’s a good sign. One example is the guys with Catch the Fever. They sold over 250 rods.”
Anglers benefited greatly too. Speaking of the catfish community Hopper said, “It is almost like a brotherhood with these guys. If we didn’t have anything they would enjoy just seeing each other. There were a lot of discussions that will be good for the tournament trails and things like that. I am just really really happy.”
“I think everybody was just surprised that something like this has not been done before,” continued Hopper. “I know there has been a lot of talk about it. I wanted to do something so I would not feel so bad about not going to boat shows. I had to sooth my own conscience. I felt like we had to do something.”
“This has been a home run for everybody involved,” concluded Hopper. “Demographically there has been people come from far, far away to come to this thing. I think that for the catfishing community this is about as central as you can get. We are already looking to next year, possibly moving to a bigger venue. We would like to see it grow next year.”
It took several people to plan and carry out Catfish Conference 2016. “Everybody was ready,” said Jones. “Jim Hopper with vendors, Steve Douglas did a good job promoting it and Lauren and Herve Drompt did a good job on the website. The response was overwhelming. I was very happy with the turnout and we didn’t have many glitches. There were a few little problems here and there, but we overcame them and everybody was happy. You live and learn. The first of anything is a learning experience.”
“I think we probably set some records for a first time event like this,” speculated Jones. “We didn’t really do anything special other than put it out there and have it. I think the catfish community was ready for it.”
Epilogue: The transformation of a working marine facility into an outdoor show venue was nothing short of remarkable. By all accounts there was plenty of help, including vendors, pros and everyday anglers, but credit needs to go to Jeff Jones Motors & Marine for making the facility available and overseeing the transformation. This relatively small business and their staff in Versailles, KY, and Steve Douglas, have much to be proud of for their part in Catfish Conference 2016.
“We are a two-man operation,” stated Hopper. “I sell em’ and Jack rigs em’. We do about 140 boats a year. We might do 200 boats this year. Our business future is extremely bright right now.” So is the future of catfishing and Catfish Conferences yet to come.