Brasher: Catfish anglers could be headed for fame
Scripps Howard News Service
By BRYAN BRASHER
Scripps Howard News Service
MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- As a sport, competitive catfishing hasn't reached the same level of national and worldwide acclaim as professional bass fishing. But it's grown by gigantic leaps and bounds since its inception during the early 1990s, and there doesn't seem to be a clear ceiling for it.
Catfishing greats like Jeff Dodd and Larry Muse haven't achieved the same name or face recognition as bass fishing greats like Kevin VanDam and Mark Rose. But they're starting to reel in some heavyweight sponsors like Bass Pro Shops and Abu Garcia, and I won't be surprised to see them land more in the future.
When people first began holding organized catfishing tournaments, there weren't really any true "tournament catfishermen."
The tournaments were dominated by bass and crappie fishermen who happened to enjoy catfishing, too. They had the knowledge and the time, so they took advantage of the opportunity.
Today, a part-time catfish angler doesn't have a chance because the tournaments are won by diehards.
The anglers who are pre-fishing the Mississippi River this week for Saturday's Bass Pro Shops Big Cat Quest fishing tournament are coming fully equipped to do so.
You could pitch a tent in some of their big, roomy boats, and their rod-and-reels are designed to whip 100-pound, hard-fighting fish in swift water.
They use the same river-mapping sonar that was used to locate the wreckage of the Titanic, and they can go back to their best fishing holes on the largest river in the United States over and over again in the bright sunshine of high noon or in the pitch-black dark of midnight.
Fishing industry giants should have already moved to turn some of these guys into household names.
Dodd, for example, could be a gold mine for a fishing tackle organization trying to reach the common man.
He's big enough to play nose guard in the SEC, and he has a big personality to match.
Your first thought when you meet him is, "Man, I hope he doesn't beat me up." But you leave every conversation with him feeling like you've made a buddy who would beat up anybody who tried to push you around.
Are you telling me he couldn't help a company sell slip floats or heavy-duty line or dip nets or anything else that appeals to today's common angler?
Dodd was recently named to the pro staff for the Bass Pro Shops Memphis store -- which means he'll be doing seminars once in a while and doing scattered public appearances.
That's great. But more people should be looking for more ways to get the most out of Dodd's booming persona and good old boy nature.
Then there's Memphis angler Matt Bingham.
Four months ago, Bingham caught the largest flathead catfish ever caught in the fishing-crazy state of Mississippi. He's a well-spoken, nice-looking young guy who catches as many fish as anyone I know and always has something positive to say.
Surely there's something a marketing executive could do with that.
There's at least a half-dozen anglers in Corinth, Miss., alone who could help put a new down-home spin on the fishing industry.
There's Muse, Phil King, Tim Haynie, David Shipman, Frank and Dino Meador ... I'm sure I'm leaving someone out because the list is so long.
(Seriously, do they start teaching kids over there how to catch catfish when they're in kindergarten or what?)
At the very least, the city of Corinth should get together and find a way to capitalize on their success -- maybe a big sign that says "Welcome to Corinth: Home of the World's Greatest Catfish Anglers."
Of course, the fishing industry folks will have to be smart about it.
No matter how many tournaments these guys win or how many big fish they bring to the scales, they're not going to help companies sell things that people can't use -- like rods that are only designed for giant cats or anchors that can only be used in giant boats.
But there's a segment of the fishing public that is more likely to be reached by a plain-spoken good old boy holding a catfish than they are by a smooth-talking bass pro.
(Contact Bryan Brasher at brasher(at)commercialappeal.com.)