The Alabama Catfish Trail (ACT) resumed competition Saturday, March 12 at Wheeler Lake, launching out of Ingalls Harbor. ACT kicked off the season on Alabama’s Wheeler Lake in January with their Winter Blues on Wheeler competition where 80 boats competed. Paul and Tammy Strouth and Brian Lawson won that contest with a 5 fish weight of 168.90 pounds of Wheeler Lake blue catfish.
The trail’s second 2016 trip to Wheeler did not disappoint. The rod and reel competition allowed anglers to weigh in blue cat, channel cat, or flathead catfish. Unlike Winter Blues on Wheeler where 5 fish were weighed, each team was limited to 3 fish at weigh-in with one fish over 34 inches. Fish must also be alive to weigh in. The winning weight resulted in a personal best (PB) blue catfish for one lucky angler.
The winning team was Jonathon and Jackie Cooksey and David Shipman. The three-man team set a record for the heaviest 3 fish limit in ACT history. “We were using skipjack for bait,” reported Jonathon Cooksey. “It was really a slow day and the lake is still muddy from all of the rainfall. The weather was better than forecasted with little wind and the rain held off until the last hour of the tournament. We tried a little bit of everything to get our weight. We marked several fish but they weren’t biting very well.”
It was Jonathon that caught his personal best 75-pound blue cat in the competition. “My previous PB was 60 pounds,” revealed Jonathon. “The fight with the 75 pounder was interesting because I caught it on lighter tackle than we normally use. It was actually a heavy action bass rod. The fight was 20 to 30 minutes long. I was an avid bass fisherman just a few years ago before I changed to catfish. I still have some bass stuff that I use for catfish. As luck would have it the fish hit the lightest setup that we had.”
“Luckily we caught the 75 pound fish,” continued Jonathon. “We only caught 2 fish under 34 inches all day. ACT has a 3 fish limit (one over 34 and 2 under). We had the big one and an 11-pound fish with only about 30 minutes left in the day. We hooked our last under fish and it was almost in when it became tangled with another line. We reeled it as far as we could with the tangled line. I had to pull the last few feet in with my hand. Luckily the braided line didn’t cut my hand and we landed our last fish of the day.”
Jonathon’s 75.2-pound fish lifted the team’s 3-fish limit to 100.6 pounds, the best weight in ACT history. It gave team Cooksey/Cooksey/Shipman 1st Place and Big Fish honors for the day.
Second place went to a single member team. Mike Mitchell. He his 3 fish weighed 79.1 pounds. His big fish weighted 53.1 pounds.
Third place went to Cad Daly and Vince Nadosky. Team Daly/Nadosky brought 64.2 pounds to the scales. They had a big fish of 32.5 pounds.
With the exception of the maximum load requirement of the USCG, there is no limit to the number of people participating on a team in ACT competition. Additionally, ACT is starting a “Ride Along” program that will encourage new catfish anglers to join the sport.
Introducing new anglers to the sport of catfishing is a goal of many tournament and recreational anglers. Jonathon Cooksey was converted from bass fishing to catfishing and now has a new personal best, an ACT win and holds a new weight record to boot. “I’m forever grateful to my dad and David Shipman for introducing me to trophy cat fishing!” concluded Jonathon. Anyone wishing to participate in the program, captains or anglers, should contact ACT Tournament Director, Daniel Parsons (205-209-2794).
The ACT has 6 tournaments and the year ending Classic to look forward to. The Classic location is determined by team votes. Each team will place one vote in the “Hat” after each weigh-in. For each tournament fished teams receive one vote. If a team fishes just 1 tournament they have one vote to cast for the Classic locations. If a team fishes 5 tournaments they have 5 votes to cast towards determining the Classic location. ACT posts a running tally after each tournament so anglers can follow the vote. The Classic entry fee will be $100 plus one toy that will be donated to Toys for Tots.
The next trail event is April 23, 2016. All remaining tournaments are listed below:
April 23 Neely Henry Gadsden (Coosa Landing) 7am-4pm
May 21 Pickwick Florence (McFarland Park) 7am-4pm
June 18 Lay Lake Columbiana (Beeswax) 7am-4pm
July 9 Wilson (Safety Harbor) 5pm-2am
August 13 Logan Martin Pell City (Lakeside Landing) 5pm-2am
Sept. 10 Guntersville (State Park) 7am-4pm
October 29 2016 CLASSIC TBD
For more information related to ACT visit their website. Other information can by found on the Alabama Catfish Trail Facebook Page. Parsons can be reached at (205) 209-2794.