There’s good reason for his optimism. In July, for example, a night tournament sponsored by Reed Chevrolet in St. Joseph, Mo., will offer a free 2018 Chevrolet 4x4 pickup truck if someone weighs in a bag of more than 225 pounds. That’s in addition to the $5,000 guaranteed first-place prize. This isn’t a small-time tournament series anymore.
Studebaker, who fished a few bigger venues such as the Cabela’s King Kat tournament trail and the U.S. Catfish Angler Tournament Series, has seen a rapid growth in the popularity of the group, and the sport itself, since he organized Catfish Chasers in 2008.
“U.S. CATS, they disbanded and went away, and Cabela’s, obviously, they stayed pretty much to the southern United States or the Ohio River valley, so it was such a long haul to go to one of their events,” Studebaker said. “So my thought was it’d be great to have something like that in the Midwest. So, just like everybody, we started small and improved every year — turnout gets better. Right now, we’re growing exponentially every year, and it’s a pretty amazing ride at the moment.”
The format is fairly straight-forward for his tournaments -- a two-person team in each boat, with a special allowance for a third if the angler is younger than 16 or older than 65. Perhaps it’s that simple approach that’s helped it grow into one of the larger tournament trails in the Midwest.
“I’ve never actually counted how many different individuals, but we have probably an average of 40 boats per event,” Studebaker said. “Our smallest event last year was around 25 teams, and our largest was around 93. We have everything in between, and this year will be bigger.”
The tournament trail begins March 24 at Milford Reservoir and runs through Sept. 22. Studebaker said they considered having tournaments even later in the year, but decided against it as many of the anglers are hunters, as well, and he didn’t want to make people choose between fishing tournaments and hunting.
Another reason the series is popular is because of the size of the fish that are typically caught by the anglers.“The biggest catfish we’ve ever weighed, we weighed last year, and it was 90.15 pounds,” Studebaker said. He added that the fish was caught on the Missouri River. “And our second-biggest fish was caught at Milford, and it was 82.6.”
Studebaker said the largest five-fish limit was 182 pounds, though he expected that to get beat this season.
“A good, quality fish in our world, average, is in the 20-pound range. But, you know, when you’re in channel cat water or something that’s predominately channel cat, it’s going to be a lot less weight, because a quality channel cat is in that 14-, 15-pound (range) and up. Whereas, a quality blue cat -- I guess we’re spoiled --but we don’t consider a blue cat a trophy fish until it reaches that 40- to 50-pound range, and then we get excited.”
Not only are the fish big, but the sport itself is quickly becoming a monster of its own.
“Catfishing is growing so big,” Studebaker said. “I really think catfishing is going to be a lot bigger presence at some of these venues.
“It’s actually growing faster than the bass fishing market now,” Studebaker said. “It’s just incredible what’s changed. You’ve got special catfish rods being made by companies, you’ve got catfish boats. There’s true-blue companies out there where their sole business is catfishing, which is just phenomenal from 10 years ago.”
Topeka Boat and Outdoor Show
Studebaker has done seminars at the Topeka Boat and Outdoor Show for the past three years, as well as walking around and talking to some of the anglers at the show and handing out tournament schedules.
“I’ve gotten affiliated with Phil Taunton,” Studebaker said, “and he is an incredible individual, and he called me and asked if we’d maybe like to take a little bigger role and have a little bigger presence than we have in the past, and of course I’m all over that, sounds like a heck of a deal. He’s going to make good things happen there.”
Studebaker is scheduled to host seminars at 6 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 3, and 1 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 4, during the show, which takes place at the Kansas Expocentre in Topeka. He said he’s planning to vary up the topics from past years.
“This year, we’re going to kind of mix up some things,” he said. “There’s some alternative methods that people are starting to use. Then there’s the basic presentation, and I may get into the difference between just going fishing and tournament fishing. There is a difference, by far, on how you approach it.”
Among the alternative methods, he mentioned anglers using lures to catch catfish, rather than the typical stinkbait setup.
“I was a semi-pro bass fisherman, and I remember --back then, they were a pain in my butt -- off and on, you’d catch flatheads and you’d catch whatever throwing crankbaits or even worms or swimbaits. It’s amazing what you can entice with one of those. A catfish is a predator, so when they’re hungry, they’ll take a whack at it.”
There will also be professional catfish anglers on hand at the Catfish Chasers booth to talk shop.
“We’re going to have the current state-record blue cat holder (102.8 pounds on the Missouri River, 2012) in our booth on Sunday afternoon, Robert Stanley -- and his wife, Stephanie Stanley, actually has the biggest blue cat caught in a Kansas lake that was officially weighed,” Studebaker said. “She’s the one that had that 82.6-pounder. So it’s kind of an interesting deal there where the husband and wife both have a record, of sorts.
Those hoping to register in the Catfish Chasers Tournament Series or wanting more information can do so at the group’s website, http://www.catfishchasers.com/, or by contacting Studebaker by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (785) 289-0007.
CATFISH CHASERS 2018 SCHEDULE
March 24 — 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., Milford Lake. Takeoff/weigh-in at State Park Marina.
April 21 — 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., Perry Reservoir. Takeoff/weigh-in at South State Park ramp.
July 14 — 7 p.m. to 10 a.m., Missouri River in St. Joseph, Mo. Takeoff/weigh-in at French Bottoms Ramp.
July 28 — 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., John Redmond Reservoir. Takeoff/weigh-in at ramp at dam.
Aug. 11 — 7 p.m. to 8 a.m., Coffey County Lake (Wolf Creek). Takeoff/weigh-in at main ramp through gate.
Aug. 25-26 — 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day, Calamus Lake, Neb. Takeoff/weigh-in at Homestead Knolls Ramp.
Sept. 8-9 — 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day, Perry Reservoir. Takeoff/weigh-in at South State Park ramp.
Sept. 22 — 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., Missouri River in Atchison. Takeoff/weigh-in at Atchison City Ramp.
More details at www.catfishchasers.com/schedule.