Catfish Conference 2016 was a gathering of catfish enthusiasts from all walks of life. A walk through the crowed aisles would provide a one-on-one chat with a tournament pro at one time and an everyday angler at another. The aisles were full of friendly people sharing their passion for catfishing.
There were catfish guides, tournament directors and fishing families showing their support for the catfishing way of life. Seminars were providing information on how to rig for them, where to look for them and how to take care of them once they were caught. If that sounds like the perfect scenario for venders wanting to show their wares, it was.
The hall was lined with vendors representing all aspects of catfishing equipment and paraphernalia. Poles, baits, boats, hooks, reels, you name it, and Catfish Conference 2016 had it.
“We brought our Big Cat Fever line of products here today,” said Kaleb Page. Page, along with fellow Co-Owners, Tony Cayton and Justin Cayton, operate Catch The Fever Outdoors. They manufacture and distribute Big Cat Fever Rods as well as fishing apparel and hats (hoodies, shirts and hats).
Catch The Fever Outdoors had been the talk of the catfish world leading up to Catfish Conference 2016 when they paid out on a standing promotion to “earn” up to $15,000 by using Catch The Fever Products to bag a certified state record fish.
“If anglers catch a certified state record fish that is on our eligible species list on the website and they are wearing any Catch The Fever apparel and it is visible in a photo with the fish, they can earn $5,000,” explained Page. “If anglers catch a certified state record on our rod and have the rod in the photo clearly visible with the fish, anglers can earn $10,000. If you catch the record wearing the apparel and using the rod, that’s a total of $15,000.”
Blues, flatheads and channel cats are the eligible catfish species. “We had one angler earn the payout last year,” revealed Page. “Zakk Royce caught a certified state record blue cat while wearing our apparel and using our rod. He earned both payouts, receiving $15,000 for his record catch.” Anglers who want to learn more about the payout can go to catchthefever.com and click on “payout”.
Like many other successful fishing products, the Big Cat Fever line of rods came from a perceived need by passionate anglers. Pages description of how the Big Cat Fever Rods came to be is a perfect example of the kind of information available to attendees at Catfish Conference 2016.
The Catch The Fever Outdoors team is from the Raleigh, North Carolina, area. “We are between two great fisheries,” reported Page. “We have Kerr, Lake home of the world record and the James River. Having those two fisheries near helped us mold our rod to handle different kinds of fishing.”
“We fish both lakes and rivers and we are big in both,” indicated Page. “It had been so hard to find a rod that will work good for rivers but also work good for the lakes. Based on our frustration to find a single rod to fish both types of water we decided to build our own rod.”
With that decision the Big Cat Fever line of medium heavy rods were born. “A lot of guys end up having two sets of rod’s,” continued Page. “They had one set for lakes and one for rivers. With the lake rods they are using 2 to 3 ounces of weight because they like to feel the fight. When you take those same rods to the river, where there is heavy current and a need for heavier sinkers, the rods load up in the rod holders and become so it a problem.”
The easy answer was to have two sets of rods. “Using the stiffer river rods in the lake made it feel like you were winching the fish in. Our intent was to create an action that would give you a fun fight in the lake and at the same time work well on the river. Having fun pulling in big blues from the lake or the river is what our rod can do for anglers.”
Page went on to explain how the action in Big Cat Fever Rods benefits anglers. “The tip has an action that allows the fish to pick up the bait and walk that bait into his mouth before swallowing it. It gives a little bit more time before he feels the resistance of the rod. If you are using circle hooks, say out of the current, and you start fishing on the flats, our rod allows the fish to pull that rod down slower without feeling the resistance right at first. When it hits that backbone, it will increase your hookup ratio using circle hooks. Too many guys think that their circle hooks aren’t doing the job, when they need to look at their rod.”
There are three parts to it. There is a rod, there is a rod holder and then your circle hook. If any of those fail it decreases your hookup ratio. Our rod will increase your hookup ratio because of the action in the blank. Our rod gives the fish the ability to pull it with out feeling the resistance, but a backbone that will snatch him sidewise.”
The rod holder is important too. “If you get some of the cheaper rod holders you might be disappointed,” instructed Page. “The best way to tell a good one is to put your rod in the rod holder and take the line and pull on it. If anything is giving it is not good enough.”
“All catfishermen know that the side of the catfishes mouth and the roof of his mouth is really hard,” continued Page. “You have to be able to really bury that hook so you better have a good one. If anyone of those three components fail you are not getting that hook set like you should.”
“Your rod holder has to be mounted and it has to be solid. Next you need a good rod. When the fish hits that backbone the hook has to do its job. If you have any give that hook is not sinking in. That is why so many guys get a big fish up to the boat and the hook pulls out. So, if you have a good rod holder and good hooks, a good rod will actually increase your hook up ratio if it is designed correctly.”
Page and his partners have had a lot of experience landing big catfish. Page shared his theory on the subject. “I just recently landed a 111 pound blue on the James River on medium heavy,” commented Page. “I think that when you are in the fight with a big blue having your drag set correctly is crucial. If you have it too loose you won’t get that hook buried.”
By the same token the drag can be too tight. “When that fish dives and goes under the boat is when your line will snap or you cause stress in other components if the drag is too tight. A lot of guys make the mistake of locking their drag down when that fish is under the boat and they break off. Having your drag set correctly will make the fight fun. The fish will be able to pull that drag and we all love to hear drag. A correctly set drag will allow the fish to take line when he needs it and you will have more success at landing the big ones.“
“I think some of the biggest cats have a mentality that if you place a little pressure they give a little pressure,” said Page. “They act like they are not hooked. It happened with me on that 111 pounder. When he was hooked he actually buried the rod before turning around and coming to the boat. He was just swimming normal. I didn’t really know how big he was. The rod was bent but he really didn’t show himself.”
“Zach Royce experienced that same thing when he caught those two world records,” said Page. “Trophy catfish just kind of swim along. They are big and they know they are in charge. When they feel that resistance directly below the boat that’s when they flip out and when they start coming up. They see light, they startle, and they dive back down. Catfish surge, they take off, they freak out when they get below the boat. Big fish get away right there a lot of times.”
Page turned the conversation to the conference and its theme of bringing the catfish community together. “The Conference has been great,” said Page. “We are very glad to be here and promote our Big Cat Fever line of rods. The conference has been very beneficial to draw attention to the catfish industry and get people talking about the future.”
“Crappie, bass and other species all get a lot of attention. It is great to see hardworking guys like Steve Douglas (Monster Rod Holders) and, Jim Hopper and Jeff Jones (Jeff Jones Marine) bring this thing together. Those guys have given facilities and resources to put the spotlight on catfishing in a positive way.”
“It is really quite phenomenal,” continued Page. “It is actually invaluable to growing this sport and taking it to the next level. What it does is draw in the right kind of positive feedback that will help the catfishing industry grow.”
Page identified regulations as an important factor in growing the sport. “I think the next level from where catfishing is now relates to regulation. Like putting limits on the size and number of catfish you can keep. I think that is the next level.”
“I also think you will see a change in the gear,” suggested Page. “That is something we try to do. Catfishing is no longer a Coleman lantern and an old beat up spincast rod. Those days are over. Sports evolve and I hope to see regulations change so catfish become a gamefish. Then you will see the gear start to change. With higher quality gear you will see more guys chasing the big fish. That’s part of the next level to me.”
Page views bigger rod companies like B’n’M as role models. “We are here at the conference with other people that make good solid rods,” explained Page. “We have great competition out there. I guess any owner of a company feels like they have a different vision and I feel like my vision and my business partners vision is not just to say we want to be on the cutting edge, but to show it in our products. We are excited about those big companies because we want to get to that point and we think we have what it takes. It becomes a goal to be like them.”
Page reflects the stated mission of the 2016 Catfish Conference as a community get-together where catfish anglers can come together and help the sport grow. “There is negative vibes in the industry based on how we treat our competitors,” stated Page. “It is growing pains and it can be overcome with education.”
Page gave an example of one angler wanting to keep a fish and another saying he shouldn’t. “Part of the growing pains is one person saying I want to keep a big fish. Another person is saying he expects to turn him back. The solution is all in how you approach somebody. If I tell this person I am going to burn his house down if he keeps that 30-pound fish there is going to be friction. If I come to them in a nice way, like someone did to me a long time ago, and explain the importance of catch and release on big fish and how old that fish was that they just killed, that could turn their mind around.”
“There will be some that still want to argue, just let them go,” advised Page. “That’s fine. You will catch a lot more flies with honey. How we treat each other is what counts. I am sure the bass industry had the same growing pains. Some folks will resist and say we have always done it this way, but I am going to do it a new way. There is a new generation that is learning to protect the species. Eventually it will all catch up and come together. How companies talk about each other and how we talk to each other and the public to educate them is what will make a difference.”
Page ended his interview with his version of Proverbs 22:1. “A good name is better than riches. If you get through life with a good name people will remember and respect you.”